09 Jun Collector's Eye: Al Anthony
Alexander E. “Al” Anthony Jr. arrived in Albuquerque, New Mexico, in 1957, fresh from the pine forests of Laurinburg, North Carolina, ready to make a career out of the Air Force and having absolutely no knowledge of pottery, art or New Mexico history.
Then he saw a black pot made by the legendary Maria Martinez of San Ildefonso Pueblo. He began reading and researching, and before he knew it, he was collecting.
After his 20-year hitch in the Air Force, Anthony stayed in Albuquerque, where in 1978 he opened Adobe Gallery, specializing in historic pottery from 1860 to 1940 and painters who went to the Santa Fe Indian School in the 1930s. Thirteen years ago, Anthony opened a second location, at 221 Canyon Road in Santa Fe. After a couple years, he decided that running two galleries in two cities was too big of a headache, so he closed the Old Town Albuquerque location and focused on Santa Fe. After more than 30 years in the gallery business, the 80-year-old has no intention of retiring. “I couldn’t imagine what I’d do if I retired,” Anthony says. “I enjoy coming to work every day.”
WA&A: What inspires you to collect art?
Al Anthony: The beauty of it and the history of it. The beauty that you can just sit and enjoy it, but dealing with historic pottery, you know it was made at the pueblo, it was probably used at the pueblo and then it ended up on the market for whatever reason. … Every pot has some sort of history with it, and that to me is intriguing. You take an Acoma pot: Every Acoma pot has an old Acoma pot in it. For temper, they grind up potshards they’ve found around the pueblo. That’s their tempering agent, so every new Acoma pot carries a piece of the history of an old Acoma pot with it. And that’s an interesting concept.
WA&A: What was the first work that you purchased and what made you choose it?
A.A.: I went downtown in Albuquerque into a trading post. I was just wandering around one day and there was this beautiful black bowl, salad bowl. I knew nothing about pottery at the time, and I thought that’s really attractive. I told the lady that I would take it, and when she wrote it up at $100 plus sales tax I almost died. I had no idea it was that kind of price. I said, ‘I can’t afford this,’ and she said, ‘Can you afford $10 down and $10 a month?’ And I said, ‘Yes,’ so I bought my first Maria pot for $10 down and $10 a month. And that started it. Then I began to read. I bought hundreds of books, trying to read everything, trying to learn about pottery and painting. But it was just the sheer beauty of that bowl and total ignorance that captivated me. It stretched me then. I was making about $200 a month at the time in the Air Force.
WA&A: What is your most beloved piece and why?
A.A.: The one that I cherish the most is probably an 18-inch dough bowl from San Juan or Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo that dates to the 1800s. It has no decoration at all. It’s just a deep, deep blood red slip on the outside. It’s totally simple and beautiful. It’s the one piece that will probably be the last piece I ever sell.
WA&A: At what point did you realize that you were a collector?
A.A.: I guess I didn’t realize it until 10 years after I started. I was just buying things I liked. I didn’t look at it as a collection until I built it up and started reading more about it.
WA&A: With which living artist would you most like to have dinner with?
A.A.: That’s a good question. I think if I had to pick one it would be Navajo artist Tony Abeyta. He is so extraordinarily talented. Tony has shown over the years that he’s able to invent a variety of styles. He also got into jewelry making. He wasn’t a jeweler. He just decided that he wanted to try it. He was phenomenal at it. I think if he decided that he wanted to do bronzes, he would be phenomenal at that. He’s just so extraordinarily talented. I think that would be interesting.
WA&A: What was the one that got away?
A.A.: I think it was probably a historic Cochiti dough bowl. You don’t see a lot of Cochiti dough bowls. You see a lot of Santo Domingo dough bowls, Zia dough bowls, but Cochiti didn’t make that many. They were so busy making figurines, and there was this one Cochiti dough bowl I saw once — a gentleman in Albuquerque had, gosh it had to have been 25 years ago — that sticks in my mind.
WA&A: Where do you imagine your collection will be in 100 years?
A.A.: Not [in] a museum. I don’t want to berate them, but I would rather see my personal collection going to people who would enjoy it, not in a basement of a museum where it would get minimum exposure. I want it to be appreciated.