The Dancing Wolf Gallery

The town of Elbert comes upon you suddenly as you round a gentle curve and leave behind wide open spaces for the black pines. It’s not hard to imagine this town at the turn of the century, when horse-drawn carriages parked in front of the Mercantile.

Now, the town is home to many small businesses, including the Dancing Wolf Gallery. Full of Indian art, antiques, and unusual pieces, its owner, Debra Sherman, was delighted to give me an interview.

When asked what prompted her to open an antique shop and gallery, Debra smiles and says, “I have loved ‘old things’ since I was a child. I purchased my first item for resale when I was about 10 years old (a typewriter), and my first Native American item when I was about 8 years old. Since this is a passion for me it just seemed the next step in collecting and learning about antiques. I had opened the first antiques shop in Elbert about 10 years ago but found I didn’t really have the time for it then. I came back some years later and shared a space with another dealer but that wasn’t where God wanted me. Finally when the current location went into bankruptcy and the tenants who were renting didn’t want to buy the building we decided that we loved Elbert enough to take a chance on this property. It has been a wonderful adventure and we love being here.”

Her favorite part of the job is the “search” and to “save” items from a tragic fate. “You never know what someone will bring into the shop to find out about, or what you might find that is interesting at an estate sale or garage sale,” she says. Debra also loves to do research. She just finished preparing a large appraisal for a client on Navajo rugs and, she adds, her eyes twinkling, “That was a blast! I have also met the most fascinating people. Everyone has a unique story and history. It is fun talking with customers about their past, what they collect, how they got into collecting and their history. The people who love the type of things I sell are the best folks anywhere. We have a lot in common and share a common passion. Many of my customers have become good friends and I am blessed to be able to say that.”

When shopping for unique items to feature in her store, Debra has strong criteria: it must have some antique or historical value. She runs an “antiques” store; she also looks for interesting smalls or gift items, but it should be something that not everyone has. For example, she has a coping saw from the early 1900s, barn doors from an old historic barn in Elbert County, artwork by listed artists, and her Native American jewelry is primarily from the 1960s and earlier. She has vintage items as well (from the 1940-1960s), because she knows younger collectors are interested in this timeframe. Also, lots of cowboy and Indian items. Deb says, “Even though I grew up on the southern California beaches surfing and playing volleyball, I was mostly a ‘tomboy’ and rode my horse every day and watched Gunsmoke and Bonanza religiously!”

I ask her what first interested her in art and antiques and she thinks about it for a moment. “It was probably the time I spent with my Daddy. He started off as a ‘horse trader’ in Old West guns and coins when I was a little girl,” she says. “I would go with him to his stops and hear the stories about the historic guns he sold and traded. It captured my imagination hearing about gunfighters, the Texas Rangers, mountain men, and the cavalry. I always loved horses so I gravitated toward old saddles, bridles, etc. I owned every ‘horse’ magazine that a girl from southern California could get her hands on and then moved on to historic Old West novels, etc. I would say it was just a gene that I was born with. I always buy old stuff for my house and always have. I can’t imagine living any other way.”

As a child, Debra’s folks traveled back and forth on the famous “Route 66” and she just had to stop at all the “trading posts.” She saved money from raking leaves and washing cars for those times. “My first little basket was a Papago for $8, an enormous amount for me, but I had to have it,” she laughs. “That love of Native American art has only grown with the passing years. I am always amazed at how a Native American woman can pick the materials or shear the sheep for wool, dry them, dye them and make a fabulous rug or basket.”

The art world opened up to Debra a little later in life after a trip to Paris with a girl friend in the 1980s. Impressionism was something new for her and it lead to more museums, books, magazines, etc. Although her shop has quite a bit of western art, it also has some cool modern pieces and folk art too. “That has recently become a passion,” she admits. “I love the old stuff made as ‘make do’ or using recycled pieces. I have found some interesting ‘prison art’ pieces and ‘tramp or hobo’ art things too.”

When asked what she does in her spare time, Debra chuckles and asks, “What spare time?! I am a busy gal. My husband and I live at the Old Sacred Heart Church in Elbert and we enjoy keeping ‘God’s property’ up. We have a small Bible study in the Old Church on Sunday at 10a.m. and enjoy the fellowship that follows the study. We have two mini donkeys and an old Navajo pony (a rescue) which I enjoy spending time with. I love my two dogs and they bring me lots of pleasure, love, and fun. We like traveling and I am hoping to return to Paris in the future, backpack in the greater Yellowstone area, and camp with friends. I also enjoy being a part of the Elbert Town Committee and friends with the people on that Board. We just completed our Elbert Day Festival and that was a really fun day! And the most fun I can have is the four state long garage sale that runs through Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee and Alabama! Now that is fun.”

I’m sure it is. And I’m sure she’ll pick up something along the way that will be just perfect for her shop. Why not stop in and visit her the next time you go shopping?


Interview Conducted in August 2015