An Introduction to the Jo and Warren Buxton Art Collection

I didn’t know it when I asked Aneelik to make the cribbage board from a walrus tusk that this was to be the beginning of a rather large collection of Native American arts and crafts. The year was 1949 on the small island called Padloping located off the Northeast coast of Baffin island just north of the Arctic Circle. At the time I had it made it was to be purely utilitarian; it was needed so that I and my fellow airmen would have some way to help spend the off-duty time at this far north weather outpost. Besides, it looked nicer than the one in the USO package.

Then in 1953 while strolling the banks of the Seine in Paris my wife-to-be Jo and I decided, for no good reason except to buy memories, that we would purchase the two small old Folies Bergére posters by Lautrec that had been trimmed down and framed.

Eleven short years had gone by and in 1964 while strolling around Scottsdale, Arizona one Saturday afternoon we entered Buck Saunders Trading Post and Art Gallery. Little did we know how that one small deviation would change a part of our lives forever. We saw Andy Tsinnijinnie’s “Six Horsemen” and Jo thought that it would really go nicely with the color scheme in the living room.

On hanging it on the wall over one of the lounges it was immediately apparent that the other wall looked terribly bleak and needed something to match. Through another dealer Andy was contacted, the deal struck and “Squaw Dance” sealed our fate. You see, by then we had gone back to the Saunders’ and had also put down a deposit on DeGrazia’s “Covered Wagon”. However, how well I remember Tsinajinnie driving up to our door to deliver his painting, coolant dripping from his well dented radiator and with a shrug of his shoulders, “Hit a cow on the reservation” was his only response to my raised eyebrow. (Later, learning of the Navajo love for straight-faced humor I often wondered if that was really the truth).

Through the Saunder’s tutelage we now added pieces to cover other blanks spaces on the walls and then another mistake was made. We found the Heard Museum and their annual Native American Arts and Crafts exhibit. Mrs. Buxton became a very active member of the Heard Museum Guild and through these two sources we met many of the artists and crafts persons and occasionally would have them create a piece especially for us. Very rarely did we ever suggest the topic or style. That was left up to the artist.

It was also through the Saunders that quite a few more pieces of DeGrazia’s work was added to the collection. Buck Saunders had been DeGrazia’s sponsor in the late 1950’s and 60’s and both as an art dealer and aficionado of his style was probably the primary reason for that artist’s success.

Someone invited us to join a group known as the Friends of Mexican Art. We did and became quite active with them and it was because of this that there are quite a few pieces, almost all very simple crafts, of Mexican and South American extraction.

Sometimes the manner of acquisition could be rather interesting. It was not at all unusual when I was teaching a class at Gateway Community College to become aware that my students kept glancing out the classroom door. When the class was over I would find one of several of the Maricopa potters patiently standing outside the door with their latest creation wrapped in newspaper hoping that perhaps I would weaken and purchase it, which I usually did.

We had also became good friends with some of the young artists and quite often would acquire a piece even though its quality was at best dubious, only to give them incentive to keep going and to try harder. Thus there is quite a bit of the collection that would probably not be of any interest to most art aficionados.

We had become quite good friends with Fannie Etsitty a Navajo lady who was the initial manager of the Navajo Arts and Crafts Shop in Window Rock. When she would bring items to the various Native American events here in the valley such as the Heard Museum Fair or O’odham Tash in Casa Grande Mrs. Buxton would often be found behind the counter selling right along with Mrs. Etsitty and her sister Midge Aragon. Because of this we had acquired a rather large collection of jewelry and other silver artifacts but I decided that this would best be displayed in a larger more formal institution and all of those items were donated to the Buffalo Bill Museum in Cody, Wyoming

By 1986 it was becoming apparent from the selection of items purchased that Mrs. Buxton was becoming more and more unstable and in 1988 all purchasing ceased. Shortly thereafter it became necessary to sell our home and the decision was made, with the school’s approval, to donate the collection to the college.

After recovering from the loss of my wife and companion, in 1997 I went to Cody to view the display of our items there and once again started in collecting other items of interest. However, now the aim was primarily in the area of crafts.

Among these items was a beautiful beaded buffalo skull by Tim Audiss. This narrative would not be complete without mention that several different individuals have seen a spirit image floating near this item. The description of its dress could easily be believed to be that of Jo’s favorite. . . .

The last major items added to the collection were in 1999 and 2000 on trips to Canada and Alaska. Almost all of Innuit origin - mostly walrus tusk. One was a cribbage board.

. . . . and who was it who wrote of life going full circle . . . .


Warren F. Buxton July 2001


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