Saturday, opening day of Indian Market
Last night thunderstorms rolled in over the Santa Fe area, bringing wild clashes of thunder and lightning and heavy rains. And heavy hearts to all of us counting the hours until the opening of Indian Market. Rain is always needed here, but rain for Indian Market would be detrimental to the artists who could lose sales if casual shoppers stayed away. Despite the strong collectors market, artists also depend on impulse purchases that happen when someone falls in love with a piece after hearing the story of how it was made.
I awoke to rain in the early AM, too, but it was light and the wind had subsided. I decided to head up to the Plaza as planned and be there for the early action. Only the most intrepid and dedicated buyers ( and me!) appear in the Plaza area in downtown Santa Fe in the wee hours of Saturday morning, well before the official opening hour of 7 AM.
In darkness they wait: a small price to pay to be first in line to obtain a coveted piece from a favorite artist. The only way to score the choicest pieces is to be first in line at the artist’s booth.
Sometimes the line forms before the artist arrives. Such confirmation of one’s work at Indian Market must be gratifying. Rumors fly among the early go’ers about the year the guy bought all the pots from a pottery artist as she unpacked them. Apparently he handed her a wad of about $60,000in cash for 8 large, choice pieces, and finished her day before it began. Or the story about the Best in Show piece that resulted in an on-the-spot, mini auction between several frantic buyers all of whom wanted it, driving the $16,000 price up even higher.
While this kind of interest can be fueled over any artist, the most desirable pieces are those selected as a winner by the judges in the Best of Classifications. Hundreds of pieces of art are entered into the judging as artists vie for titles and monetary prizes. Artists bring their pieces to the Civic Center where each piece of art is organized by genre and material.
The judges are sequestered until they announce their decision on Friday morning. Once the winners are announced, the general public is invited to the Civic Center on Friday evening to view all of the artwork. This marks the final countdown to Indian Market and people stream into the Civic Center. Serious buyers come and ‘scout’ the pieces and decide which they will try and secure for their collections early on Saturday morning. Collectors who purchase the coveted Best of Classification pieces ( or the Best in Show Piece ) also receive the corresponding Blue Ribbon.
The value of the Best of Classification pieces begins their escalation in value from this point. Artists who win in these categories are suddenly launched to a new level of status and their work will enjoy more attention and recognition. I also imagine that the price that they had in mind for their piece will be higher by the time that the piece arrives at market on Saturday. Commanding larger sums of money for one’s work is part of the opportunity that a win at Indian market brings to the artist.
I attended the luncheon for SWAIA ( Southwest Association of Indian Art ) members on Friday morning, and the listing of the winners with some photos appears below. And of course, from all of the Classification winners, the most desirable prize of all – Best in Show- is chosen.
Best of Classifications:
Classification I: Jewelry — Chris Pruitt
Classification II: Pottery—Jody Naranjo
Classification III: Paintings, Drawings, graphics and photography—Duani Reynolds-Whitehawk
Classification IV: Wooden Pueblo Figurative Carvings—Arthur Holmes
Classification V: Sculpture—Marcus Wall
Classification VI Textiles—Lynda Teller –Pete
Classification VII: Diverse Arts—Jamie Okuma
Classification VIII: Beadwork & Quillwork—Joyce Growing Thunder
Classification X: Moving Images—Bennie Klain
Classification XI :Basketry—Jeremy Frey
Classification IX: Youth ( 17 years of age and under)—Valerie Calabaza
Best in Show Winner— Jeremy Frey
There are many sub-categories, too, under each classification, and winners are chosen in each of these categories as well. For instance, jewelry has 2 main divisions and 20 categories in genres such as bracelets, earrings, pins and pendants, buckles, rings, and more. Thirteen additional awards were given this year for works of exceptional merit, and all total, over $100,000 in prize money was awarded to deserving artists.
Judges are selected each year for their authority in the field of Indian arts, and they are visually trained in knowing how to ‘read’ a piece. They include artists, educators, gallery owners, museum curators, and the like. Most but not all are Native Americans: the overarching criteria is expertise in the specific field that they are judging, and a wide perspective on Indian arts and culture, including unique spiritual beliefs and customs that many artists incorporate into their work.
This year 57 judges called on their wisdom and perspective to select the winning pieces from a pool of extraordinary talent. As one judge said: ‘The visual response or the emotional response is really the key thing. Then we look to see how accomplished the work is, how mature.’
Rains delayed the usual early opening of the market on Saturday, but the weather cleared and brightened by 8 AM. Then the crowds began strengthen. By the time that I passed by Jeremy Frey’s booth his prize-winning basket had sold hours earlier, for just over $16,000.
In his booth, a customer lamented the fact that someone had beat her to the purchase. Most of his smaller baskets, priced in the low thousands of dollars, had sold, too. Several of them remained on display, emboldened with ‘sold ‘ stickers. After I congratulated Jeremy on his well-deserved win and walked away, I could hear him telling her that he would be happy to custom make a similar basket for her. Her response was somewhat drowned out as I was quickly swallowed up by the crowd, but I had the sense that it was in the affirmative.