Monday, February 11, 2013

Bashas’ Almost-Secret Gallery in Chandler, Arizona

There is a treasure trove of western art tucked away in a non-descript office building at the headquarters of Bashas’ grocery in Chandler, Arizona.

The Zelma Basha Salmeri Gallery of Western American and Native American Art, is a public display of a personal collection. Reflecting the artistic passion of Bashas’ chairman, Eddie Basha, and his Aunt Zelma, the collection focuses on contemporary art of the American West and the Native Americans of the southwest.  
Cowboy art is not really my thing, but the work on display is all of high quality and many of the bronzes are amazing.  Even if you aren’t a big fan of this type of art, wander back to the far corner of the collection, past the collection of presentation pistols, to the display of letters various artists have sent to Mr. Basha. These are works of art, each adorned with a miniature sketch or painting. It would be a real delight to find one of these in the mailbox along with the bills and junk mail!

The Native American part of the collection includes a large number of incredibly intricate carved kachina figures.    
The walls around them are covered with sketches that seem to have served as a model for the final carving, each of which is a work of art itself.  (It would have been fun to see a sketch displayed with the corresponding kachina, but there didn’t seem to be any sets like that.)

There is also a relatively small (in comparison), but exquisite collection of southwestern pottery on display. 
 A separate room houses an absolutely remarkable collection of Native American baskets.    
The museum is organized, to the extent possible, by artist. (Depending on the amount of work in the collection, a shelf, wall or a whole room is generally devoted to the work of one artist.) This makes it an excellent place to see a full range of work by a single artist. It would be an amazing classroom for any student of western art!

The museum is a little overwhelming and busy, with seemingly every surface covered, and not all objects are displayed at an ideal height. (The small amount of jewelry in the collection includes display shelves that are too high for an average-height woman to see.) On the other hand, very few pieces are behind glass, allowing for an unusually close examination of these precious objects.

Please keep collecting, Mr. Basha!

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