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From the Vault: Wheelwright show

Submitted Art "Rain Dance," 1978, by Earl Biss, 1947-1998 (Crow), oil on canvas. Wheelwright Museum collection. Gift of Daniel E. Prall.

Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record

By Aubrey Hobart

Special to the Daily Record

Daniel Prall was born in Iowa in 1937. After earning his college degree in business administration, he joined the Air Force in 1960, later switching to the Air Force Reserves. In 1970, he took a position at the National Security Agency in Maryland, where he worked for 23 years. When he retired early in 1993, Prall moved to Santa Fe. Wanting to fill his time productively, he volunteered at the Museum of International Folk Art, the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian and the Fray Angelico Chavez History Library. Sadly, he was involved in a severe car accident in May 2017 and succumbed to his injuries in September. After Prall passed, his coworkers at the Wheelwright Museum discovered that he had been a major collector of contemporary Native American art since the 1970s and that he had bequeathed his collection of over 300 works to the Wheelwright.

As they processed this donation, the staff of the Wheelwright Museum learned a few things about their dead friend. He was a private man with excellent taste and — although he was never wealthy — he saved up his money to buy artwork, often paying in installments or trading works. While Prall had put a few of his favorite pieces on display in his home, the vast majority was hidden away in closets and under beds. Perhaps most importantly, they learned that Prall had developed deep friendships with Native artists, and often their families as well, that spanned decades and spurred his art purchases. These relationships became clear when they found Prall’s card catalogue that not only recorded what artworks he bought and their basic information like artist, title, and date, but detailed the story around the purchase. Prall would explain on these cards how he’d met the artist, or what they ate for lunch when he took them out for a meal. The specifics are wonderful and one really gets a sense of how much he cared for these artists beyond their artworks.

As an example, one of the cards reads: “Bought this on my first visit to the gallery for one of Earl’s (Biss) shows. Also, the first time I met Earl. Even though this was a small piece, I thought it (was) the best one in the show. Later at a reception held by Bud and Joan Towne (gallery owners) for Earl; Earl told me that he thought I was from the Internal Revenue Service since I wore a dark blue suit. After the reception, I dropped Earl and his girlfriend off at their downtown Chicago hotel, which wasn’t too far from the Motel 6 I stayed at.”

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Another card focuses more on his personal taste and shopping experience: “Stopped by the Niman Gallery a few days before the Indian Market opening show and saw a wall full of sculptures this size and color, about a dozen. At an earlier show of Arlo’s he had done a triptych, ‘Cliff Dwelling #1,’ that I had liked very much, and I had encouraged him to continue the series featuring simulated Indian ruins with doors and windows. This was the only one I focused on but took a while to decide because I liked the windows scooped out. Finally decided that I might not see another one I liked any better. A lady waited around until I decided to take it because she was interested. I wrote a check for slightly more than half in August. …. They didn’t redo the wall until October, when I charged the balance and picked up the piece. At home I inserted small pieces of pinecones in the windows, so they appear to show the wood behind. Like the overall effect better.”

After the Wheelwright Museum received the bequest, they put together an exhibition of some of the works that provide a visual and intellectual narrative of the Native American Fine Art Movement from the 1960s to 2017. The show is called “Conversations: Artworks in Dialogue, the Daniel E. Prall Collection” and it is currently on view at the Roswell Museum and Art Center until Nov. 21.

Daniel Prall’s unexpected ending was certainly a tragic loss, but it also marked a new beginning for much of his collection to be viewed and appreciated by the larger world.

Along those lines, my time as the curator of collections and exhibitions at the Roswell Museum and Art Center is also coming to an end. I have deeply enjoyed being able to curate this extraordinary collection and bring new research and artworks to the Roswell community. Soon we’ll begin again with a new person in the role, who will bring their unique perspective to the museum and to all of Roswell.

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