Bruce Bernstein

The following oral history is the result of a recorded interview with Bruce D. Bernstein conducted by Katie C. Doyle on July 26, 2023. This interview is part of the Rick Dillingham retrospective “To Make, Unmake, and Make Again” at the New Mexico Museum of Art.


Q: Hello. My name is Katie [C.] Doyle. I am the assistant curator at the New Mexico Museum of Art here in Santa Fe, New Mexico. It’s about 11:30 here in Santa Fe on today, Wednesday, July 26th. I’m sitting here with Bruce [D.] Bernstein, and we’re going to record an oral history for the Rick Dillingham retrospective exhibition titled “To Make, Unmake, and Make Again,” opening in the new wing at the New Mexico Museum of Art on October 6th, 2023. So, Bruce, I’ll let you introduce yourself.

Bernstein: Thank you. I’m very pleased to be here to be talking about Rick Dillingham. My name is Bruce Bernstein. A little bit about my background: I have a Ph.D. in anthropology from the University of New Mexico, where my faculty was Alfonso [A.] Ortiz and Jerry [J.] Brody. Brody worked very closely with Rick Dillingham, and his famous Seven Families [in Pueblo Pottery] was at the Maxwell [Museum of Anthropology] while Jerry was at the Maxwell Museum as well. I didn’t know Rick at UNM. He had already cycled through by the time I got there for graduate school. I was director and chief curator of the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture Laboratory of Anthropology here in Santa Fe. Before that I was at the Wheelwright Museum [of the American Indian] as the associate director, and that’s when I first met Rick.

Rick bringing in pottery to sell in the Case Trading Post [museum shop] was the main way that I met him and, through the pottery, began to know him a little bit. In those years here, I worked closely with Rick on several different types of projects. One of my interests and one of my great loves in area scholarly writing and research is Pueblo pottery, so naturally I gravitated to Rick, this great authority figure. We were talking a little bit about just how many things Rick was, and it continues to be Rick’s presence that is still very much felt in my life. He’s like one of those forces that doesn’t go away. Every time I go to Agua Fria, I look for his house there, studio in the front, the house in the back, and I think about the circumstances of meeting him and working with him, the types of questions that we talked about over the years.

I certainly do think about the way that he passed with AIDS, as everybody’s probably spoken about a bit. He knew that he was sick and he prepared for that very well. He had made his own container for his ashes. He’d also very specifically designed the way he wanted to rest in state in his house. I am smiling when I’m saying this because it was so regal. It was so perfect for Rick. I got a call I think the night before from Herbert A. Lotz and Herb said Rick had passed, and it wasn’t a surprise. Rick was sick at certain times during that particular year. He was having trouble finishing some of his work. He was working on Fourteen Families [in Pueblo Pottery], his sequel to the Seven Families book, and I’ll come back and talk about that. But in the house itself, I remember walking in, I wasn’t sure about seeing him, but he had laid himself out on the bed, in his kimono, on the bed with a pot on a low chest of drawers at the end of the bed. His big beard was there. Yes, that’s true. His big, beautiful beard and Rick looked perfect in a way. He didn’t look any different than any other day of his life, to me. I’m sure he was looked worse because of his illness and so forth.

I did first meet Rick through Seven Families before I met him personally, and I’d read Seven Families was an exhibit at the Maxwell Museum of Anthropology at the University of New Mexico. Its origins are a little bit murky. Who exactly thought of this exhibition? The exhibition basically took seven matriarchies of pottery making, and he then talked to those matriarchs, Maria [P.] Martinez and Margaret [M.] Tafoya and others. These were women that he knew and he knew some of their children as well. It wasn’t an academic pursuit, but it was always, as everything Rick did, very, very personal. I know I heard him several times. He’d call Lucy [M.] Lewis “Grandma” or “Mom”, more often “Mom” than “Grandma”. But he really felt part of the family. I’m sure the family wanted him to be part of that family as well. They were very welcoming to him.

He had certain qualities besides his personality that attracted people to his pottery knowledge. He was a potter first. That’s where he had learned and he had gone to UNM [University of New Mexico] for a BFA in ceramics. He never entered a potter’s house devoid of knowledge. He also had made a thorough and quick study, a prolonged study of the traditions or cultural things, the contexts that surrounded their making of pottery. He knew those very well. Part of knowing those well was being able to fire pottery with people or make pottery with people or suggest new ideas like, “Why don’t you try this or try that?” Through it all, he always wanted people to have their own creativity.

