Free Indian Market spreads its wings

Robert Tenorio of Santo Domingo Pueblo uses a yucca brush to paint a polychrome pot during last year’s Free Indian Market Show at the Scottish Rite Center. New Mexican file photo

Organizers say a lot has changed at Free Indian Market as it prepares for its second year.

But the message is still the same.

“Think of the Free Indian Market as a safety net — if any elders don’t make it into Indian Market, we scoop them up. Free booth space, free everything,” said Gregory Schaaf, a retired Indian studies professor who started the market.

Free Indian Market, created a year ago after some older Native artists were frustrated by their inability to get into the Indian Market sponsored by the Southwestern Association for Indian Arts, has sprouted since its debut in 2018. This year, 289 artists will be selling sculptures, pottery, jewelry and more Saturday and Sunday at the Scottish Rite Temple and in its adjoining parking lot. Last year, just under 70 artists were represented.

This year, Schaaf said officials extended the invitations not just to elders but also their family members.

The oldest artist is Griselda Saufkie, 84, a Hopi basket weaver who has attended Indian Market for more than 55 years. The youngest will be a 3-year-old rock painter.

The market advertised with permission from Santo Domingo Pueblo, putting up a 20-foot billboard near an exit on Interstate 25 that was designed by Ricardo Caté, a cartoonist who draws Without Reservations, which appears in The New Mexican.

Free Indian Market is now a nonprofit, partnering with the New Mexico Foundation, and Schaaf said the community support — from tribal governments, collectors, artists and galleries — makes the event possible.

Schaaf said most major galleries around the Plaza donated money or provided pieces of art for a silent auction, the method that provides most of the event’s funding. The money, he added, helps cover $20,000 in costs for renting the building and providing the artists with free food. He said all the work, except for security and cleanup, is done by a group of 25 core volunteers.

The better-known Indian Market, an event that attracts an estimated 120,000 visitors and at least $1 million in tourism revenue, also opens this weekend on the Plaza.

Schaaf said Indian Market, as an established event and crowd-drawer, helps enable the Free Indian Market’s success.

“You’re able to go to both, that’s the beautiful thing,” he said.

Still, for some artists, a tension between the two events is noticeable.

Schaaf noted elder artisans were hurt over the changes through the years at Indian Market, and he filled a need with the upstart event.

“If you create something with your own hands, you own it. These elders still feel they have a sovereign right to the Indian Market — and who’s to tell them it’s not theirs?” Schaaf said.

Robert Tenorio, 68, grew up in Santo Domingo Pueblo. A master potter who will sell his pots and stoneware at this year’s Free Indian Market, he said he learned the pueblo’s traditional patterns and motifs — such as deer, antelope, rams and birds — from his mother and grandmother.

While Tenorio said he used to donate to SWAIA, he said he felt “pushed aside” for younger artists. In 2018, he decided he would not be coming back.

“[Schaaf] feels what we go through and so he’s helping us out, giving us the opportunity to move our art, ” Tenorio said.