Where few have dared to go

Three traditional artists innovating to keep their heritage alive

By Kelly Koepke Photography by Gabriela Campos

Traditional Spanish Market is called “traditional” for a reason. Market artisans continue the carving, tinwork, straw appliqué, jewelry, and other artistic practices inherited from their 17thcentury ancestors. Within the market’s entry and awards processes, the Innovations within the Tradition subcategory allows artists to — gently — push the boundaries of legacy art forms. While working within established formats, they use their creativity to take on new subjects or incorporate novel materials, tools, and techniques. The results bring their works to life in new ways.

GLORIA VIGIL | Metalsmith

A sense of curiosity has driven jewelry artist Gloria Vigil to keep evolving her skills and designs for more than 30 years. Fascinated by how her welder uncle and builder father used their tools, she first learned to do jewelry inlay from Denise Wallace, a Native artist. Then, seeking her own style and medium (and the desire to use a welding torch), she moved to filigree — a technique that turns fine silver and gold wires into twisted, braided, or curled patterns. The intricate compositions allow her to stretch small amounts of expensive precious metals over more pieces. “Filigree is so delicate and complicated looking. I never thought I could do it. But I kept talking to people and learning more,” she says. One of her ornate filigree pieces took second place in the precious metals category at the 2022 market. Carrying on the traditional art form is important for her. “It means a lot for my culture and the things I believe in,” Vigil says. “It’s important for my kids to see what we’re a part of and how we did things way back.

As time goes by, people lose what they did in the past, so I’m trying to keep it going as much as possible.” Vigil’s pendants, crosses, and sacred hearts sometimes incorporate unusual shapes or include gems or semiprecious stones as accents instead of metal. These eye-catching approaches move her into the Innovations within the Tradition classification.

“Being in the innovations [category], I can go beyond,” she says. “I can do a cross that’s not traditional because it’s shaped like a different kind of cross from another culture. Or in a sacred heart, I might use a heart-shaped stone instead of a metal heart. That’s not something they did in the 1800s.”

In her own shop, Vigil enjoys reinventing the medium of metalwork. “I want to see for myself how much I can do, because I love playing with metals and seeing what comes about. I like to try different things because I don’t like for my stuff to look like everyone else’s. I want to stand out and have people say, ‘That’s Gloria’s stuff.’”






Santa Fe New Mexican