At his passing, he left his collection. He split his personal collection between the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture and the School for Advanced Research. In the school’s collection in particular are a lot of greenware or ceramicware pieces. Everybody, generally speaking, but many people were appalled that he would insist that these go to the school. So the school has a lovely Indian Arts Fund collection. It is a hand-selected, but not particularly honest portrait of what pottery looked like in the villages. Rick felt with his little inset of the ceramic pieces, he could make the Acoma pottery reflect what people were doing in the time that he worked with Acoma potters. That is going to the store, buying a ceramic-made or slip cast piece, painting it and baking it in the oven or bring it back to the store. It’s certainly not Pueblo pottery, but it represents Pueblo creativity and it represents something else that Rick was very keen on talking about, and that was the market, the market for Pueblo pottery.

The Seven Families [in Pueblo Pottery],[i] they set up this exhibition, I think it’s 1974 at the Maxwell Museum, and many people work on it. Jerry Brody, who was director at the museum, worked on that exhibition as well. Jerry was very interested and wonderfully knowledgeable about pottery, too, and these seven families and these seven family trees. What Rick regretted about the work was that people started using the book as a checklist, that people would buy Maria Martinez, and they’d buy Popovi Da and they—so they would go down the lists, the family trees that he put into that book, and buy one pot from each of those people. He felt that people buying pottery that way were not looking at the pottery itself. They were not looking to see if they liked the pot, but rather they were collecting a name of a potter. I think that that offended him in some way. He didn’t like that outcome of Seven Families. We talked a lot about that over the years. I wrote about it, I wrote about it in my dissertation, I wrote about it in some other later articles.

I think that the Seven Families is a very large turn in the marketplace. It’s a turn that created a sameness of pottery for the market. So they do this book, they do this exhibition, and what people then use it as the—I don’t know the right word for that, but it’s what things were supposed to be like, how they’re supposed to be. Rick’s ceramics are all about making and unmaking, breaking them, gluing them, making them imperfect. Rick could make a perfect pot—that wasn’t the point. He wanted people to see the fragility of ceramics and the fragility of life and how life and ceramics are one and the same. He always played around with the materials, adding different things into his clay body, different paints, different ideas and so forth. He felt that the marketplace for Pueblo pottery took that away because people became more and more obsessed with perfection, something that is extraordinarily difficult in making Pueblo pottery because you’re going out and collecting your clay, you’re processing your clay, it takes a great deal of time. You’re handbuilding this. There’s no wheel involved. On top of all those things, then you fired outdoors, exponentially more complicated. He felt like people looking to collect names instead of pottery took away from that creative genius that good potters have. So he’s a little sorry about that book. He’s a little sorry.

Mid-70s is just about the start of the very large interest in Pueblo pottery and native arts generally. Santa Fe Indian Market had been a very small venture. It pretty much boiled down to a weekend a year. Not too many people. The largest Native arts event was actually the Gallup Inter-Tribal [Indian] Ceremonial. In the mid-70s though, what people discovered about Indian Market was that you could come and you could meet the people who were making pottery or jewelry, rugs, whatever it might be, in person. Gallup was still selling through traders. If you look at the trajectory of Rick’s business life, you can see more and more how he relied upon his friendships, his partnerships with Indigenous potters, with people to make his business work, I would say in the kindest way possible, to make his reputation, that people listened to him. When Rick spoke about pottery, people said, “Okay.” They just thought that he always knew the right thing about the pottery and what to say about it.

Immediately following Seven Families, as the pottery market began to grow, people started asking for Fourteen Families [in Pueblo Pottery], or, “Could you write a sequel book?” I’m not sure it was fourteen in the start, but, “Could you write a sequel book?” Rick put that off as long as possible. In the final couple years of his life, he produced an unfinished manuscript. If you want his view on that manuscript and the view on that work and why he was so upset with the way that the work had been used by the marketplace, there is that letter from a Tafoya family member in there, talks about not wanting to be part of the project. There was more to that. There’s more than that in the letter, but I think that suffices as the most accessible way to understand that. There’s more in Rick’s letters and so forth, the archive which is over at the School [for Advanced Research], not a whole lot. It was much different time, there was no email at the time. Phone calls, visiting people. There’s a lot more about a narrative that’s not accessible to us because it’s no longer here and some of the other people are no longer here.

