A Trading Story with George Walby
In 1973, I was driving our company vehicle, a Dodge Maxi-Van, on a trip through Colorado to sell jewelry and rugs to some of the stores in the Estes Part and Denver areas. This was several years before we opened an actual gallery in Durango.
We were doing business out of the front of my Dad’s Pepsi plant in Durango. At the time, you could never have called us an “upscale” establishment, but we had great rugs and jewelry and people seemed to find us. Sometimes they had to find their way around the semi-trucks in the lot, but the artists and customers enjoyed the special “rug room” that doubled as Jackson Sr.’s office.
Anyway, I was driving through Loveland, Colorado and the van was making a weird noise. There was a Ford dealership on the road leading to the I-25, so rather than drive around looking for a Dodge place, I thought I’d pull in and see if they could look at it.
When I got out of the van at the Service area, a real nice guy named Art came up and asked me what he could do for me. I explained what the problem was and he said they would take a look at it. I opened the back door of the van to get my briefcase out so I could do some paperwork while I was waiting and Art saw all of the Navajo rugs in the back.
“Say,” he said, “you should meet George, one of the owners. He loves this kind of thing.” He then led me into the office where I met George Walbye. Now everything I knew about bronze sculptures would have fit in a thimble at the time, but the beautiful pieces he had around his office really caught my attention. It turns out that George was a real life honest to goodness cowboy at one time in his life and had grown up in Wyoming. He love Western art and he also loved the Native American culture. Around the office, he had beadwork, pottery and a couple of Navajo rugs.
They don’t make people any nicer than George and he was very interested in seeing the weavings. We carried some into his office and he set his mind on a couple. “Do you want to trade for sculptures?” he asked.
Well, I didn’t know anything about bronzes, so, of course, I said sure! I had no idea what I’d do with them, but they were pretty neat. We worked out a trade and I ended up with three really neat sculptures. I had to leave as I had an appointment with a mortician in Boulder that had been told by one of his friends, the Dodge dealer there (the one we bought the Maxi-Van from) that my Dad sold really nice rugs. The Ford place never had a chance to look at the van.
When I got to Boulder, it turned out that the mortician was a collector of Zuni fetish necklaces. Apparently he did well in the mortuary business because he had his own airplane and flew to Zuni three or four times a year to buy necklaces from the artists. He used to take some of them on plane rides and that gave him an “in” with some of the families.
He bought one rug and we traded another one for a beautiful fetish necklace that I knew I could sell when I got to Denver the next day. When he helped me carry the rugs to the van, he saw the bronze sculptures in the back and asked me about them. I had only owned them for an hour, but I did know the values George had put on them, so I told him they were for sale. At the time, not a lot of people had heard of George Walbye. Today, he is a well known sculpture and a founder of the Loveland Sculpture Show, one of the most prestigious in the country.
We took the sculptures in and they looked great in his house. His wife loved them too! He ended up paying me part cash and we traded part of the bill for fetish necklaces. I was wondering how I was going to explain what I had been doing to my father! The mortician also told me that he really thought the sculptures were exceptional and well priced.
By now it was about 3 p.m. and I decided that maybe it would be a good thing to get more of George’s sculptures, so I drove back up to Loveland and walked back in to see him. George and I just clicked and he had been thinking about a rug that he had passed on that morning. I told him that I had some fetish necklaces that he might like as well and explained that I had just traded his bronzes for them. He laughed and we ended up trading for two more sculptures. I still have one of them.
George and I have continued our friendship for 44 years. I visit him whenever I am in Loveland and we talk on the phone occasionally. He did a couple of shows at the Gallery in Durango when we opened, but his big effort every year is the Loveland Sculpture Show.
What I love about George is that he sculpts for pleasure, for his love of creating. The money isn’t that big a deal to him. He and his brother-in-law (another great guy) sold their dealership years ago. George was a top notch tennis player and bike rider and, more than anything else, loves having fun.
Over the years, he also taught me a lot about the art of trading. I think he would rather trade than sell something. At one of the early shows we had, Ben Nighthorse was the other featured artist. They ended up trading. At another show, Navajo painter Mark Silversmith and he ended up trading. George has a great collection of art that he has traded for his work and I have never met anyone that felt George took advantage of them.
His theory on that is pretty common among quality dealers and artists.
“Every time I work with someone,” George explained, “it has to work for both people. That’s the most important part of any deal.”
Antonia and I were lucky to grow up in the business with a father that felt the same way. It’s a good rule to live by.
We have several nice pieces of George’s smaller work in the gallery now. They make wonderful additions to a home or workplace and are very special gifts. George Walbye is a special person that I am pleased to have known for all these years.Jackson Clark II