Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record
By Aubrey Hobart
Special to the record of the day
Daniel Prall was born in Iowa in 1937. After graduating from college in business administration, he joined the Air Force in 1960 and then joined the Air Force Reserve. In 1970, he held a position with the National Security Agency of Maryland, where he worked for 23 years. When he retired in early 1993, Prall moved to Santa Fe. Wanting to spend 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 serious car accident in May 2017 and died of his injuries in September. After Prall’s death, his colleagues at the Wheelwright Museum discovered that he had been a major collector of contemporary Native American art since the 1970s and had bequeathed his collection of over 300 works to the Wheelwright.
In processing this donation, the Wheelwright Museum staff learned a few things about their late friend. He was a private man with excellent taste, and although he was never rich, he saved his money to buy works of art, often paying in installments or exchanging works. While Prall had displayed a few of his favorite pieces in his home, the vast majority were hidden in closets and under beds. Perhaps more importantly, they learned that Prall had developed deep friendships with Indigenous 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 catalog which not only recorded the artwork he purchased and their basic information such as artist, title, and date, but detailed the story around the purchase. Prall was explaining on these cards how he had met the artist, or what they ate for lunch when he took them out to eat. The details are wonderful and you really get a sense of how much he cared about these artists beyond their works.
As an example, one of the cards reads, “Bought this on my first visit to the gallery for one of Earl’s (Biss) exhibitions.” Also, the first time I met Earl. Even though it was a small piece, I thought it was the best on the show. Later at a reception hosted by Bud and Joan Towne (gallery owners) for Earl; Earl told me he thought I was from the Internal Revenue Service since I was wearing 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 Motel 6 where I stayed.
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Another card focuses more on his personal taste and shopping experience: “Stopped by Niman Gallery a few days before the Indian Market Opening Show and saw a wall full of sculptures of this size and of this color, about a dozen. On a previous Arlo show, he made a triptych, “Cliff Dwelling # 1”, which I really liked, and I encouraged him to continue the series featuring mock Indian ruins with doors and windows. It was the only one I focused on, but it took a while to make up my mind because I liked the sunken windows. I finally decided that I couldn’t see another that I liked better. A lady waited until I decided to take it because she was interested. I wrote a check for just over half in August. …. They didn’t redo the wall until October, when I loaded the balance and picked up the piece. At home, I inserted small pieces of pine cones in the windows, so that they seemed to show the wood behind. I like the overall effect better.
After the Wheelwright Museum received the bequest, they organized an exhibit of some of the works that provide a visual and intellectual account of the Native American fine art movement from the 1960s to 2017. The exhibit is titled “Conversations: Artworks in Dialogue, the Daniel E. Prall Collection ”and is currently on view at the Roswell Museum and Art Center through November 21.
Daniel Prall’s unexpected end was certainly a tragic loss, but it also marked a new beginning for much of his collection to be seen and loved by the world.
In this sense, my tenure as curator of collections and exhibitions at the Roswell Museum and Art Center is also coming to an end. I have deeply appreciated being able to organize this extraordinary collection and bringing new research and artwork to the Roswell community. Soon we’ll be starting over with a new person in the role, who will bring their unique perspective to the museum and all of Roswell.