So Seven Families really gives him this push into the marketplace. I don’t know if he had intended to become a a gallerist or a pottery dealer. I don’t really know that. I don’t know if he had expected to support himself through his own clay work. I’m sure he tried. I’m sure it was difficult. This all artists find out. His decision to be here in Santa Fe can be limiting to artists of all types, as many people know. But he wasn’t going to live anyplace else but Santa Fe. But from Seven Families then, I know that he then started visiting people more often. He’d go out to Acoma and spend time with the Lewis family. Like I said, he called Lucy Lewis “Mom”, he’d go with Maria, sit down and talk with her. The real magic of Rick’s abilities was that he was a potter, that he knew what he was talking about. He wasn’t trying to make the pottery anything that it wasn’t. What I mean by that, it wasn’t a feminist venture, it wasn’t modernist, it was pottery. It was clay, it was water, it was earth and water. It was fired. Those basic elements that make ceramic ceramics, he never looked askance at that. When he sat down to talk to people, that’s what they talked about, or they went outside and they fired a pot, or they mixed the clay together, or somebody said, “Well, this is the way I do this,” or, “We mix our clay, we walk on it to mix the clay. Do you want to walk on it?” “Well, sure, I’ll walk on the clay with you. I’d love to do that.” So there was nothing that Rick wouldn’t do that had to do with the clay. I think that is the magic of his relationship with people.

Unfortunately, he really didn’t write about that. You really don’t have any accessibility to that. His writings are probably a dozen, maybe twenty, but I think it’s more like a dozen. He wasn’t particularly interested in writing about things, which I attribute to his knowledge of Pueblo pottery, how hard it was to write about something that was forever changing. Forever the same, but forever changing. If he stopped and wrote about it like he did with Seven Families or Fourteen Families, it stopped being Pueblo because it was now in a written word and static and no longer dynamic as it is in real life. Sorry. New Mexico allergies.

Q: Yes. It’s hot out too.

Bernstein: Very true. So this ability to talk to people was because he loved the clay himself. This is his automatic way people work together. He was also a pottery historian. He knew a great deal about pottery history. I know that he worked with Virgil Ortiz as an example. Virgil didn’t really know about the figurative tradition. He probably knew vaguely about it. His mom made some figures and there were some other potters in the village that made figures as Virgil was growing up. But Virgil asked the question of Rick—this is the way I understand the story. My apologies to Virgil. But the way I understand the story is that Virgil asked him, “Well, what what did those first figures look like? Where are they? What do they look like?” So Rick showed him some pictures by John [K.] Hillers primarily, 1881 here in Santa Fe, pottery from probably Jake Gold’s [Old Curiosity Shop] here on West San Francisco Street. He showed him these figures. Virgil duplicated those figures, and he first made seated figures, and then he made standing figures, and—the idea’s already in his head. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that Rick handed him an idea, but it probably solved a technology problem for Virgil. It probably solved like, “How do I do this?” Is it solid clay, is it hollow clay? He probably already knew, but it was like, “Oh, okay, I see how they did it.”

There was also this other piece of Virgil as a potter that Rick helped him answer, and that was that making the figures he does and the figures he’s making now about the upcoming five hundred year anniversary of the Pueblo Revolt. There is a continuity, there is a continuance about Pueblo pottery. Rick didn’t want to step outside of that, but he wanted to remain in that track, but understanding that that track had detours, it widened at places, narrowed at places. So Rick was interested in the vicissitudes, the changeability of something called tradition and how tradition had been able to exist for those hundreds of years that pottery’s been made because people did change. It wasn’t static. The tradition provided an intellectual mindset to make pottery, but it didn’t define how the pottery would look. You can certainly tell that 1200 A.D. is Pueblo pottery. You can tell that 2023 is Pueblo pottery, and people would agree that they’re Pueblo pottery. People might lament the changes that they came back from 1200, but they know it was still Pueblo.

What Rick— again, going back to the Seven Families and people relying on a list of names instead of looking at the pottery—he saw that as narrowing that track or narrowing those paths of understanding Pueblo pottery. Because people increasingly needed to sell pottery, because they didn’t have farming or other employment to fall back on, but became full time potters, that their own pottery became more narrowly focused. That’s what he was not pleased with, that he had had a hand in developing a cause in the marketplace. It was going to happen anyways. It was an explosion of a time period. But I think that he saw himself having that role, and I think that’s a very honest assessment. I don’t think it was ego or greed or anything else that caused it. I think there was nothing else like Seven Families and people have duplicated it. You see it all the time. You see people saying, “Great, great granddaughter of So-And-So,” and things like that. The other thing that happens, I should say, is that people, “Well, my uncle makes X dollars per pot. I’m going to pot and I’ll make X dollars per pot.” Not understanding the progression of learning how to make pottery. Again, going back to this white man going to Pueblo peoples’ houses—he worked with people.

