NORMAN, Okla. – Tribes Gallery was a fixture in downtown Norman, Okla. for more than 16 years, a place where collectors could find Native American art and local Native organizations could use for meeting space.
“It has been amazing,” Leslie Pate Zinbi said about re-opening in Norman. “The reception of everyone that has come back in the gallery – that has been at the other location – it’s just been wonderful. I don’t regret it for a minute.”
But on Jan. 31, 2007, the owner, Hannah Pate, decided to retire. That left Pate’s daughter, Leslie Pate Zinbi, deciding in what capacity she would remain in the Native art business.
“When my mother decided she was closing, I thought about keeping that location open; we didn’t own the building. We had flooding problems in the back. The landlord said, ‘we’d have to move you out.’ They’d have to tear the entire back of the gallery off (to make repairs). The parking is bad down on Main Street. The clients that we would have come in, if they were there for over an hour, they’d get tickets.”
Photo by Brian Daffron “Border Keepers,” acrylic gouache by Virginia Stroud, Keetoowah and Creek.
Instead of continuing to do business in the downtown Norman location, Zinbi decided to have an online gallery and work out of her home. She also decided to continue with the previous Tribes Gallery tradition of producing an annual calendar, featuring the artists they represent, such as Cherokee artist Virginia Stroud, Cheyenne artist Harvey Pratt and Kiowa artist Sherman Chaddlesone.
But Zinbi had only worked out of her home 14 months when she found a space she thought would better suit her clients at 131 24th Ave. N.W. in Norman, and began calling the gallery Tribes 131.
“I started looking around at building spaces for a show,” she said. “I was looking at a place in Oklahoma City. When I found this place, drove by and saw that it was vacant, I talked to the owner of the building. The location and everything – I couldn’t pass it up.”
Zinbi sponsored an invitation-only show May 1, and then held a grand opening during Red Earth weekend the following month. Since then, she has expanded her representation to include non-Native Oklahoma artists from the Norman area.
“I’ve had a lot of customers and clients come in that were looking for something non-Native, but have ended up buying something extremely Native,” Zinbi said.
Some of the major shows she’s held since opening include hosting a Native art calendar signing to serve as a benefit for the Jacobson House Native Art Center, and “Love of Ledger Art – History and Pictures,” a show featuring artists who work in the traditional ledger art style, which closed this past month.
One of the approaches Zinbi uses in promoting Native artists is to feature an upcoming artist alongside established artists during exhibit openings, giving the artist exposure.
Photo by Brian Daffron A beaded turtle bolo by Choctaw artist E. Carol Pate.
“Starting with the young artists, I tell them, ‘We do a lot of advertising. We push the art. When we do the shows, I like for you to be here. You can meet the clients,’” Zinbi said.
Zinbi credited the success of Tribes 131 to the surrounding community of Norman, whose support of Native art formally began in the 1920s when University of Oklahoma professor Oscar Jacobson invited the “Kiowa Five” artists to study with him.
“I think Norman, as a whole, there’s just so much going on here,” Zinbi said. “We’re far enough outside of Oklahoma City to where you don’t have that link. Norman’s just a different
community. Everyone here, they’re very up on culture and art and very open-minded. I’ve lived here all my life. I can’t say enough good things about the community.”
In addition to hosting upcoming shows and exhibits, Tribes 131 will eventually host beadwork classes and offer space for local Native organizations, just as the former Tribes Gallery did.
“It has been amazing,” Zinbi said about re-opening in Norman. “The reception of everyone that has come back in the gallery – that has been at the other location – it’s just been wonderful. I don’t regret it for a minute."