Photographing a small volcanic plume

A conversation with MARK SUBLETTE, author of PAINT BY NUMBERS: A CHARLES BLOOM MURDER MYSTERY (Just Me Publishing, On Sale August 16, 2012,, includes 22 original photographs).

 Q: Since you are an art gallery owner in Santa Fe, and so is Charles Bloom, how is he like you and how is he not like you?

A: Bloom deals in strictly contemporary Native material, all modern works. I handle primarily antique Native artifacts and western art. From a dealer standpoint, I’m sure I have felt many of the same emotions working in the art profession.

Q: How much of what you write about in this book is true?

A: I use a few deceased artists and historic facts to help bring scenes to life, but all the events surrounding these characters are fictitious. The geographic locations and timelines are accurate, and the Toadlena Trading Post is real. This is one of the reasons I include my photos–so you know what’s real.

Q: Is Bloom’s much like your Medicine Man Gallery?

A: We’re both located on the 600 Block of Canyon Road! The feel of Bloom’s is similar to many historic galleries on Canyon Road.

Q: How many times have you been to Navajoland, and does it still have hogans without electricity and trailers?

A: I love to visit the Navajo Reservation. The land has a starkness that is palatable and in some ways it’s just like it was 100 years ago. There are still hogans and houses without electricity or water. Having said that, young men in hoodies listening to rap are also a part of today’s rez.

Q: Does Canyon de Chelly really have all those old crypts?

A: There are crypts in Canyon de Chelly, but you won’t be able to see them as they are well hidden and not something that would be shared with outsiders.

Q: Is the character of Willard Yellowhorse modeled on any real-life Native painter, like maybe TC Cannon or Darren Vigil Gray?

A: Willard is no one and everyone. He is the creative power that can be found in all artists. He and his sister Rachael Yellowhorse in my mind embody people I would meet not only on the reservation but at a university. Well educated, yet respecting their culture.

Q: Have you ever met the famous people appearing in this book, like Andy Warhol, Donald Judd, and Jean-Michel Basquiat?

A: They were before my time, but captured my imagination in books and films. Since all the scenes I place them in are figments of my imagination, I sort of turn them into fictional characters, respecting how I would expect them to behave, and bringing some cachet of their times.

Q: Have you ever known an art dealer as unscrupulous as Bernard?

A: Thankfully no…though it’s possible they’re out there.

Q: Have you ever been to an auction at Sotheby’s in New York?

A: Many times.

Q: Do you believe in coyote spirits and evil chindi?

A: Surprisingly I do. There are some places and things we don’t understand, especially when it comes to Native American beliefs, and I don’t take those beliefs lightly.

Q: Did you take all the 22 photos in this book, and which ones are of Navajoland?

A: They are all my images, and all are of Navajoland except one of New York City and one is a drawing by Maynard Dixon of Canyon de Muerto done in 1923. The images were taken around the Toadlena Trading Post, Gallup, and Canyon de Chelly.

Q: When is the next Charles Bloom book coming out?

A: The next book comes out summer 2013 and is titled Kayenta Crossing. That book is more focused on the Navajo Reservation, with a new character who’s a young medical doctor, and of course Charles Bloom is back. The story for that particular book has been rolling around in my head for over a decade.