After a solid week of running about the rarified atmosphere of Santa Fe (7,200 feet in altitude), we staggered toward the finish line, exhausted yet eager to launch into the culmination of Indian Market week.

The organization that puts on Indian Market each year, SWAIA (Southwestern Association for Indian Arts), works tirelessly all year to launch this event.  Most people don’t realize how much effort is required, from selecting an impartial, expert jury to select participants, to securing individual artist business licenses from the City of Santa Fe, to transforming the downtown square overnight into a large, safe, coordinated venue for over 1,000 Native American artists and 100,000 or more visitors.  They use a lot of local volunteers, who are integral to the success of this event. The Members of SWAIA are amazing.

The event is not just the weekend art exhibit, but also a preview show, a gala and charity silent auction, a fashion show, book signings, dances and celebrations, food and drink vendors, and a swirl of other activities that rapidly lead one into sensory overload.

We always start with the preview show on Friday evening, where the winning artists’ works are displayed.  It is such fun to go through the works that were submitted for the competition, and see so many ribbons won by our artist friends.  While Indian Market is the best of the best – those who win ribbons are the best of the best of the best, and they are artists who have created art that is beyond elegant.  The preview show has a silent auction as well, and it is always tempting to put in a bid or three to see if we can add a beautiful piece of art to the Gallery.  The jewelry cases were loaded with simply stunning creations this year, and I made notes to be sure and visit a number of their booths during the weekend.

To address a venue of over 1,000 artist booths, one can either wander about like a deer in the headlights, or make a systematic plan.  Yes, over the years we have tried both approaches, finding positives and negatives of each approach.  Wandering about can lead to serendipitous discoveries, letting us find new artists we hadn’t seen before, or artists who hadn’t exhibited at Indian Market in prior years.  But the mathematics of Indian Market, which is only open for 18 rapidly expiring hours during the weekend, works against that approach.  We settled on a systematic plan, carefully crafted prior to heading to Santa Fe, which divides the market area into two roughly equal areas.  Michael then plots a maximum efficiency path from artist to artist on our contact list, and then I drive him crazy by wandering away from the path.

But the systematic approach seems to give us what we need – the ability to see our friends, stop and chat (and possibly to purchase), and share some more stories.  On Saturday morning, we started by arriving at our parking location by 6 a.m. – and those of you who know me understand how challenging that is – and carefully await the official start at 7 a.m.  The SWAIA folks have a lovely breakfast and live Native American music waiting for us, and we fuel up before charging out on our mission. 

One Indian Market semi-myth is that serious collectors go to the Friday night preview, see what ribbon-winners or other pieces of art that they want, note the booth locations, and show up promptly at the crack of dawn outside those booths to get the item.  For the most part, this is very true.

One of the artists we wanted to visit was Erik Than Tsideh Fender of San Ildefonso pueblo, and his highly talented family.  Erik even posted a picture on Facebook of the ribbon winners this August, including his mother Martha Appleleaf, his son Ian, and of course, Erik.  We showed up on Sunday around 7:30 at his booth, but Erik was still driving in from the pueblo, so we decided to have a quiet breakfast at the Plaza Restaurant (Erik always seems to have a portal location right outside this restaurant).  When he and his family arrived, we finished our meal (hint, try the blue corn pancakes – they are totally yummy) and went outside to visit.

Of course, by Sunday morning all of the Fender family of ribbon winners were long gone; that to be expected. Talent seems to flow through this family, going back a number of generations prior to Erik.  Even more impressive, Erik teaches other Native Americans at the Poeh Cultural Center (well worth the visit) and shows them the tools and techniques necessary to be accomplished artists in their own right. I always enjoy visiting with Erik and his family. They are always eager to discuss the pottery making process and I learn something new every time.

And that is how our weekend went – visiting old friends like Erik and Navajo jewelers Michael Kirk and his daughter, Elizabeth; meeting new artists like Hopi jeweler, Piki Wadsworth and Navajo potter, Jared Tso; and having a totally exhausting and grand time.  Strolling down the rows of booths, watching dances, seeing everyone decked out in their finest Native American jewelry, observing the little children with huge admiring eyes – all of this transported me back to when I was a small child doing the same things with my mother.

There is no other event like Santa Fe Indian Market.  Even if you only make it once in your life, you must go.  Try hard to take in everything – kind of like getting in the swimming pool and trying to drink all the water.  But the effort is worthwhile.  You will come away with a much broader appreciation of the enormous talents of the Native American artists, and if you stop to talk with them and learn their stories, you will better connect with the art – the heart and soul of each artist contained in their work.

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