Shelling Corn Painting
Keri sent me a full-page color magazine ad that our gallery ran in 1978. It advertised “Shelling Corn,” a large oil painting by Joseph Henry Sharp. It depicts Elkfoot Jerry Maribal and Crucita, two Taos Indians sitting on a banco by the fireplace in the artist’s studio.
The ad conjured up old memories from my seventeen-years as a gallery owner in Santa Fe. I can recall the entire history of that shelling corn painting. Well, maybe not the entire history, but I’ll tell you what I know.
It was painted about 1925-35, I’d guess, but it could be a little earlier. I gave a local family $55,000 for it. They obtained it from the artist in trade for Navajo weavings. I sold the painting for $65,000 to an old friend. When he wanted to buy a yacht his wife made him sell the painting back to me for $75,000. Later, we sold it to a good client in Blue Bell, Pennsylvania for $150,000. When he passed away the director of the Los Angeles Athletic Club acquired it for $250,000 and sold it for $750,000. It sold again for 1.5 million and then again for I don’t know what. Not bad appreciation for just 20 years or so.
I interviewed Jerry Maribal in 1980 while researching my Sharp biography. Jerry was 110-years old, and totally blind.
When I entered the room Jerry was reclining on his bed. He smiled and said, “I’m happy to see you Mr. Fenn.”
Meeting Elkfoot Jerry Maribal was a wonderful life experience for me. He said interesting things about his early life at Taos pueblo and about his relationship with Mr. Sharp. In his quiet way he spoke through the haze of far-away memories while I mostly listened, not wanting to interrupt him with the weakness of my own thoughts. As I left his room a granddaughter said, “The leaves will soon fall from the apricot tree.” I thought that was such a beautiful Indian-thing to say. Mr. Maribal died the next morning, and out of respect, the pueblo was closed to all outsiders for three days.
I can’t say that Elkfoot Jerry was a friend because we met only that one time. It was remiss of me for not meeting him earlier. And why didn’t I also meet Hunting Son, Soaring Eagle, Crucita, Standing Deer, Leaf Down, Agapito, George Eats Alone, Lady Pretty Blanket, Adalina, Wolf Ear, Strikes His Enemy Pretty, Mary Tailfeather, Shows A Fish, Medicine Crow, White Swan, Takes A Wrinkle, Julia Sun Goes Slow, Shorty White Grass, Naked Alberto, Hairy Moccasin, Albidia, Bawling Deer, and a host of other Indians who also posed for Mr. Sharp? I think I deserve another chance.