A major portion of Native American cultures revolves around celebrations. Whether they are feast days, dances, or just celebrations of the seasons, these celebrations are often full of color, music, and happiness.
One approach is seen in the Zuni Pueblo MainStreet festival, held each year on the first weekend of May. This celebration involves the entire Zuni Pueblo, starting with opening remarks by the Zuni Governor, the Honorable Val Panteah, and proceeding through dances, competitions, carnival rides, and of course, sales of art by the talented Zuni art community. The fairgrounds are always packed with Zuni residents and visitors alike.
For the past several years, Michael and I have been fortunate enough to visit the Zuni Pueblo during their MainStreet celebration, and we always try to stay overnight at Roger Thomas’ Inn at Halona, located right in the middle of the pueblo. The historic old trading post, started by the Vander Wagen family in 1897, has been renovated to a very quaint inn, with 8 uniquely decorated rooms. To my knowledge, it is the only guest establishment right in the heart of a pueblo, and it is easy to walk around the pueblo and enjoy evening dances.
During the MainStreet celebration, various Zuni artists participate in Art Walk, where visitors can drive around to their shops and watch them create their art, and possibly even acquire a piece or two for their collections. Look for signage for the artist locations, as everyone who lives in Zuni knows the streets, but visitors can sometimes get lost. Just ask my wonderful husband about getting lost in Zuni – he knows!
This year, Zuni MainStreet is on May 3-5, and if you are anywhere near the southwestern corner of New Mexico, it is very much worth a drive to visit this wonderful community and their annual celebration. I have always enjoyed going to this show, and have even been asked to be an art competition judge from time to time, but unfortunately this year our schedules don’t permit, so we will have to miss it for the first time in years.
Another celebration will be that happening at the end of May at the Santa Fe Convention Center. Over Memorial Day weekend, May 25 and 26, the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture (MIAC) is hosting a market of about 150 artists, all of whom are invited to participate by MIAC as the best in their categories. Started in 2005, Native Treasures has emerged as a gem of a market for discerning collectors, and avoids much of the heat and crushing crowds found at larger, outdoor markets. Native American artists come from around the United States and Canada, and there is always a great diversity of styles. Plains Indians with intricate beadwork and clothing, Southeastern Indians with clever basketry, and of course jewelers from around both countries represent only some of the artists represented.
Each year, MIAC announces Living Treasures, artists who have demonstrated over the course of their careers that they are among the best of the best. This year, they have chosen two brothers, Mateo and Diego Romero, of Cochiti Pueblo, as their honorees. MIAC will hold an artists’ reception on Friday night, May 24, giving everyone in attendance an opportunity to mix and mingle with these talented artists on a very informal basis. The Artists Reception is at the MIAC museum up on Museum Hill and requires separate ticketing for that event.
We will be at Native Treasures this May, and will make sure to take lots of pictures to include in our travel blog.
In between these two celebration formats, pueblos have dances to celebrate various occasions. Some of the dances are open to the public, and others are closed for religious reasons. And generally, photography is not permitted, so be careful to know and follow their rules.
Dances can sometimes be tied to feast days, an annual celebration where the pueblos celebrate cultural events such as the harvest season. These tend to be open to the public, and can be wonderful fun to watch and participate. If you are fortunate enough to be invited to a meal with a Native family, that is an amazing experience filled with good food, laughter, and relaxation.
Last year, we were invited to Santa Clara’s feast day, which was the weekend before SWAIA’s Indian Market. Our friend Jeff Roller asked us to drop by, even though he was spending the entire day with his dance group performing for the crowds. He said we should go over to “grandmother’s house” to get something to eat. Well, in Santa Clara, every house is “grandmother’s house” but we managed to find it. And yes, his grandmother is Margaret Tafoya, so we were literally walking into the home where she grew up and did most of her amazing pottery. We sat and chatted with family members and friends – often feast day evolves into moving from house to house to sample different dishes. Then we sat under a big tree on one of the plazas and watched the dance groups rotate through. Each group represents a separate clan in the pueblo, and all have their specific style to represent their clan. With five or six plazas between homes, the dancers rotate from one plaza to the next all day long.
Another format is the one with which most of us have the most familiarity – the large market where different artists set up their booths to display and sell their art. The largest is SWAIA’s Indian Market in downtown Santa Fe every third weekend in August, and this year they will celebrate their 98th annual market, making them both the largest (with a capacity of almost 700 juried artists and an estimated 250,000 visitors) and the oldest market. Preceding this weekend event, there is a week of festival – dances, clothing competitions, and other festival activities.
Right behind is the Heard Museum’s Indian Market, also an outdoor venue on the Museum grounds. The Heard just celebrated their 61st annual market in March, but had only a couple hundred artists and just tens of thousands of visitors. The Autry Museum in Los Angeles, the Museum of Northern Arizona in Flagstaff, and the Eiteljorg Museum in Indianapolis also have large, juried, annual markets. There are also non-museum sponsored markets, such as Cherokee Market in Tulsa, and Red Earth in Oklahoma City, and all have their unique take on celebrating Native American culture and arts.
We are often asked by our artist friends if we will be at an upcoming event, because many of them like to see their friends. It is always fun to see who is on the artist list, and we carefully note where our friends are located so we can stop by and chat for a bit, possibly finding out how they and their families are doing. To me, that is one of the top reasons we go to these shows – building those long-term relationships with the artists and their families, learning more about who they are and about their cultures, and sometimes even spotting a new artist we hadn’t noticed before. It keeps us on the road quite a bit, often to shows in Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arizona, and Colorado eight to ten times a year, but the benefits to us are enormous.
If you get a chance, and have a spare weekend coming up, look around your area for an upcoming festival or market, and go enjoy. We always take plenty of water and folding chairs, and carefully research any costs or restrictions before we go, and then set out to have another adventure. Watch the weather carefully, and dress appropriately, and you will be just fine. And then you will have a memory to last a lifetime. And if you go to one of the major events, get ready for sensory overload.