Herbs, art and lasting relationships
Phyllis Hogan and Winter Sun Trading Company take traditional trading post model into 21st century
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. - Winter Sun Trading Company is a busy trading post and Phyllis Hogan is a busy woman. On a typical day she has artists coming in and out of the shop, the phone rings continuously and people needing help stream in and out along with friends who come by to say 'hi.' Hogan explained there is a reason for all the activity.
"This is Winter Sun," Hogan said. "We are a destination because we have been in town so long."
Hogan opened Winter Sun in 1976. The trading post is located at 107 N. San Francisco St. in Flagstaff.
The reason Hogan started Winter Sun was not to trade jewelry or kachinas. Herbs were the catalyst of Winter Sun.
Hogan said she spent three years with an elderly Yaqui and Mexican woman in Coolidge, Arizona. She recalled that the woman, Ms. Valencia, had a renowned reputation in Arizona where she owned a shop for 50 years. The Hopi, some Navajos, San Domingo's from New Mexico, Zuni and the Yaqui people would go to her for help. When Valencia decided to retire, Hogan asked her if it would be okay for Hogan to open a similar shop but one that would sell American Indian art and herbs, too.
"I wanted to have a place where I could offer this to people," Hogan said. "I could learn from them and they could learn from me."
That knowledge helped Hogan start a comparative study of the beneficial herbs in the state of Arizona and she was the director of the Arizona Ethno-Botanical Research Association. But she did not do it alone.
"There were a lot of Native people who assisted me on the way, it wasn't just me," Hogan said. "A lot of really important people helped, especially on the western Navajo Nation."
In fact, Hogan calls the kind of help she has received and gives back reciprocity. And it is one of the important parts about Winter Sun. She said there is a long history of trading posts on the reservations. They were places people went to socialize and where people could learn new things.
"I think a lot of times people trust you and want to tell you things and talk to you and share things with you especially if you have kids hanging around just like they did in the old days on the reservations in trading posts," Hogan said.
Hogan worked hard to build those relationships. She lived with her kids in her shop for the first 15 years of its existence. She got taken out into the deserts and forests. She was told about the sacredness of the plants and how to pick them correctly.
"I started off as a collector for the traditional elders, so that's how I really learned about this," Hogan said. "The whole thing was basically just the herbs."
She wanted to know what the people of the Southwest used, especially the western Navajo and Hopi, did they have different names for the plants, did they use them for the same or different uses?
"That was fascinating to me because I had a real deep connection with the Hopi and then later came a deep connection with the Navajo," Hogan said, adding that she wanted to also learn about the Yaqui connection because of Valencia.
"That's where I was coming from, rather than making money, I wanted to preserve this lady's work, her knowledge and then add to it," Hogan said.
She learned that there were similarities between the tribes - mostly their respect for the plant kingdom.
"None of those guys, the traditionals, ever go out there and pick without making offerings, without thinking about it," Hogan said.
She also said that there are rare and endangered species of plants that grow in association with archaeological sites along the Little Colorado River.
"I've done a whole study on that," Hogan said. "With elders, we found plants that no one has ever known were there before."
Winter Sun started featuring Native American art when some of Hogan's Hopi friends and Navajo friends started to leave some of their work, jewelry and kachinas in the shop on consignment. This was in the early days when Hogan did not have enough money to buy the artwork outright.
"They'd sell it and I'd get a cut, they'd get a cut and it just escalated," Hogan said.
What Hogan knows - and what makes her shop unique - is that relationships matter over time. Hogan has worked with the same artists for years, whether it is the younger kids of parents, grandparents or great grandparents, the same family lines are represented in her store as they have been for decades. Her kids grew up thinking of the artists who came and went as family. And they still consider them family years and generations later.
"I have my handful of people that I've been dealing with for a long time and they're the ones I like," Hogan said. "We've done a lot of stuff to promote the Native people and I respect them, because that's how we make our living together."
Hogan's daughter, DeeAnn Tracy Brown, said she grew up hearing stories in the shop, hearing traditional people telling her mom, 'oh yeah, these herbals cured my grandmother, we've been using this,' or other people coming in the shop trying to find something that would work for them, to help heal them.
"When I went away to college I ended up getting really sick because I was taking antibiotics all the time," Brown said. "And so I came back to the herbs and I felt how it cleaned my body and got me back to good health and then I decided to follow in mom's footsteps."
She studied at the Southwest School of Botanical Medicine in Albuquerque and now she sells skin care products, called Peak Scents Botanical Body Care in the store and on the web. Her sister, Denise Tracy Cowan, is the owner and formulator for the Super Salve Company, which started when she was asked to formulate a salve that would prevent and help heal foot fungus, a condition that many river guides and passengers suffer from. The doctors were recommending an anti-fungal cream. Cowan's salve beat out the anti-fungal cream.
"The whole thing with my girls here, offering to the world, a parabin free, non-hormonal disrupter skin care, that's brilliant," Hogan said.
Brown said that any day of the week she can come in and see artists whom she has known since she was a little girl.
"This is like my home and I get to see my friends all the time. It's been a wonderful way to grow up and still have this," Brown said.
Hogan said that most places don't carry the range of items - artwork, skin care products and herb -that Winter Sun carries.
"We are like an old fashioned trading post," she said. "It's like a bootstrap store and there's very few places left in Flagstaff that are like this."