Santa Fe Indian Market


By Bruce Bernstein

Celebrates its Centennial

INDIAN MARKET is the biggest event of the year in Santa Fe, taking over the entire downtown. The Southwestern Association for Indian Arts (SWAIA) sponsors the annual market, selects and vets the approximately 1,200 participating artists, judges the artwork and awards prize money totaling about $100,000. Organized and managed by SWAIA and a legion of dedicated volunteers, the two-day event attracts an estimated 150,000 people and brings more than $160 million in revenue to the artists, the city and city businesses.

Today’s Indian Market is more than a two-day event. Activities start two weeks before the actual market, with antique Indian art shows and auctions, gallery and museum openings and 100 percent bookings at local hotels and restaurants. To take part in these events, artists come to Santa Fe from throughout the United States and Canada. Visitors come from all over the world.

The market wasn’t always this large and diverse. It has evolved thanks to a careful and cherished strategy driven by tens of thousands of artists and marketgoers over the past century. Over time, market’s distinctive structure was developed. A key part of its creation story is that of the Pueblo people who founded the Indian Fair — as it was then known — providing its aura of generosity, sharing and concern for the wellbeing of people everywhere that it retains today.

Today’s Santa Fe Indian Market has two direct lines of ancestry, both rather modest. First, in 1922 the Museum of New Mexico held its first Southwest Indian Fair, as much for self-promotion as to encourage tourism in Santa Fe. The indoor fair was part of the larger Santa Fe Fiesta, developed as a community celebration in 1912 and revived following World War I. The Fair was the culmination of 15 years of trial

and error by makers and supporters in creating new pottery styles to sell to Anglos.

The first Indian Fair visitors had to pay an admission fee, except for Indian people in Native dress. All entries were juried and included pottery and watercolors from students at the Santa Fe Indian School and a burgeoning group of adult Indian artists. Traders from Shiprock, New Mexico, sent Diné textiles. The Gila River Indian agent sent a collection of Tohono O’odham baskets, and a variety of beadwork came from the Crow Creek Yankton Sioux Reservation in South Dakota. The fair also included Pueblo cooking, Diné silver jewelry making, painting demonstrations and a multitude of prizes for agricultural crops. A main attraction of Fiesta were Pueblo dance groups.

Early markets featured Pueblo potters, particularly from

San Ildefonso, Ohkay Owingeh, Santa Clara, Tesuque, Cochiti and Zia. (Some village councils and governors prohibited their members from participating.) Artisans could each enter up to three pieces, which were put on exhibition and sold for the makers by the museum and its volunteers.

The fair’s organizers apparently wanted Pueblo people to remain in a timeless state — directing San Ildefonso potters

to replicate ancestral Tewa pottery for the benefit of tourism and anthropological research. But copying others was something the village potters would not do. In place of this myopic view, Pueblo potters took the opportunity to create new pottery forms and to work in a medium that was new to the Pueblo world: watercolor paintings.

The fair's Anglo organizers demonstrated a resolve to create an event to honor and celebrate Indigenous people and arts, in contrast to the U.S. Department of Indian Affairs, which at this time issued a circular prohibiting Indian dancing, calling it immoral, lewd, lazy, pagan and irrelevant. Indian agents were directed to take punitive measures to stop dances.

The Indian Service and its commissioners were assimilationists and Christian reformers. Government-run Indian boarding schools and day schools had long prohibited Indian children from speaking Native languages and drawing Native subject matter. Schools aimed to replace the children's Indigenous culture with an idealized version of white, Christian culture.

An Indian Service deputy commissioner was invited to make remarks at the opening of the first Indian Fair. He suggested that while it was all right for Native people over age 50 to practice traditional cultural arts, younger people should get on with becoming productive members of white society. Suffice it to say, no one paid much attention.

In those first years, Pueblo potters and their families would stream into Santa Fe on foot and by wagon to enter their pieces and to participate in the pageantry and dance performances of Santa Fe Fiesta. Dance groups were paid quite handsomely. Once in town, people camped in designated areas, the sites of joyous reunions with friends and family.

In the pottery competition, judging was intended to instruct both potters and buyers about which pots were “better” — that is, worth making and worth purchasing. Pottery was judged by village rather than in one large category. First-place entries won $5; second-place pots won $3. A typical bowl or jar might sell for fifty cents or a dollar.

