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See Contemporary Western Art at This Free Museum

How the West was woven (and painted and sculpted).

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  • Apache bowl at Zelma Basha Salmeri Gallery in Chandler, Arizona, picture
    Photo credit
    Photos: Cesar Laure
    Photo caption
    Apache Bowl (Circa 1900).
  • Prairie Council painting by artist David Halbach at Zelma Basha Salmeri Gallery in Chandler, Arizona, picture
    Photo credit
    Photos: Cesar Laure
    Photo caption
    Prairie Council by David Halbach (1997).

Behind the walls of a nondescript warehouse in Chandler, Ariz., lies a treasure trove—the largest privately owned collection of contemporary Western art in the United States: the Zelma Basha Salmeri Gallery. The space is named in honor of founder Eddie Basha Jr.'s aunt, who encouraged him to collect art after his graduation from Stanford University.

Opening the doors, visitors are met with brightly colored walls that make the displays sing. Because Basha Jr. became close friends with many of the people whose art he purchased, exhibitions are enhanced with early studies of the final works and personal letters between creator and collector.

Texan Bruce Greene is one such creator. His sculpture of a cowboy attempting to peck his way through an email on a laptop includes a dog lying underneath the bench, adding a bit of wry humor to the statuette. A note from Greene on display alongside the work implores the gallerist to come to Texas so they can smoke cigars and drink wine together.

In the American Indian wing of the 11,000-square-foot gallery, visitors will find colorful kachina dolls carved by contemporary artists Dennis Tewa and Cecil Calnimptewa; graceful sculptures by Larry Yazzie, Oreland Joe, and Steve LaRance; as well as pottery and Navajo silver jewelry.

Read More: Members' Favorite Offbeat Museums in the West

An impressive collection of more than 400 baskets is showcased in its own room. The pieces represent a number of tribes—including Havasupai, Hopi, Hualapai, Navajo, Pima/Papago, and Yavapai-Apache—and weavers such as Tohono O'odham standout Ruby Thomas, who uses horsehair to create intricate patterns of black and white. The exhibit also includes raw materials, tools, and information on the history of basket weaving by American Indians and the symbols seen in their art.

Wise observers at the free museum will keep an eye out for the bison fetishes made of amber, malachite, marble, or turquoise by Zuni artist Lynn Quam. Small but surprisingly detailed, the clever carvings leave the observer with feelings of awe and whimsy.

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This article was first published in Summer 2018. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.