Indian Market 2011, Part 1

Santa Fe, Friday

I arrived today in one of my favorite places…..the City Different, Santa Fe, New Mexico. As expected in mid-august, the sky is blue and dotted with fluffy, white clouds. And the air is hot but dry, a blessed relief from the sweltering, humid weather where I live in New England.

I quickly dropped my bags in my hotel room and headed out onto the streets and into the galleries. There is a noticeable buzz and excitement in the air, especially among those of us gathering here in anticipation of Indian Market.

During the week leading up to market ( Saturday and Sunday August 20 & 21st ) many special events are held in galleries, hotel and city spaces that bring artists and collectors together. All of these are fun and educational and add to the excitement of the arrival of the grand finale – two glorious days of Indian Market.

On Thursday and Friday evening many of the galleries that represent Indian artists feature special showings, hold gallery talks, artist-in-resident afternoons, and early evening cocktail gatherings. These are see-and-be-seen social opportunities that give the art collecting public intimate, one-on-one ‘face-time’ with the artists. Many of the hotels around the Plaza, too, invite Native artists to showcase their works with special ‘ trunk-shows’ of new works.

Those attending Indian Market must be ready for a visual overload of art in many genre. There is more than usual to see right now in Santa Fe, and many more delicious ways to spend money ( this is in addition to dining in the tasty Santa Fe restaurants!) these few short days.

In essence, for those who love Native American art in all of its glorious manifestations – jewelry, pottery, painting, Katsina dolls, rugs and other weaving, Indian Market is the zenith of the best native talent.

For many artists, the gathering of collectors ( private collectors as well as buyers for museum collections and galleries around the country and abroad ) and the simply eager and curious that arrive for Indian market ( it is estimated that we are in the vicinity of 90,000 strong ) provides them with a significant portion of their annual income.

The Native American art world has many superstar artists in all genre of art – Robert Tenorio, Tammy Garcia, Dan Namingha, Anderson Peynetsa, David John, Cippy Crazy Horse, Anthony Lovato, Upton Ethelbah, Jr., Ray Tracey, Virgil Ortiz, and many others. Each year Indian Market reveals talented new artists to an eager public. In fact, SWAIA ( Southwest Association of Indian Art), the organization behind Indian Market, lists 60 new artists under the age of 17 as exhibiting this year.

The handful of artists who win one of the coveted Best of Classifications will suddenly find their career in high gear and in the top group whose work is most desirable to collectors. But many of these artists do not have superstar status. They live on their Pueblos and reservations and are accustomed to working quietly away from the public eye. So these few days is a time for them to step forward and meet with collectors one-on-one. The ability for artist and collector to interact in this way is one of the true benefits of attending Indian Market. It is an opportunity for collectors to not only purchase art directly from the artists, but to learn how the piece was made and often, to learn about the tradition behind the piece and the passion that went into crafting it.

SWAIA charges the artists a booth fee to exhibit at Indian Market, but they do not charge a commission on the money generated from sales of their artwork. Each artist sets their prices as they see fit, and in general I find the prices to be fair and lower than what one might expect to pay in the galleries for a similar piece from that artist.

But really, one does not come to Indian Market to compare prices with what is being charged by the galleries but to purchase something treasured and wonderful from the person who made it. I feel that everything that I have purchased at Indian Market is part of an experience that I would not otherwise have had, and one that is more personal than when purchasing from the galleries.  Jewelry that I purchased from certain artists years ago is always slightly different from the work that they doing now…..neither is better but each piece represents a marker in that artist’s growth and evolution. I enjoy hearing about what they are doing/not doing directly from them.

Indian Market provides the spotlight for these artists and their art provides the shine. During the next few days these talented artists will become the sole focus of attention in downtown Santa Fe. No one knows for sure because all sales are private, but it is estimated that several million dollars are spent during these few days of fevered buying.

But galleries, jewelry shops and textile shops are busy too, during Indian Market. Collectors work with favorite galleries and gallery owners throughout the course of the year, as these folks have their ear to the ground and have developed close established ties with their artists. While galleries may take a back seat to the outdoors selling during Indian Market, their efforts in promoting Native American artists and exposing the talents of Southwest artists to visitors from all over the world should not be underestimated. The sales people in these galleries and shops and the owners are highly knowledgeable and very enthusiastic about the artists that they represent. For me, my education in Native American art comes not only from the artists themselves but also from the shops and galleries and from the museums.

By 5 AM the most determined buyers will be waiting in line at the booths of the artists whose work they covet most. Some artists sell out of their pieces in the first hour.

I too will be there, searching for my favorite Zuni potter.

Good luck to all !

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2 thoughts on “Indian Market 2011, Part 1

  1. Regarding the statement “SWAIA does not charge the artists to exhibit at Indian Market”, SWAIA doesn’t take a commission from artist’s sales, but they definitely charge a considerable booth fee. It’s incredibly competitive to get in and a major investment as well.

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