Another friend from a different village, he said Rick was really helpful. I was talking to him not too long ago, said, “Rick was so helpful, he showed me how to do this. He showed me and or he said, ‘Try this.’” And it didn’t take that potter outside of the traditions of that village. But what Rick had seen that or discussed that with other people in the village, he knew that this potter had come to this spot and they couldn’t figure out which way to turn. Because of Rick’s chatting with other people, he was able to say, “Well, try turning this way.” And it wasn’t like he would write down a formula or a recipe, or he would say it and then leave. He’d say, “Well, let’s try this.” So they worked together on that way to figure out how to paint a pot, he was having trouble painting, things like that. It’s really an extraordinary relationship.

Certainly, autobiographically, I work with potters all the time, talking with them all the time, and my knowledge goes to a point and it ends. I can only admire and wonder at what people can create. I realize it’s a lot easier being a curator than being a potter. Rick really crossed those lines and crossed back and forth on those lines, [pause] working with people. He knew a lot of the gossip or stories. I don’t know what you want to call that. Gossip is not a great word. He knew people talked to him. Because he was part of the Pueblo pottery world, people talked to him about stuff, and they saw things.

There had long been a rivalry between two families. I’ll talk about the families out loud because it’s published in—what’s it called—I Am Here, which is a MIAC [Museum of Indian Arts and Culture] book, 1994—I think it was published about 2000 or so [1989]. But anyways, We Are Here. Is that the right title? Let’s imagine that it is. It will be—if you’re listening to this in the future, first of all, thank you for listening to me—the story of this particular episode is in a book on [unclear] of pottery, painting that we’re publishing in 2024. So this circumstance is the rivalry between families. The Tafoya family, Margaret Tafoya in particular, began talking about how they made pottery blanks for the Martinez family. It is widely known that there were people that helped Maria make pottery. It was more like a community type of activity rather than Maria sitting quietly and idyllically under a tree. Quietly and idyllically under a tree is the white world’s idea. Signing her name on a pot is the white world’s idea. But Margaret Tafoya felt that she should tell people that her family was making those. Awfully difficult for her family to have made unfired pottery and get it over to San Ildefonso safely. Also, the clay in the two villages don’t match at all. It is in my mind as someone knows something about pottery, as a pottery scholar, there’s some doubt to it. I have to put some doubt to that side of it, and looking at it as speculation on the part of the Tafoyas.

There is in MIAC, the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture collection, there is a great big black-on-black pot. It’s the last pot that Maria Martinez and her husband Julián Martinez worked on together. They made it in the winter of [1941 to] 1942. I believe that’s the right date, 1942. They made it that year. It’s a pot that’s about thirty-six inches tall and about twenty-four, thirty inches wide. It’s very, very large and it’s a magnificent vessel. The difficulty of making the size of the pot, let alone painting it, was very, very hard. The firing was just—yeah. This is no shortcuts. This is not like people putting it in a kiln or anything. This is outside fire. They probably heated it in some way. They probably built a fire around in a very calm day and built a fire to heat the pot. A ring of fire, and then put it in the middle and heated it, and then fired it. It is black, so they use crushed dung to cover it. Because of its size, enormous size, it probably took a great deal of resources to make the pot. Like I said, it was the last pot.

So, Rick, in this book—I’m sorry, I can’t, “We Are Here” [I Am Here], something Maria Martinez said—anyways, in this book, Rick wrote about this, that Margaret Tafoya made the pot and it was sold as Maria’s pot, and it’s in there as a caption for the pot itself. I heard a little bit from people. I heard bits and pieces from people, and I asked Rick, “Why did you put that in there? It’s probably not true.” He goes, “I know, I know it’s not true, but I just thought I’d stir the pot.” [Laughter] Great story. I think that epitomizes Rick, that people were so complacent in being who they thought they were and so forth. It wasn’t just directed at the pot, directed at all of us. Rick was always working us, like working a piece of clay, right? Trying to mold people and see their strengths and weaknesses and so forth.

So the same pot—I’ll tell you the end of story as far as I’m concerned. I was in the museum and we had it on view in an exhibit called From This Earth. It’s probably 1996 [1992], maybe, or so. Anita Da comes in, Maria’s daughter-in-law, who had been married to Popovi Da—she and Popovi had created and run the Da Studios [Popovi Da Studio of Indian Art] right in the village, which was the first Native-owned gallery and the first building gallery and the first gallery that showed the pottery as art, not craft, about twenty, if not twenty-five years before anybody here in Santa Fe caught on to that. So Anita came in, and she was literally crying. I met her in the front of the building and she was crying and she said, “I just need to talk to you.” I said, “Well, what’s up?” She said, “I want to talk to you about that pot.” I knew enough—I think she had called to tell me she’s going to come in—and I knew enough about the story, but I didn’t know the story.