After the 1926 market, the Museum of New Mexico ended its affiliation with the Southwest Indian Fair. From 1927 to 1932, an independent Southwest Indian Fair Committee, loosely affiliated with the Indian Arts Fund (IAF), worked with traders to host the fair. One innovation introduced by the committee was to purchase and resell pottery in the months leading up to the fair from villages that were too far away for the potters to travel to Santa Fe.

In 1932 the Southwest Indian Fair was taken over by the New Mexico Association on Indian Affairs (NMAIA), an advocacy organization that had successfully fought for Pueblo land and water rights. For the next three years, there was no fair in Santa Fe, but NMAIA members traveled to different villages, usually on feast days; visited Indian schools; and attended trader- and Indian agency-organized tribal fairs at Zuni, Shiprock and Gallup. At these events, NMAIA members posted drawings from IAF collections and awarded prizes for what they judged to be well-made arts and crafts brought to their display.

The second genesis of the market occurred in 1936. NMAIA secretary Maria Cabot developed and implemented a series of summer Pueblo art fairs on Saturdays under the Palace of the Governors portal, which forms the north side of the Santa Fe Plaza. Her inspiration was Mexican Saturday markets. She named the event Indian Market.

Through the establishment of Saturday markets, NMAIA gave Pueblo artists a means of earning money and entering the broader economy of the region. Every Saturday, NMAIA bused potters and their families from their villages to the Plaza. Each participant was allowed to sell whatever they brought. However, NMAIA placed stickers on the bottoms of items judged to be of better quality, awarding prize money to the best. In a further effort to promote improvement in Native arts, participants were bused to the Laboratory of Anthropology, where they were encouraged to study ancestral and historic objects in the museum's collections.

While World War II brought an end to the weekend markets, Indian Market returned as part of a small, wartime Santa Fe Fiesta, during which Indian people sold arts and crafts under the Palace portal and performed traditional dances in the Palace patio. Pueblo people did not feel very appreciated in town, with just a few local businesses welcoming the influx of cash in their stores, which followed immediately after Indian artists made sales. Meanwhile, Indian people were allowed to use only one restroom facility in the entire downtown.

In the 1950s, as the original organizers grew old, Indian Market almost died. Fortunately, a group of local traders and Indian art collectors took over. They instituted a series of new ideas, including inviting individual participants instead of going through each village's governor and council.

The 1960s and 1970s saw an increased interest in ethnic and Native arts. When tourists came to Santa Fe in August, they discovered an event where they could buy directly from makers. Because there were no middlemen, collectors began flocking to Santa Fe to buy art.

In 1964 the market for the first time added a row of booths directly across from the portal artists. A second row was added in 1966, for a total of 50 new artists. In 1970 Indian Market took place under the portal of the Palace and along the north and east sides of the Plaza. All 200 artists who showed up on Saturday morning that year were given booths. In 1972, 25 more booths were added. By 1974 booths ringed the entire Plaza, accommodating about 500 artists. There was explosive growth in cultural arts like pottery and jewelry, and new forms, such as sculpture and paintings, to incorporate.

The exponential growth led SWAIA to make the market a juried show in 1977. The Standards Committee walked the market to ensure artists were following SWAIA's rules regarding materials and techniques, and to confirm that what was being sold was made by the artist. Artists stand at the vanguard in defining what is and what is not included in the market, and in recent years, the event has had fewer restrictions, only requiring artists to be truthful about materials and techniques.

By 1980 the market had grown to 330 booths. Two years later, the first booths were added on Lincoln Avenue. In 1991 the market expanded onto Washington Avenue. By 1992 the market featured 557 booths and 1,043 artists, with 300 more on the waiting list. Booths were added on Cathedral Avenue in 2010. This year SWAIA estimates the market to include close to 650 booths.

Changes in judging, tenure, organization

Judging for awards has been a consistent part of Indian Market since its beginning. The first indoor fairs were judged when artists entered their work. The outdoor markets required judges to race ahead of buyers to award prizes before artwork was sold. This problem was poorly remedied in 1976, when artists were asked to bring items for judging to the Palace patio on Saturday mornings. It was not until late morning that the work was returned, and artists could sell it. The following year, to resolve the problems with Saturday judging, La Fonda graciously lent its meeting rooms to receive entries and for judging. A day was added to receiving and judging when this integral part of market was moved to the city's convention center in 1986. Since then, organizers have adjusted the judging schedule several times. Today, artwork for judging is received on Wednesday, judging is on Thursday and the Best of Show celebration and artwork previews take place on Friday.

