Painted Desert

How to Avoid the Biggest Mistake Art Buyers Make.


I was in Washington D.C. attending a conference for social studies teachers. The conference developed some major problems with over booking of session spaces.  This had the effect of leaving a large crowd of history teachers in walking distance of the National Mall with nothing to do for an afternoon.  A history nut within walking distance of the Smithsonian Museums and the National Gallery Of Art with nothing to do?  Yeah right…

In a flash I was out the door.   I went to the National Museum of the American Indian where upon hitting the gift shop I saw a Clown Clan Koshare.  It was a clay figurine representing the Hopi Clown Clan and made by a Hopi Indian.  It was only about 6-7 inches tall and hand-made and painted.  This was not your typical tourist trap ceramic doll.  It was a real piece of sculpture. The clown is seated with a watermelon in his hands and featured the traditional black and white stripes of the clown clan. The price for the figure was perfect, being on the low-end of  what you’d expect for fine southwestern art of this type.  It was a good bargain for a real piece of  Native American art.  Not that any of this actually mattered.  I liked it.  I wanted it.

It was at that point where my brain became my worst enemy.  I stood there contemplating how I could get it back home without damaging it or having it lost at the airport.  I decided that it would be best for me to wait until the last day of the conference and come back with a better plan on how to stuff it in a backpack to carry it on the plane.  So, grudgingly, I left without buying it.  When I came back the next day, it was gone.  I found out it sold later the same afternoon I had visited.

Thus, I learned the harshest lesson of art.  If you find a piece of art that is handmade, authentic, and you really like it.  Buy it.  Don’t worry how you will get it back home. You may never get another chance to get it. I learned the hard way that sometimes you only get one chance to own art.  Oh, and the salt in the wound?  I realized at that moment, I could’ve had it shipped home.

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Want to know more?   Check out this article at the Peabody Museum  and a modern description of the way a clown acts during the ceremonies at


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