So we walked down. It was in the middle of what then was the atrium, which is now the backside of that gallery—I don’t know what’s it called—underneath Tony Abeyta’s painting back there, and it was in a great big, beautiful case with fantastic pots. It was on one corner. We stood in front of that and she said, “I read that. I was so hurt by him writing that. I don’t know why he wrote that. I know that that pot was made by them because she got $40 for it and and three shawls.” And Maria actually has a quote by Maria that she says that she received $40 and three shawls from one of the merchants here in town who bought it and then donated it to the museum. She says, “That was my first winter in the house. You can imagine how nervous I was being in the house with Maria and Julian. It was very, very difficult for me. I think that was the winter of ‘41, ‘42 and and I was so nervous. Here they were making this gigantic pot in the middle of the house. So I certainly remember the pot.” She said, “You know what else I remember? is I remember the three shawls. She gave one to Santana [R. Martinez], her other daughter in law, one to me as a daughter-in-law, and kept one for herself.” That was a great story. I don’t know why Rick felt like he should stir the pot. I don’t know why I went on so long about that story. It was that mysterious part of Rick, I think that was there.

So we talked about Seven Families. The Fourteen Families then was very slow going, very, very slow going. If you look at the book, it’s very unsatisfying. I think that it’s not because Rick didn’t know the information, but I think he was so reluctant to write it. He put it off as long as he could. I think it was finished by a few other people. He didn’t finish it himself. I think, too, that this phenomena of the Seven Families which had grown into Fourteen Families, had exploded in such a way. But it was an implosion, not explosion. What I mean by the implosion, again, is this narrowing of what Pueblo pottery was supposed to be. There are fewer and fewer people who are really creative. There are a few in the book, like Dextra [Quotskuyva Nampeyo] is in there. He had felt that Maria was very creative for her time, but people basically replicating those black pots because people needed to have a black pot by her daughter or a granddaughter or niece or whatever it might be, those sorts of things. The same with Margaret, she was a great potter. I don’t want anyone to think that I don’t think these were great potters. Margaret overcame great technological problems in creating that big pottery and getting that even coating of slip on it and polishing. If you know about Pueblo pottery, every step of that was very, very complicated. Again, she doesn’t have a separate studio. She does have some helpers, like all potters have helpers. She’s firing outdoors. There’s so many different things that come around. She solved all those things just like every potter. Lucy Lewis, the same way. Lucy Lewis, very creative, and looked across many types of black and white pottery, and with a few other potters in the village, began not just using those pottery as inspiration, but more exacting—just looking at it for inspiration would be you making the hatchet or parallel lines, but now looking at the designs and trying to understand the designs, what they mean and reinterpreting those designs. She also worked hard on the perfection of cleanliness of the pottery, no fire marks and so forth, and Rick helped with all those things. [pause]

The only people might ask about where his collection goes in the exhibit—Katie’s done a good job of looking for his collection—his collection was divided between the two places he worked the most, School for Advanced Research, and the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture. He gave us the northern Pueblos, if I’m not mistaken. I’m trying to think now. I think I saw the Tewa Pueblos and the northern Keresan Pueblos, the Rio Grande Keresan Pueblos like Zia, and the school got the black and white pottery from the villages west of Albuquerque, and Hopi Pottery went to, I think the school. I might have it wrong. It’s very apparent—you can go over there. Hopefully by the time you’re listening to this, both of those places will have everything online, so you sit at home and look at it online, right? Yes, both of us are crossing our fingers here [laughter]. Anyways, he was very careful about—and I remember discussing with him—as curator and as a director, you ask sometimes difficult questions. So literally Rick and I were standing in MIAC and I asked him, “What are you going to do with your collection?” [Pause] He said that—I probably, being me, probably said, “Oh, yes, we could really use the collection”—he said, “I thought about that. I’m going to split it between you and the school.” So he carefully thought about that. I think it’s fine, both accessible in creating the exhibition. You can look at both places, get a sense of what’s there. If you wanted to put a catalog together of Rick’s collected works, that’d be a way to do that as well. You can see them, you can put them together on paper, maybe not physically, but in paper you can figure out which is which pottery. Katie’s shaking her head how difficult it is to—

Q: That’s huge.

Bernstein: But that’s personality bound at this point, okay? [Laughter] Actually I appreciate you bringing that up because if it is that way now, I think Rick would say something, because that’s not the way he intended it. He intended to give to places that were important to him, and he figured people would work together. Whether or not people go back and forth between those collections now and what people do with those collections, they’re very connected collections. There’s about ninety pages about that in this upcoming book about San Ildefonso pottery, because I think the museum and the way that it works and the school at those earlier times, the way it worked are a little bit murky for people.

