The gallery itself is small and cool, its walls lined with art by both Daniel and Gert, as well two other local Native artists, Margaret Gallegos and Corey Yazzie. As I entered, the two were in the far back of the building where they have set up studio space—Gert was at the easel, while Daniel was stationed nearby with a host of framing and matting supplies spread out in front of him. To see Shi Yazhi Sage realized has long been a dream of the two working artists—who for many years traveled from show to show, and are long-time exhibitors at SWAIA Indian Market. “We always wanted to do this,” Gert explained, “but there was always something in the way, we had a family to raise or other obligations.” That was true until November, when the two decided to finally make a move, secured the space in Old Town and opened their doors for business on March 1 of this year.
Daniel started drawing when he was a teenager, and now works in acrylic, charcoal, watercolor and other mediums. Propped against the west wall of the gallery that particular morning was an acrylic work-in-progress, and on the walls were various portraits and atmospheric scenes with both traditional spiritual imagery and more experimental takes on subject. Gert—though always a creative—came to painting later in life. She had long observed her husband at work, but gathered her focus on painting in 2007, after her daughter passed away. “It was therapy for me,” she explained. “It was something to do to keep my mind occupied.” Now Gert explores variations on a theme—often painting horses against richly patterned backgrounds. She always signs her work with a blue butterfly—a symbol that meant a lot to their daughter, Sage, in her favorite color.
The two have found liberation and room for exploration in their individual practices now that they have dedicated space in which to work. “I've been able to knock down some barriers in my painting, and have been really able to be free with it and work on it all the time,” Daniel said, who draws inspiration from the likes of T.C. Cannon, and is descended from a family of artists, among them Harry Walters, who studied with the renowned Allan Houser at IAIA.
“I picked up a lot from watching him,” Gert said, gesturing to her husband. “I'd just watch.” She's now been painting seriously for 11 years, and has a strong following of collectors that turn up year after year at Indian Market to buy a piece of hers. “We used to have all this set up in our living room,” she described, pointing out the easels and supplies spread out in the studio. “The cats would get into it and all that. Now, we have this space, … when we're done we can just leave and pick up the next day. … It's really a different lifestyle for us.”
The dream for the two is simple: to continue their work as artists, and to have Shi Yazhi Sage continue to be a sustainable business. “Sure, it felt like everything fell into place,” Daniel said. But there was much more behind-the-scenes work that prepared them to establish the physical gallery. They had been running an online gallery for more than five years for example, and both have significant experience in management and retail. “I don't want to make it seem like it was so easy. … We both have a lot of experience and understand what's involved.”
Moreover, they're happy to have carved out a spot in the art community for their work and the work of their peers, and are eager and excited to share the opportunities they have created for themselves with others. “One of the main reasons that we do this is to influence young artists to not stop and keep going, that they can own their own gallery if they want to. … We're Native American, and we have a gallery in Old Town,” Daniel said. “We want to encourage [others] to keep doing your artwork, continue your shows, figure it out. It can happen.”
Perhaps best of all there are “so many opportunities to show and tell,” as Gert put it. The two are present in the gallery seven days a week—sharing stories, inspirations, explaining their processes and why they do what they do. “I get excited when somebody's looking at my paintings and they want to know the story about it,” Gert said.
More opportunities to share stories, with more artists, even, will happen on Friday, July 21 from 5 to 8pm when the gallery will unveil new works by Margaret Gallegos and Corey Yazzie, whose works span a huge spectrum in a variety of mediums, colorful and contemporary. Aside from that, normal gallery hours are from 9am to 6pm Monday through Friday, and 11am to 6pm on Saturday.
“Just having a space, this has made a whole different life for us,” Gert said. Stop in at Shi Yazhi Sage and support the creativity of these two artists, and the others they support and inspire through their work.