The Brian Joyce AffairSeptember 25, 2012

Santa Fe is an interesting little city, tucked between several mountain ranges that make up part of the great Rockies. What makes the place different are the many characters who are attracted to it, and I proudly admit to being one of them.

Another such person was Brian Joyce, a long-haired Anglo artist and jeweler who was famous around town for his empty pockets. All he wanted to do was sell his home-made jewelry under the portal at the Palace of the Governors museum like about sixty Indians did every day. That didn’t seem to be asking too much, except that the city kind of reserved that commercial space for Indians. The thinking at the Chamber of Commerce was that the many visitors who came to visit Santa Fe from foreign places thought it was quaint to see only Indians under the portal, a tradition that went back many decades.

So the museum director asked Mr. Joyce to please leave. It would have been so uncomplicated if Brian had just gathered his things and gone elsewhere. But of course he didn’t, and his refusal made the front page of the local papers. The next day he was back in his spot again and sold a few necklaces. At last it looked like he was going to make a living.


The law says that if the legal guardian of a building asks someone to leave and they don’t, then that person is guilty of trespassing, pure and simple. But the Palace of the Governors was a publicly owned building. So his story was all over the front page again, and by now it had advanced him into an iconic role of sorts. People started taking sides and I was reminded of the tree that floated down the Mississippi River. There were 50,000 ants on the tree and each one thought he was driving.

So the next day, as Brian was placing his jewelry neatly on a blanket under the portal, the legal guardian of the museum, accompanied by two fully-armed police officers, asked him to leave, and it seemed to be an issue of great moment. He refused, and as a result was charged with trespassing then led away in handcuffs. It was none of my business, although I followed it in the newspapers. The press started talking about him in the past tense.

Well, that night Brian was seriously assaulted by a couple of drunken prisoners who were in the same cell. When that news hit the headlines, suddenly I figured that it was my business after all. I went down to the jail and paid Brian’s $150 bail. He felt terrible and his face looked ransacked. He was a picture that certainly wouldn’t fit into a Norman Rockwell frame. I congratulated Brian for making a stand for freedom that he thought was right. Life has a flavor the sheltered will never know. But I suggested that he make plans to sell his jewelry elsewhere because if he didn’t I was going to run out of money.

Jill Cooper, the wife of Senator Tom Udall was the Director of the Office of Cultural Affairs for the state and the buck stopped with her. An admired and respected friend for over thirty years, I went to her and we had a nice visit. I explained that at a time when school boards were busing minority children all over the country trying to give them an equal education, she was putting people in jail for wanting an equal opportunity. It was tantamount to making him sit in the back of the bus, or worse. She was sympathetic, but in a “no win” situation. Public opinion was strongly on her side but if it came to a showdown, a judge would probably say there were no laws that prevented Brian from selling his jewelry alongside the Indians.

Jill was a very bright lawyer who knew her way around the wiggles of both the law and public opinion. In an emergency meeting at the museum it was decided that henceforth the Indians selling their wares under the portal at the Palace of the Governors would be a display. That seemed to solve the problem because displays were controlled by the museum curator, and she certainly wasn’t going to allow Brian to be part of her exhibit. Brian wandered off into the twilight and I was out a hundred and fifty bucks.

Except that thirty years later I received a package from Brian Joyce. It was mailed from East Lynn, MA, and contained a letter and a drawing. The typed note said:

Brian Joyce

“Dear Forrest,

Hey, I’m still alive. Sorry I haven’t stopped by to see you lately. I’m writing because as I recall I still owe you a hundred and fifty bucks from the bail money you so generously provided so many years ago. So I’m sending a drawing to assuage my own conscience. It’s a self portrait drawn from mirror to paper a few years ago.” His interesting letter continued to say things of a personal nature and he invited me to his web site: When I clicked on it the first thing that caught my eye was “I just got another censorship notice from…”

Yes, Santa Fe has attracted more than its fair share of personalities through the years. Many come and stay but just as many probably come and go. No matter, it’s still the best place on the planet to live and make a living.

And the first person who sends me $150 plus thirty years of interest can have a nice self portrait by one of Santa Fe’s most interesting characters.

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