So what else about Rick? You have questions? [unclear]

Q: Oh, I do. I do. I have so many questions. You were talking a little bit about how you met Rick and how you met him through that Seven Families era, that time in his life where he was focused on Seven Families or emerging from Seven Families. Would you speak a little bit about that first encounter with him?

Bernstein: There’s the first two encounters. One is that he’s good friends with Andrea Fisher, who’s running the Case Trading Post at the time, and they go out for these long lunches and I’d see them before and after the lunch, and they had a great time together. Maybe some champagne with lunch or some other wine with lunch or whatever it might be. Rick was supplying a lot of the pottery for the Case Trading Post at the time. So there was a business aspect of that as well as a friendship between he and Andrea. I met Rick through that.

I had known the Seven Families book by working on different aspects of Pueblo Pottery while at UNM, and I also worked at the Maxwell from ‘82 to ‘86 as a graduate student. I knew about all these different things and I knew people who had been in the art department when Rick was in the art department, the exhibit designer, some of the preparators, other people hanging around doing museum type work had been in the art department when Rick was there. Jerry Brody, who was a mentor and a part of my faculty, Jerry talked about him as well. There was enough people around that way. When Rick, when I first really met him in person in the mid-80s when I was at the Wheelwright, I knew exactly who he was. I should probably be a little more corrective about the Seven Families—I knew the book, I had on the shelf. I read it and all the rest of that, and I marveled at it. I know about all the information in it, but when I finished my dissertation in 1993, I had had the opportunity to ask questions about it, and I was now critical about the marketplace and the forced nature of no change that the marketplace was causing. The book to me was something to ask Rick about, and we talked about the book that way. I really got to know him by discussing the book. “Boy, that’s an important book, don’t you think, Rick?” “Well, you know…” Rick could swear, by the way.

Q: You can swear if you want.

Bernstein: He’d probably say, “I’m really fucking mad at what happened. I’m really disappointed in what happened in the way people use the book as a checklist of what to buy instead of looking at the pottery.” I don’t think he used the word upsetting, but he was fucking pissed off, let’s just say. That would be his attitude towards the book. So obviously I began thinking about what that meant. The other place where I met or saw Rick was he had a gallery on Otero [Street] called Mudd Carr and I remember going in there as a youngster and learning about pottery. It was like a holy space. I don’t know how to describe it. I can still see it. It was one of the houses along there on the east side of the street and with vigas and so forth, very architectural with bancos and low walls and so forth. The way the pottery is displayed, in my mind, I see it as a great deal of admiration for it.

So those are the two ways I knew Rick. I saw him around town with a different guy like Dewey Galleries. He sold a lot to Dewey Galleries, a lot of historic pottery and so forth. I will say that I wish Rick was around. I think we know more about historic pottery now. We think we know more about historic pottery now. I’d love to be able to discuss with Rick why he thought something was something. There are some things he did in terms of the historic record. He did them in the early 80s with the Indian Arts Fund. No one knew enough at that time. He did it only as a reflection of what we knew about historic pottery. But he doubted some of the attributions that Chapman had put on things, Kenneth [M.] Chapman, who was the first curator. He doubted some of those attributions based upon the marketplace, and that surprises me. Like all-black pottery is made at Santa Clara, instead of knowing that all-black pottery is made in every one of the Tewa villages. Those are things we know now. We’ve done a lot more research on other collections that haven’t followed the marketplace segregation of pottery in the village types. The segregation of village types is very much a product of the Market and a product of the Indian Arts Fund that go hand in hand with each other in the first Indian fairs, Indian markets, all those things to the twentieth century all go hand in hand.

Thinking about the Seven Families book, it took that formula of trying to create a market for Pueblo pottery and—I’m trying to think of the right word. It reified it, it put it down in writing, put it down, photographs. It created a guidebook to the twentieth century in a way that was really interesting. On one hand, I am pleased that he did that, but I’m certainly a little critical of that and I think Rick would be great to talk to about my critique of that. I think he would be. I’m critical of that aspect of his work. He was critical and he encouraged me to be critical, I should say that. He really encouraged me to be critical in a way I don’t think I would have otherwise. I think it was working with Indian Market, with the museums here, working with the families of potters. It was all carefully laid out and he really encouraged me to see the problems with that. We talked little bits and pieces here and there, but we never had a long discussion. Certainly my maturity of a scholar was never equal to his. But to have the opportunity now to talk with him about it would be really marvelous. There are so many people bought into that whole system and those collections are starting to come to museums, and I think he would be working to to get people to see them more clearly and understand what those collections of pottery mean.