The 1980s were a time of organizational changes for SWAIA. It moved into its own office space and hired its first employees, although the association was still dependent on a large number of volunteers and the largesse of many. Booths and canopies for the market were stored behind a Siler Road home. La Fonda hotel provided a meeting place and SWAIA's postage-stampsized office. Board members did everything from building artist booths out of two-by-fours to codifying rules for jurying, entries and judging. New judging categories were developed so that, for example, nontraditional stone sculptures were not judged against Hopi katsinas.

By the 1990s, Indian Market's enormous success attracted more non-southwestern artists and diverse art forms. This led to the creation of the tenure system, which honored original market families and their contributions, and ensured that they would have booths at the show. As the market continued to expand, a small minority of artists sought to end the practice, claiming that tenure did not allow enough new artists and art forms to be admitted to the event. They also believed that every artist should be juried every year. At the urging of this group, tenure was ended a few years ago, largely affecting older artists and family groups who had been the backbone of Indian Market for decades. Unfortunately, there was little reason for eliminating tenure: it only harmed long-time market families, many older people, and reduced the presence of community-based art forms. The total number of tenured artists was already rapidly decreasing due to the age of many tenured artists, and new art forms were continually being entered by new artists, bringing fresh perspectives to the market from throughout North America.

Indian Market continues to expand. The luxurious

SWAIA Fashion Show originated as a Plaza stage exhibition of traditional clothing. In recent years it has featured such luminaries as Royale Da as master of ceremonies, Tom Ford as a judge, the indomitable Jeri Ah-be-hill (Kiowa-Comanche, 19332015) as organizer and visionary, and Taos fashion designer Patricia Michaels leading a fashion parade. A weeklong Native film festival, spawned from a short attempt to include film as one of the judged art categories, is also attached to today's Indian Market. Dance groups — once the principal fundraiser for SWAIA — are no longer an official part of the market but now independently grace the Plaza with their performances. Much of this expansion has come through partnerships with

other Native arts and culture organizations. What has not changed is SWAIA's continuing and pressing need to raise the funds needed to plan and build the revered August event around which we all congregate.

A giant family reunion

A company is now hired to provide and build booths beginning on Thursday night following the annual Native music performance on the Santa Fe Plaza. By Friday the booths are ready for SWAIA staff and volunteers to hang booth cards identifying artists and art forms. Artists begin unloading tables and display cases into their booths on Friday night.

Market artists are expected to be in their booths by 7 a.m. Saturday. SWAIA carefully choreographs the long lines of cars and trucks moving through the rows as artists arrive with their works. They are excited but also exhausted from preparing for the event, packing up their artwork and their families and driving to Santa Fe. Artists fill hotels and motels; some stay with Santa Fe friends. Waiting at their booths on Saturday morning are thousands of admirers and buyers. As friends reunite and sales are made, SWAIA staff is kept busy solving a multitude of logistical challenges.

Artists, family members and visitors all have their own memories of Indian Market. And therein lies its beauty. The market is composed of the stories of diverse peoples and artistic traditions — first of Pueblo peoples whose artwork is the legacy upon which the market is built, work that is now interwoven with that of other Indigenous peoples and creative forms. If you can resist, you do not need to shop to experience and enjoy Indian Market. Just meeting artists there creates a distinctive and bonded community.

Today's market is about people, culture and tradition. The market community comes to Santa Fe to see family and friends, to learn and enjoy. It is first and foremost a giant annual family reunion. For two days each year, lines are blurred and everyone is a member of the Indian Market family.

Bruce Bernstein earned his PhD in anthropology from the University of New Mexico. He has held a number of distinguished positions in Santa Fe and Washington, D.C. He currently researches and writes about Indian Market, Native arts and the Southwest and is completing several collaborative writing and exhibition projects. He is also the tribal historic preservation officer for the Pueblo of Pojoaque.






Santa Fe New Mexican