Native Arts: beadwork

Ninety-nine years ago, Santa Fe hosted its first Southwest Indian Fair and Industrial Arts and Crafts Exhibition. Timed to coincide with the city’s annual Fiesta in September, the exhibition was established by the Museum of New Mexico and a group of society women who wanted to protect New Mexico’s Indian population by supporting and fostering sales of Pueblo artwork. In the following decades, the organization went through name and leadership changes, the date of the art market shifted into August, and it eventually became today’s Santa Fe Indian Market, produced by the Southwestern Association for Indian Arts. After a pandemic hiatus, the premiere Indian arts show returns Saturday, Aug. 21, and Sunday, Aug. 22, with an awards ceremony and preview events on Friday, August 20.

This year’s Santa Fe Indian Market is a little different than in the past. There will be 500 booths instead of 800, and areas will be enclosed so that organizers can control the crowd and follow whatever health protocols are currently in place. Attendees will also pay an admission fee to the formerly free event.



As Indian Market’s reputation grew over the years, many Native families in New Mexico came to depend on the income generated on that single weekend. Smaller shows in hotels and galleries sprang up around town, but the main game was still on the Plaza. With more artists applying for entry, and with physical space at a premium, SWAIA did away with tenure in 2017. Elders who’d been selling their work at market for years, without having to be juried-in, were suddenly without booth space.

In 2018, Gregory Schaaf created a show expressly to support those artists, called Free Indian Market, at the Scottish Rite Temple on Paseo de Peralta. “We created it with 68 artists, and in 2019, we had 305,” says the retired professor of Native American history and author of too many Native arts books to list here. “This year, we have 500, indoor and outdoor. We don’t have ribbons or competitions. Our motto is ‘honor the elders and respect the artists.’”

Jewelry made by Native artists often reflects the region in which it's made, both in material and aesthetic. 

This year, Free Indian Market has been moved across the street to Federal Park, due to rising Covid-19 infections, and all vendors and participants are required to wear masks. Schaaf says that highlights of this year’s event include the kick-off at 8 a.m. on Saturday, with traditional Zuni drummers, dancers, and singers, and San Ildefonso potter Barbara Gonzales at her booth both days, signing copies of Shaped By Her Hands: Potter Maria Martinez (Albert Whitman & Company, 2021). The children’s book is about her great-grandmother, Maria Martinez, the acclaimed potter.

Free Indian Market isn’t the only upstart show. We Are the Seeds emerged in the Railyard Park in 2017. The Indigenous art, music, and culture festival will be back in 2022, and this year has an exhibition at form & concept gallery (435 S. Guadalupe) showcasing its history and some of its artists.

The newest show to spring up is Pathways Native Arts Festival, this Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at Buffalo Thunder Resort Casino (30 Buffalo Thunder Trail, (505) 455-5555, hiltonbuffalothunder.com). Co-produced by the Poeh Cultural Center and Pojoaque Pueblo, Pathways features 300 artists as well as music, food, workshops, and panel discussions. There’s also a Friday-night fundraiser to benefit The Coalition to Stop Violence Against Native Women. Poeh Cultural Center’s executive director, Karl Duncan, says that the event keeps growing because people keep calling and asking to be included.

“We wanted to support artists who needed a market, but it’s evolved into a festival to help visual artists, performers, filmmakers, and writers.”

Whether you attend Santa Fe Indian Market, head to the other markets and smaller shows, or visit local galleries and museums, you’re bound to encounter Native arts in the City Different this weekend. Being a collector isn’t required to enjoy the festivities. All you need is an interest in art — but curiosity about history, culture, and the lives of the artists selling their work can make the experience especially rich.

In that spirit, Pasatiempo spoke to local curators and expert art dealers about four of the many genres to appear at the market. ◀

(1) comment

Elizabeth Pettus

When tenure was ended there was no difference in the age dispersion of market. Tenure was not administered appropriately for decades.

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