What are your, do you have other questions?

Q: That’s a big conversation. We could have a whole lecture series about that.

Bernstein: I hope so.

Q: The next question that’s on our list is, “What is or was the nature of your relationship with Rick Dillingham?” It sounds like you had a friendly scholarly relationship with one another, but you can elaborate on that if you wish. You can also say no, you don’t want to respond to anything, because you’ve talked a lot. Is your mouth tired?

Bernstein: A little bit. I think we were very friendly. There was no problems. I think he was always glad to see me. I was glad to see him. I think there was again, like I said, I don’t think my maturity as a scholar and knowing about Pueblo pottery, even after about fifteen years of studying it, at the time of his death, I don’t think I equaled him to be able to really discuss in some of the depth of things and ask him the types of questions that I think I could ask now.

I had other concerns, too. Our two kids were little, trying to make a living here in Santa Fe. All of those things were also building MIAC, tearing down MIAC, rebuilding MIAC, creating a totally different way of doing exhibitions in terms of native voice first and native people forward, museum stepping back as facilitator. There were other things on my plate at the time that I wasn’t hanging out with him, going to dinner or things like that other people maybe had a chance to do. We weren’t in business together either like some of the people that you mentioned that are being interviewed about Rick. Those were business partners and that was very important. Other members were part of his community. I wasn’t necessarily part of that community that he was in, the personal community. There are some places where we didn’t connect, certainly, but it didn’t make any difference at all. I saw him all the time.

I can remember seeing him at [Indian] Market one year, it was the end of Market. It was Sunday, and he had a bag over his shoulder. He was walking down the east-facing booths on Old Santa Fe Trail around the plaza, and that’s where the Lewis family was and been there for a long time and other potters. He was walking down the aisle and he was buying what was left on the tables. “Hey Mom, what do you got? What do you want me to buy?” So on one hand he was looking for discounts, the other hand he was helping people so they wouldn’t have anything to take home. He was looking for wholesale prices instead of the retail, that potters were able to [unclear] those booths. We counted each other constantly. That’s not anything about a relationship. So friendly, good friends. Again, my own limitations probably, I didn’t quite know the things I wish I know now to ask someone like him.

Q: Right. It’s always about hindsight.

Bernstein: Yes, hindsight is so good.

Q: Hindsight is great, but also the worst, especially when you’re a scholar. Oh my gosh. How would you describe Rick on those interactions that you had with him? How was he? What was he like as a person?

Bernstein: That’s a really good question [laughter]. Rick didn’t hide anything. He always was upfront with what he felt that day. Generally, I remember him being happy and speaking in a loud voice, I guess. He would say things and he was outrageous. He would say whatever he wanted. All of that stuff, too, is all there. If he was mad, I remember, I can see him mad. I’m not sure what it was about. Hopefully not at me. I can see his face being mad and tightening up. But he said it and that was that. It was out. He never carried those emotions with me. All I’m describing here is that he was happy, his voice was there. He was upset, his voice was there. I remember that way that he was. He always looked good, that was something else. I guess we’re back to the beard part. He really took care of himself, and all the rest of those things.

Now that I’m talking, suddenly strikes me. The first time I met Rick was actually when I was a graduate student at UNM, and I was working for Adobe Gallery. That was in Albuquerque in Old Town at the time. I took the job to work at Adobe Gallery so that I could learn more about the marketplace and Rick would sell pottery to Al [E.] Anthony. That’s how I met Rick originally. Why do I remember that now? Because I remember that it was an old adobe house where the gallery was 413 Romero Street, and the doorway was small and the building was very adobe, so the building was this tight, tight space like adobe rooms can be. Rick was six [feet] two [inches], something like that. His personality filled the room. I can remember him walking into the gallery. So good question Katie, because it helped me remember that’s really where I met him. He’d walk in that gallery and just fill the gallery with his voice and his presence.

Q: That’s a good segue into the next question is, “What do you remember most vividly about him?” Do you have something that is very clear and present? And also, we can return to these any time. A lot of folks that we’ve spoken with so far, as they start talking, new things pop up like daisies.

