Native American Art & Adventures

at Blue Coyote Trading Post

by Bill Weaver
courtesy postcard

Gerry Nolan was passing through Brown County one day in 1972 when his truck broke down outside Needmore. He never left. “I met some people who lived on a local commune and house-sat while they were gone for the winter. In the meantime, I found some construction work, joined the ‘Commune,’ built a house, got married, and then divorced. I was pretty much like everyone else back then.”

Gerry is the owner of the Blue Coyote Trading Post in Redbud Terrace at 144 Main Street East in Nashville where he sells Native American art and artifacts. “Some of the arrowheads date back ten thousand years, to pre-Columbian times. Some of the pottery dates back eight hundred years. The beaded vest is Potawatomi, from the 1890s, which is just fantastic, it’s all hand done beadwork.”

Gerry opened his shop after 17 years as a construction worker/carpenter when his back gave out. With his last thousand dollars he started Blue Coyote Trading Post. “The first year I lost five thousand, the next year I made five thousand. I evened out in two years. It wasn’t anything like construction pay.

“I’ve built a clientele over time. I’ve got more inventory and connections all over the country. I can get just about anything. I’ve picked up new people on the Internet through eBay. If you’re going to stay in business you’ve got to keep up with everything.”

Gerry gets his deep knowledge of Native American art from the time he spent as “a fire keeper for two different medicine men, one was Lakota Sioux, and the other was Apache. Through them I met many native people from around the country, and I participated in a lot of Inipi (sweat lodge) ceremonies.

“Did you know that it was illegal before 1973 to practice Native-American belief?” he asks me. “When I got involved it was just coming back into our society. I met all these teachers from different tribes. Their elders had told them to ‘Go teach the white people about our belief system.’ That’s where it all started

“When I traveled with the Chippewa medicine man, Sun Bear, it was not unusual to run over a hundred people a night through the Inipi ceremony or to conduct nine sweat lodge ceremonies a weekend. That was in the Poconos. I used to travel all over with Sun Bear: Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, the eastern area.”

With Red Eagle, an Apache medicine man, Gerry helped guide people through the Vision Quest experience. “We did that in Kentucky, back in the hills. People came from all over the country. It was pretty intense.

“The Vision Quest requires a long involved preparation process: the quest candidates start to fast six months before the ceremony. By the time they are ready to ‘go on the hill’ (as the beginning of the quest is known) they had been on a liquid diet for 14 days. On the first day the initiates dig a grave-sized hole and spend the night in it. On the next day they participate in a sweat lodge ceremony, and then are sent back on the hill for three days and three nights with only water. The vision seekers stay in that one spot and wait for a vision to come. On the last day, the medicine man goes up and fetches the seekers. The entire experience culminates with a big feast celebrating the initiates’ ordeal.

“People were never charged for any of these ceremonies, it was done solely to educate people to the native belief system. It was very enlightening and educational.

“During this time I was exposed to a wide variety of American Indian arts and crafts. There was something tangible and timeless as well as beautiful about native artifacts that eclipsed the ‘quick fix’ and self-centered attitude that I saw people taking towards the ceremonies.”

Which is why Gerry stopped assisting in the ceremonies. “People weren’t that serious. They’d say, ‘Oh, now I need to do that again.’ And I’d say, ‘Basically, you don’t have to do it all the time, like drinking Coke or smoking cigarettes.’ But I met a lot of interesting people, too.

“Just like here. You meet some interesting people and you meet some who aren’t, that’s for sure.”

Gerry admits that he’s not “the most affable shopkeeper” in town but, like most curmudgeons, under the surface there is a lively sense of humor that coexists with little tolerance for the facile and complacent. “There is nothing as satisfying as selling an item to an appreciative customer. However,” he adds with the hint of a smile, “I still have my reputation to maintain.

“Over the last 11 years my knowledge of American Indian Art has grown considerably, along with my sales approach, and my inventory. From a few handmade Indian artifacts and Mexican blankets, I now have a wide selection of Mexican textiles and Navajo rugs, antique and contemporary baskets, pottery, American Indian jewelry, leather and bead artifacts, as well as other native art mediums. Everything in here is hand made. It’s not from Taiwan.”

He gets his inventory from “Traders from the southwest, auctions, people who walk through the door with items. Sometimes they want to get rid of all of ‘Grandpa’s Indian junk.’

“I’ve got baskets from the turn of the century. Eastern Woodland baskets are a totally different style from the southwestern basket. Hopi is a personal preference of mine. Inuit baskets are a combination of coil and twine weaving. And, of course, Katsina dolls.

“I have a whole case of pottery that’s from one village in Mexico. It used to be a railroad town, a lumber town, and then they turned to subsistence agriculture. In 1973 one of the guys there discovered how to make pottery. He became very famous. Now everybody in the village is doing it. It’s all hand built, fired in a hole in the ground.

“Yakima Pueblos is one of the biggest producers of pottery. They’re all hand made. They’re not made with a cast or a mold. Hand painted, too. Santa Clara is known for its black, heavy pottery and its designs. It isn’t typical water spirit design. It’s almost oriental looking. Zuni Pueblo is known for their fetish animals. Santa Domingo is more utilitarian but they have their own look. It’s a simplistic white on black pattern.”

Gerry has “Navaho rugs from the 1800s all the way up to today, and a lot of Mexican textiles. Mexican culture has more Indian concepts in it than American culture. It shows in their folk art.”

Gerry made Brown County his home because “Nashville is probably the nicest place to live in the whole country and I’ve lived all over: Phoenix, Montreal, San Francisco, Tucson, Detroit, a few odd other places. When my car broke down here and I met the local people, I said, ‘This is a lot like the South. The hospitality is as friendly as the South. In the South they look you in your eye, they talk to you, they tell you what they’re thinking whether you like it or not. That’s what I like and what I like to do.”