Exhibit honors 100 years of Indigenous art
By Patti LaSalle-Hopkins
Santa Fe New Mexican
Best of Indian Market Honoring Tradition and Innovation: 100 Years of Santa Fe’s Indian Market, 1922-2022 An exhibit tracing the 100-year history of Indian Market takes the viewer on a journey led by Native artists whose forebears were not recognized, let alone celebrated, for their works. Sponsored by different cultural and civic organizations from its origin as the Southwest Indian Fair in 1922 until 1959, when the Southwestern Association for Indian Affairs (now Southwestern Association for Indian Arts) picked up the banner, Santa Fe Indian Market has offered a widening pathway of support and visibility for Native American artists. Today, Honoring Tradition and Innovation: 100 years of Santa Fe’s Indian Market offers a year-long look at the arts and artists who have made Indian Market widely respected and world-renowned. Guiding visitors through the decades with displays of awardwinning works, the exhibit pays homage to the origins of traditional art and the evolution of contemporary creations. “The exhibit's goal is to commemorate, celebrate and honor the artists, volunteers and collectors who have participated in Indian Market over the last century,” said Cathy Notarnicola, curator of Southwest history at the New Mexico Museum of History. “The exhibition also explores federal Indian policies that have shaped the market and the Indian world over the past century.” As visitors enter the museum's Herzstein Gallery, they encounter a mural depicting the Laguna Pueblo train station circa 1880. In the image, a vintage train is parked, ready to serve as an engine of commerce for remote destinations of the West. The muralist, David Rock, depicts blanket-draped Native Americans balancing decorated pots on their heads, ready to offer their wares to arriving passengers. The tourists are eager to bring home Indian Country souvenirs, even if they lack interest in the cultures producing them. As the exhibit shows, Native artists also created curios, such as small human figurines, typically produced under the direction of non-Native dealers. Although curios were rejected as tourist trinkets not worthy of display in the first Southwest Indian Fair in 1922, the exhibit includes them, Notarnicola said, so that visitors can see the difference between authentic works and objects shaped through commercial exploitation. The production of low-quality objects did have a positive side effect, she added — stimulating interest in genuine Pueblo pottery, with its artistry proudly interpreted and exhibited today. Among those interpreters was trendsetter Maria Martinez and her husband, Julian (San Ildefonso Pueblo), who helped Native artists become visible through their works. The exhibit includes photographs of Martinez family artists, along with their awardwinning signature black-on-black pots. A black-on-black pottery bowl with a water serpent design — the work of Martinez's greatgreat grandson Cavan Gonzales (San Ildefonso Pueblo) — has a place of honor in the exhibit. Honoring Tradition and Innovation also reveals historic exclusionary practices, modified through the increased involvement of Native Americans in management of their own art sales. Before 1931, some Native American art was sold via catalog or by nonNative staff at early Indian Markets, separating the customer from the creator. “There was no interaction,” said Notarnicola. “Artists were unable to share their cultural and artistic traditions. You don't get that without direct access.” Today's practice of meeting and greeting at booths throughout the Plaza is one of the most valued experiences for patrons of the market and is another avenue for recognition of artists. For purchasers, talking with the artists moves the shopping experience from visual admiration to cultural awareness. Evoking the dogged determination of some collectors, a video shows a well-known Santa Fe resident spending the night at a booth for early access to his desired purchase. Today, as the centennial exhibit illustrates, anonymity and exclusion have been replaced by professional recognition and respect for heritage and artistic authenticity, with the highest levels of creativity recognized and rewarded. “In collaboration with SWAIA, we tried to acquire as many objects as possible for the exhibit,” Notarnicola said. Displays include more than 250 on-loan works by 200 Indian Market award winners, along with photographs of other winning entries. The exhibit includes interviews with collectors and with artists producing pottery, jewelry, weavings, painting, sculpture, beadwork, basketry and more. It also traces important changes in the market, which now includes Native artists from throughout the nation and Canada. As the exhibit's name suggests, the market encourages innovation along with tradition. The show's final installation boldly makes that point with head-turning, edgy pottery and fierce warrior figures made by Virgil Ortiz (Cochiti Pueblo). In his solo installation ReVOlution, Ortiz uses high-fired ceramics and other materials to depict futuristic characters from his narratives offering new perspectives on the Pueblo Revolt of 1680. Between objects that honor the past and those that anticipate the future, the exhibit shows a diverse collection of awardwinning art, most of it from private and public museums in New Mexico and Arizona, from 26 lenders and collectors. The exhibit also chronicles the changing locations of Indian Market, from individual pueblos and the Plaza portal to indoor facilities such as the Santa Fe Armory, shown in early photographs with rugs hanging from high ceilings and display cases filled with art of all kinds. Other installations include a photo wall by Kitty Leaken, who has been photographing the market since 1982. The earliest pot shown is from Laguna/Acoma Pueblos circa 1900; the most recent winners displayed include Best of Show from 2020 and 2021. Among other early items is a pot measuring 22.5 inches in diameter by Trinidad Medina (Zia Pueblo), a 1938 award winner. According to Notarnicola, its size reflects a preference among some non-Native buyers for large objects, which tend to win awards for the level of expertise they represent. Smaller, more detailed works include a “fancy basket” by Jeremy Frey (Passamaquoddy) of Maine, winner of Best in Show in 2011 — an example of the market's inclusion of artists from throughout the nation. Intricate basketry such as that by Carol Douglas (Seminole/Northern Arapaho) illustrates the evolution of baskets from practical vessels to objects of art. Her Cultural Burdens 111 has small “burden baskets” attached around the interior. The basket represents women as keepers of cultural knowledge, according to Notarnicola. The exhibit shows how the work of artists such as Kathleen Wall (Jemez Pueblo), Marie Gachupin Romero (Jemez Pueblo), Robert Tenorio (Santo Domingo-Kewa Pueblo) and Margaret Tafoya (Santa Clara Pueblo) have served as the keepers of creativity, manipulating diverse shapes, patterns, colors and textures to produce unique works. Winning entries from the children's category include a Buffalo Dancer made with paint and pencil on paper by Jalen Martinez (Tesuque Pueblo). One of the most emotionally affecting pieces in the exhibit is a ledger book by Dallin Maybee (Seneca/Northern Arapaho), a multimedia artist. A children's story told with painted images on antique paper, the book follows the activities of a Native child impaired by a limp. He is comforted by a supportive family, including a grandfather who proclaims, “My grandson is not a throwaway boy.” Through August 2023. Patti LaSalle-Hopkins is a local writer and editor who spends a great deal of time enjoying Santa Fe’s museums.