ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Dan Prall was a private man and inveterate collector who penned notecards worthy of an archivist whenever he bought a piece of Native American art.
He also worked as a volunteer for the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian in Santa Fe. When he died in 2017, he left 320 major works of Native American art to the museum.
Opening on Sunday, Nov. 10, “Conversations: Artworks in Dialogue” showcases about 35 of those works.
Prall wasn’t the kind of collector who confined himself to buying a piece and taking it home. He compiled extensive, personal notes about the artists he met, as well as their friendships and interactions.
From the 1960s until he died, Prall amassed a collection containing some of the most important names in Native American art, including Margarete Bagshaw (Santa Clara Pueblo), David Bradley (Chippewa), T.C. Cannon (Kiowa/Chaddo), Darren Vigil Gray (Jicarilla Apache/Kiowa Apache), Helen Hardin (Santa Clara Pueblo), Allan Houser (Chiricahua Apache), Linda Lomahaftewa (Hopi/Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma), Dan and Arlo Namingha (Hopi-Tewa), Diego Romero (Cochiti Pueblo), Pablita Velarde (Santa Clara Pueblo), Emmi Whitehorse (Navajo) and many others.
“People didn’t realize the depth of his collection until he passed away in 2017,” chief curator Andrea Hanley said.
Prall’s family found artwork stashed in cabinets and chests and underneath beds, Hanley said. “As I was going through all these wonderful little notes, I felt he was looking down and going, ‘Ah! Yes! Right on’!”
Of a 1978 oil on canvas by Earl Biss, he wrote, “Earl told me he thought I was from the Internal Revenue Service since I wore a dark blue suit.”
Prall met the painter Helen Hardin at a Chicago gallery.
“Although I had seen Helen (& Pablita Velarde) once before at Santa Clara feast day at Puye, this was the first time I had met her. She was much more pleasant than I expected, based on others’ descriptions of her.”
Allan Houser’s 1971 bronze “Morning Song” came from The Gallery Wall in Phoenix.
“After seeing the Native American art issue of Arizona Highways (August 1976), this was one of the first works of Native American art I bought,” Prall wrote. “It was in the article. I wrote the Gallery Wall and they sent me photographs of other work by Allan and Dan (Namingha), but I liked this one best, so I bought it. A year or two later, (gallery owner) Glenn (Green) tried to buy it back from me and I told him it wasn’t for sale. I wrote to Allan and he said in the return letter that he was inspired by a sleeping Navajo couple that were exhausted at Gallup Ceremonial.”
Prall indulged himself in some embellishment after buying Dan Namingha’s African mahogany sculpture “Cliff Dwelling #2 (2007) for its simulated Indian ruins with doors and windows.
“I liked the windows scooped out,” he wrote. “At home I inserted small pieces of pinecones in the windows, so they appear to show the wood behind. Like the overall effect better.”
“He gets so cute,” Hanley said. “He talks about Margarete
Bagshaw and a family exhibit at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center.”
“Surprisingly, she was much better than I expected,” Prall wrote. “I decided immediately on Pablita (Velarde’s) “Abstract Eagle,” but it took me longer to select one of Margarete’s (Velarde’s granddaughter.) This one seemed to be the best construction and balance, and the quality of it was reflected in the price.”
He finally chose Bagshaw’s “Oye-Yi-Povi (Ones from the Desert),” 1993.
“He had interesting interactions with many important artists,” Hanley said. “A lot of them are the rock stars of the Native American Fine Art movement.”