Bernstein: That’s a great question. Clearly, one of the things I remember is him lying on the bed after he passed. There’s just something about that moment. I was so nervous to see a dead body, to see Rick as a dead body. I was so reluctant. I didn’t want to go over there, but I felt it was my place or I should do this. It was like he made me so comfortable in that room. I think it’s not morose, I think that I should talk about his work. It’s not morose at all. He made me comfortable with his life and the way that he died. Obviously he died—and our society was a controversial way from AIDS—but he didn’t make anyone feel sorry for his life or sorry for him or bad about this disease and what it had done to the gay communities around the country, around the world. He made himself proud. You became proud to have been his friend when you saw him there like that. So you came in the front door. You came in the front door and Herb was there. Herb Lotz was there, and he said, “Well, Rick’s in the other room,” like I’m pointing my arm, because he walked down the hall. So I’m walking down this hall and I’m like, “Oh, okay.” But again, that release of anything negative in the room. What incredible ability. Thank you, Rick. That to me is why I remember that.

And then the clarity. Certainly I’ve talked about this, the clarity about Pueblo pottery and people and the importance of clay and ceramics, the more nuanced stuff about how the marketplace narrowed the paths, came in more delicate discussions over several years. We may not have talked about it as a pathway, what tradition represents and what those detours are, that recreates pottery in its own skin, folds back on itself and recreates itself and so forth. But certainly those are long discussions over several years of talking about this and that with pottery.

Q: This is more about Rick’s artwork, but how did you see that personality manifesting in his artwork? The follow up to that is, “How do you see his personality manifesting in his scholarly practice as well?” but I feel like you spoke about that. But you can revisit that if you wish.

Bernstein: The only thing I’d add to that, I talked a little about the fragmentary nature of his clay, and Rick was slightly fragmented. I think there were pieces of him that his body held together in a way. I think that his scholarly work is imperfect, not finished. I think he worked it hard on being imperfect and not finished. I don’t think he was interested in making the ultimate scholarly narrative about anything. He was working with friends and family and living people who were imperfect and not finished. His pottery, as I said earlier, was always imperfect and not finished. That’s what he liked. Some of the pottery he gave, I can’t remember—there’s a pot that he fired with Dextra that is an experiment. I think that’s at either the school or the museum. But there are pieces in his personal collection, pot with a crack, something that didn’t work out. But those are in his personal collection. Again, this imperfection, constantly the act of becoming.

If you go and look at Tewa worldview and philosophy, you’re always becoming. You’re always in movement. I think Rick embodied that, always becoming and always in movement. I don’t know if he had that before he started working with potters, but really his life embodied that idea of constantly being made. In Pueblo way of looking at the world, there’s a softness to the world. As the world begins to form, it becomes hard and takes form, so this idea, and that softness is where all life and all creativity resides. You take that softness and you build people. So clay is that soft, clearly. Clay is that softness. It’s the combining of four sacred substances: earth, water, wind, and fire. I think he truly lived that way.

Q: You talked about this, actually, so maybe we don’t need to discuss it or you can add more to it if you wish. How would you describe Rick’s relationship with the various communities that he worked with? [interruption] Cue copier machine. This glamorous office.

Bernstein: I don’t know. The times I saw him interacting and what I hear people say now is always very nice. I’m sure someplace or somebody didn’t appreciate him, and again, read that letter in the Fourteen Families book, that’s the one way to get at that. Because he was assertive, people think of him as arrogant, but he wasn’t arrogant. He was assertive and he knew his opinion and he spoke it. I think people mixed that up. So there might be some negativity about, Rick did this or that or said this or that, or he was wrong. Who doesn’t have that? Thank goodness that he spoke his mind. Again, I don’t think there was greed on his part or arrogance on his part, but really just Rick being Rick.

Q: What is your favorite memory or story about Rick Dillingham? You’re welcome to share more than one.

Bernstein: Well, favorite story, I think I’ve shared what really sticks out in my mind. Obviously in talking—am I too far from the mic?

Q:  You’re doing all right.

Bernstein: Obviously in talking it’s brought up other memories I hadn’t thought of for a while, but I brought up the things that are most present in my memory about him.

Q: Is there anything else that you want to add? Anything that you would like for us to know before we wrap up?

Bernstein: I’m very happy you’re doing the exhibition about him. It’s long overdue and I’m happy the museum has taken the opportunity to do this and it’s great. There’s really a terrific opportunity for people to know something of a Santa Fe that sounds like Santa Fe now. What can I say? It’s such a different epic of Santa Fe’s history, of which he was a central character.

Q: Well, I suppose with that, we’ll wrap up. I’m going to swing this back over here. Hello. That’s the microphone. Maybe my voice is louder. Maybe it’s not. We’ll see. It is 12:36 p.m. on Wednesday and we will conclude our interview now. This interview will be transcribed and documented for our digital archive on Rick Dillingham, which will be coming soon to the New Mexico Library and Archives.

[End of Interview]