Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Paying deposits to Indian artists.

From time to time, we receive comments from readers referring to difficulties they have had in receiving goods they have prepaid for. Actually, it is not uncommon, although it usually is a matter of timely delivery rather than failure to deliver. 

There is an explanation. Native Americans for the most part live "in the now". (It is a condition many lifestyle coaches suggest for everyone). For American Indians, it is a cultural value. Very few of them have bank accounts. Their work product is their savings. When they are paid for something they have created, those funds go to pay for day to day expenses or to invest in more raw material. 

Similarly, when they are paid for something they are supposed to create, daily expenses have first call on those funds. Eventually, the item will be created. But if it is on display when someone visits them and if that person offers to buy it, it will be sold, with the artist's assumption that he or she will make something else to fulfill the order for which he or she has been prepaid.

There is no attempt at fraud in this arrangement. Ownership of the object does not pass until the item is delivered. Prior to that, it remains part of the artist's work in progress.

As a result, many newcomers to the Native American art trade get frustrated when they believe they have paid for something that has been delivered to someone else. In the mind of the artist, it is stil his or her property until it meets the artist's criteria for delivery. At that point, it will be delivered.

In thirty years of dealing with Native American artists, we have never failed to receive what we bargained for. We have, on more than one occasion, had to wait a spell for it.

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