Ira Wilson said he feels bad when any Native American artist fails to make the cut for the annual Santa Fe Indian Market.

“I’m always disappointed a little bit myself when an artist is wait-listed or doesn’t get into Indian Market,” he said Wednesday, “because I’m pro-artist.”

Wilson, since Feb. 26 the executive director of the Southwestern Association for Indian Arts, said he won’t second-guess the selection process this year, but is considering changes in future markets to preserve space for traditional artists while continuing to foster contemporary Native American artists.

“It takes a lot of thinking through,” he said. “It can’t be something that’s reactionary. I wouldn’t go down that road because both sides deserve the utmost respect.”

Wilson took his post just after the selections were made for this year’s Indian Market, which SWAIA organizes. His remarks came just after Robert Tenorio, a renowned potter from Kewa Pueblo, also known as Santo Domingo Pueblo, was wait-listed rather than selected outright to participate in Indian Market in August. Tenorio said he has taken part in the market regularly since the 1960s.

Of 1,154 artists who applied this year, 846 were accepted, including 20 already pulled from the waitlist, according to SWAIA. The waitlist numbered 100 at the start and at least 20 more may be placed after May 4, the deadline for payment of entrance fees. More will be placed during the weekend event on the Plaza as artists sell out.

Tenorio’s work did not score high in a blind, juried selection process to guarantee him a booth at this year’s market, Wilson said. He said Tenorio is high enough on the waitlist that he’ll probably be offered a booth after May 4.

Tenorio, 67, said Wednesday that two nieces, Rose Pacheco and Ione Coriz, both potters, and a nephew, also named Robert Tenorio, a jewelry maker, were also denied spots.

The elder Tenorio, who won his first ribbon at Indian Market in 1967, said SWAIA is shifting its emphasis away from showcasing traditional artists and methods toward highlighting contemporary artists. He said he pulled out of the prestigious market in 2015, in protest, when fellow Kewa artists’ applications were denied.

“It started like three years ago that they started to eliminate people,” he said. He returned in subsequent years until his application this year was denied, he said.

Longtime collectors of Native American art are disappearing, he said, and with them their demand for work by recognized masters. Tenorio, a traditionalist, gathers his own materials, including clay for the pots and plants with which he makes the paint he uses on them.

“The early collectors are all gone, and now it’s the later and contemporary arts,” he said. “Those are the people winning ribbons, and the [market organizers] are putting aside the traditional arts.”

Evidence of that shift surfaced last year when SWAIA did away with a long-standing tenure policy that ensured some longtime artists admission to the art show. The association also turned to an online application process in which digital photographs of artists’ works are the basis for the jury’s decision. That puts older artists at a disadvantage, Tenorio said.

“This is my only contact, with my home phone,” Tenorio said. “As a potter, I promised myself and my ancestors to stay away from all that.”

He said Indian Market representatives came to the pueblo to photograph the pots as part of artists’ applications, but some artists later said the photographs did not represent their work very well.

Wilson said SWAIA will discontinue the practice of photographing artists’ work for their applications, although it will continue to help Pueblo artists register online.

“We were very aware that a lot of our elders are not computer savvy or even have access to the internet,” he said. “It was that community outreach that SWAIA has been doing and will continue to do as much as we can to help our elders register, even travel to different pueblos, different reservations, to help the elders register.”

SWAIA also accepts paper application forms; 250 artists applied that way for this year's market.

Wilson said he’d rather the artists be responsible for their own photographs. That way, no one will feel SWAIA is the reason their application fell short.

He knows Tenorio and respects his work, Wilson said, calling Tenorio “an incredible human being.” But he said the jurying process, while difficult, is fair.

“Everyone is given a fair opportunity to shine for Indian Market,” he said. “It’s based on a jurying system and we’re not excluding race, age, [gender]; we’re really about being fair and transparent.”

Wilson, originally from Teec Nos Pos, Ariz., previously was the lead buyer for the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center in Albuquerque, according to the announcement of his hiring by SWAIA. Indian Market, nearly a century old, has room for both traditional and contemporary forms of Native American art, he said, but must foster a new generation of artists.

“We’re always evolving into something different and beautiful,” he said. “At the same time, we have to acknowledge those who put the stepping stones for us and built that strong foundation for us, and enable these artists that are pushing the envelope to create amazing new art.”

Contact Joseph Ditzler at 505-986-3034 or

Clarification, April 24, 2018

Clarification: This story has been amended to include that the

Southwestern Association for Indian Arts also accepts paper application forms, and that 250 artists applied that way this year.

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