March 10, 2012

The Kiva Center: Now and Then

The other weekend I finally did something that I've been meaning to do since I moved here to Phoenix last August: I visited the Kiva Center located on 5th Avenue in Scottsdale.

The Kiva Center was established in the 1950s by Cherokee fashion designer Lloyd Kiva New as an arts, fashion, and jewelry center. It was a place where high-class travelers could go and purchase exquisite 'souvenirs' from the great Southwest.

The artists who occupied the shops at the Kiva Center were respected, talented individuals, noted for producing quality items right there in the shops themselves. Visitors could see the artists in action, and buy a little something from the artist as evidence of their travels and experiences.

In the 1950s, New was defining Native fashion, and redefining American fashion. In 1951 he became the first Native American to show at Atlantic City International Fashion Show. In 1952, he was featured in the Los Angeles Times as being the trend to follow, and in 1957 Miss Arizona wore a Kiva dress for the Miss America Pageant.

New was a prolific designer, but he didn't work alone. At one point, he had fifteen assistants working under him. He worked with acclaimed Navajo artist Andrew Van Tsinhajinnie, who painted unique fabric designs, and Hopi artists Manfred Susunkewa, who helped design and silkscreen the quality fabrics, and Charles Loloma, who created the exclusive buttons, clasps, and metal detailing.

During this era, New and his colleagues fought hard to do (among other things) two main things: to pull Native arts out of the realm of 'dime-store' material, and to demonstrate that Native people and Native arts could be modern. When I walked the length of 5th Avenue, I saw large 'SALE' signs (something to the effect of 'Native crafts - 40% off') and stereotypical large 'Plains Indian' window displays (click the image to your right to see for yourself). I couldn't help but think that these current shops were actively unraveling everything that New and his contemporaries achieved in the 1950s. And that, my friends, really really sucks.

But alas, here are some images of the 1950s Kiva Center juxtaposed with contemporary images:

The Kiva Center today (left), and the Kiva Center on 5th Avenue in the 1950s (right) as folks sit out in the desert sun to see some 5th Ave fashion.

Kiva Center courtyard in the 1950s (Lloyd Kiva New is on the far left)

Kiva Center courtyard today

Lloyd Kiva New's boutique overlooking the courtyard in the 1950s