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Did You Know: Basha Gallery Is The Largest Privately Owned Collection Of Western Art In The US

By Nadine Arroyo Rodriguez
Published: Friday, July 3, 2015 - 4:34pm
Updated: Friday, July 3, 2015 - 5:02pm
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(Photo by Nadine Arroyo Rodriguez - KJZZ)
These are John Clymer paintings at the Zelma Basha Salmeri Gallery. The gallery is located at the Basha Headquarters in Chandler.

The Zelma Basha Salmeri Gallery of Western American and American Indian Art is a gallery created by the late Arizona supermarket owner Eddie Basha. It houses pieces he collected for more than 40 years.  Did you know the Basha art gallery is the largest privately owned collection of contemporary Western American art in the country?

“Primarily works done in our American collection are done by members of the Cowboy Artists of America. And then we also have a Native American collection, and all those pieces are done primarily by tribes indigenous here to the southwest as well, tribal members," said Tammy Fontaine, gallery director.

She’s been with the company for 30 years and helped Basha create this exhibit.

"We don’t really do tours because we don’t have the staffing for it, but the size of the collection, it’s probably an unheard of thing, but it’s just the way Eddie wanted it to be," Fontaine said.

This 11,000-square-foot gallery is located at the company headquarters — at the site of the first Basha's store in south Chandler. It’s named the Zelma Basha Salmeri Gallery, after Eddie Basha’s aunt, an artist herself and the reason Basha began his appreciation for the arts. After graduating from Stanford University with a history degree, he began purchasing pieces of art that depicted western history. Over the years his interest grew and so did his collection, well beyond his home space. In 1994 Basha dedicated a portion of the headquarters into a gallery.

“There’s about 3,000 pieces, between the paintings, the drawings, the watercolors, the sculptures, the Katsina carvings, the jewelry collection, the miniature pottery, the seed pot collection, the gun collection," said Fontaine.

There are also about 400 handmade baskets from Southwestern indigenous peoples, many made between the late 1800s to the early 20th century. Basha hand-picked each of the items in the gallery.

"Eddie knew all of the artists at one time or another. He met them, that was actually part of his joy and pleasure of collecting art, was being able to meet and befriend the artists," said Fontaine.

That means each piece is an original work.

More than 100 artists have their art on display here — including John Clymer, Joe Beeler and Howard Terpning. And American Indian artists Larry Yazzie, Cecil Calnimptewa and David Johns.

"It’s a way for he and for the Basha family to say thank you to open-up its doors and let the public come and take a look at the collection," Fontaine said.

No new piece of art has been purchased since Eddie Basha’s death in 2013. He was the purchaser of the pieces and it was his passion that filled the room. The galley continues to be open to the public.

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