Another wonderful Indian Market has come and gone. As Michael and I were sitting back reflecting on our trip to Santa Fe, we remarked on the many different points of view one could have regarding Indian Market.
For the first time visitors, of which there were quite a few, Indian Market is a wild, frenetic sea of tents and Native American artists, all showing authentic Native American art. It was quite interesting to see the different pueblos and tribes represented, as Native American artists see Indian Market as similar to the Super Bowl of their craft. It is where the best of the best Native American artists gather, and the first-time visitors marvel at the artistry of the weavings, pottery, beadwork, jewelry, paintings, and other artistic expressions. After a very short period, sensory overload takes place, aided no doubt by the 7,000 foot altitude of Santa Fe. Park benches are rapidly occupied, as shady respites are sought. There are dances in the street intersections, often small Native American children in full regalia showing their mastery of the buffalo dance, the eagle dance, or others. And everywhere one looks, there are people proudly wearing their best turquoise jewelry.
For veteran visitors to Indian Market, there is a bit of a different vibe. Certain artists are sought, and deliberate planning of visits takes place. This is what my parents did thirty or forty years ago – they found the artists they really liked and stopped to visit, and sometimes to buy. For this year’s Indian Market, Michael and I had a short list of artists that we absolutely had to see, as we had built relationships with them over the years. We organized our list by street, and started looking for our friends. It is a really special feeling when an artist recognizes me, and gives me a big hug.
There is a small subset of the veteran visitors, the collectors. These are the folks who come to market with a mission. Often the mission starts on the Friday before Indian Market, when the SWAIA preview is held. The winners in each artistic category are announced, and ribbons are handed out to the artists. As the artists are not allowed to sell their wares prior to 7:00 a.m. on Saturday, the collectors take note of the artists and their booth numbers, and often line up outside the artist’s booths before dawn on Saturday to get that winning piece of art.
Another small subset of the veteran visitors are gallery owners. We spent some time on Thursday afternoon visiting with several of them on Canyon Road, including Al Anthony of Adobe Gallery, Mark Sublette of Medicine Man Gallery, and Lyn Fox of Lyn A. Fox Fine Pueblo Pottery. Many of the galleries host artists during Indian Week, showcasing their works and giving folks a chance to meet the artists in person. These gallery owners are really special people, not only knowledgeable about Native American art, but also passionate about the art and support of Native American artists. They are honest and fair, and I am happy to count them as among my friends.
SWAIA, the Southwestern Association for Indian Arts, is the group that manages Indian Market, and conducts the peer judging of entries. They provide two ribbons – one for the artist and a duplicate ribbon that accompanies the winning art. The judging is an incredibly difficult task, as often the difference between first place and second place is a very minute bobble or brush stroke.
In addition to a continual effort to promote Native American arts, SWAIA does a wonderful job of organizing Indian Market activities each year. Indian Week is a weeklong celebration of American Indian culture, with dances, a lovely fashion show, and other different events leading up to Indian Market weekend. One event that Michael and I attended, as SWAIA members, is the Friday preview showing all the winning artwork. We also enjoyed the Saturday morning welcoming breakfast at Cathedral Art Park, with a wonderful live flute and drum duo setting the mood. Another event is the Saturday night Silent Auction, in which the artists donate incredible pieces of art for auction, with the proceeds going back to benefit the Native American communities.
Finally, the artists also have a perspective on Indian Market. Over 1,100 artists were selected for this year’s event, with many of the best coming year after year to the same treasured locations. The streets surrounding the Santa Fe Plaza are closed on Thursday, and large canvas tents are erected beginning on Friday. Everyone has the same tent appearance, and artists spend Friday setting up their individual areas. Early on Saturday morning, before the sun peeks out of the mountains, they are setting up their wares and looking forward to two very long days of selling their wares. Many artists are electronically capable, taking credit cards or PayPal. Some take checks, and some take only cash. There are a few ATM’s at banks on the Plaza, but those tend to run out fairly quickly – so be prepared. For many of these artists, this is their biggest weekend of the year, and we chatted with a number of artists who do very few events each year, so much of their annual income is derived from Indian Market.
So what are my major conclusions from this year’s Indian Market? The event is very well organized, and SWAIA and the City of Santa Fe are to be congratulated and thanked for doing such a wonderful job. The atmosphere of Indian Market and the electricity running through all the tents and streets is amazing, because this event does an incredible job of celebrating the talent and skills of a very large, very diverse group of Native Americans. But even more important to me than acquiring more art (and yes, I did do a bit of that as well), is the opportunity to talk with the artists and learn their stories, to learn more about their culture and background, and to appreciate even more the dedication to their art that they have. Knowing an artist gives so much more meaning to their work. I sit in my Gallery in the quiet morning hours, looking at the new treasures just acquired, and I reflect back on the conversations I had with each artist. The sharing of stories, the growth of new knowledge, and the transfer of an artistic vision to a tangible piece of art – those are priceless memories that I bring back from Indian Market, and I will spend the next few months relating different tales from this year’s market, and planning our next adventures to the American Southwest.