An abridged history of Toh-Atin

Amidst the controversy over the Chief, I would like to remind readers that “The Chief” has lived in Durango since 1948. He pointed to the Chief Diner, which started in a railroad car from the Silverton Northern Railroad. For many years, the restaurant was a favorite among locals and visitors. Great breakfasts in a vintage dining car and steak dinners in the back dining room. An artist from Disney was hired to paint the interior with kitsch art. Nobody questioned the Chief Diner, and the Chief’s neon waving hand became sort of a historical figure in local lore. 

The Clark family has lived in Durango since Jackson Clark’s great, great grandfather, Harry Jackson, arrived in the late 1880s. His hardware store on Main Ave. was a foundation of the Durango business community, much as Toh-Atin has been a current foundation in our community. Mary Jane Clark grew up in Blanco, N.M., where her parents ran a trading post. They had Navajo and Native neighbors who became close friends. Toh-Atin Gallery was established in the 1980s and has become an internationally acclaimed gallery famous for Native American textiles. They boosted exposure for high-quality Native textiles and art. Their main goal has always been to support the weavers and artisans of the Navajo Nation and other tribes. They work with tribal members and are welcomed into their homes. In Covid times, the Clarks have taken the lead to help Navajo families in every way possible. They have many friendships on regional reservations.

While times have changed since 1948, The Chief stands as a piece of kitsch deco art that is a part of Durango’s history. If it was moved to the Animas Museum and called “art,” would we feel differently about it? There are stereotypes and racism of all kinds in the world today.  However, since the Chief is now privately owned, and on private property, it would be best to let the owners of Toh-Atin Gallery decide if they want to remove it.  They work with Native culture and communities on a daily basis. It is their business and their property. Let them decide.

– Linda Mannix, Durango