Christmas in Alsace and Germany

This Christmas, Bob and I celebrated our first real Christmas in 38 years.

Christmas Tree in Strasbourg, France

Christmas Tree in Strasbourg, France

Since we downsized our store this summer to a smaller space, we shed much responsibility and stress. Now our life is concentrated exclusively on our tea, and we have  something that we are not used to – some free time, and easier life-management. While we are far from retired, we have renewed energy and feel young and almost carefree again. So in a decision based on sheer fun and self-indulgence, we decided to do something that we have always longed to do – visit Christmas Market in the Alsace region of France and parts of Germany. So we made a plan, booked flights, hotels and  trains for late November and let the anticipation build. We were not disappointed.

Colmar, France

Colmar, France

Christmas Markets begin their festivities in the days right before Advent and continue up until Christmas Day. The markets continue a tradition of selling and trading and gathering people together for joyful celebration that began 400-500 years ago in medieval cities and towns across Europe. Today, this festive spirit continues in most cities and many small towns, in the main medieval market square or in the streets surrounding a cathedral or prominent church in the heart of old town. According to our friend Peter, who lives in Stuttgart, Germany, each village with more than 4,000 inhabitants has its own Christmas Market – or Weihnachtsmarkt – as they are known in Germany. Regional differences in the crafts and the foods sold bring different a flavor to each market, so it is best to visit several markets, both city and village, to experience the local specialties.

A vendor stall in front of Strasbourg Cathedral

A vendor stall in front of Strasbourg Cathedral

Christmas Market, Nurnberg, Germany

Christmas Market, Nurnberg, Germany

But no matter if the market is large or small, the air is scented with the sweet perfume of spices, honey, carmel, gingerbread, and hot spiced wine, and the savory aroma of sausages grilling over a wood fire. For us, after years of selling European holiday goodies in our store – Pan d’Epice and Fruit Breads from France; Marzipan, Lebkuchen, and Stollen from Germany – this trip allowed us to taste these goodies in their historical places, and to appreciate many variations of these celebrated treats.

Candies and confections in a shop window

Candies and confections in a shop window

Two varieties of Lebkuchen

Two varieties of Lebkuchen

While Christmas Market reflects the tastes of today, it embraces the traditional past and speaks to people of all ages from many countries. We heard many languages being spoken as we wandered in these lovely towns and cities, and we were astonished at the crowds – Christmas Market is very much alive and well. Merry-makers filled the streets day and night, but the best atmosphere was in the evening when the sun went down and the lights came on. Everything from vendor stalls to timbered houses are illuminated and wrapped in a warm cozy glow. Can you see the tidal-wave of people in this photograph?

Getting close to the Nurnberg Christmas Market!

Saturday afternoon – just arriving at the Nurnberg Christmas Market!

It was delightful to see people of all ages laughing, hoisting a glass together and singing along with the street choirs and having a joyful time. Shopping temptations were many and I saw a majority of  visitors carrying large tote bags filled with goodies and purchases. Grandparents found plenty of treats, edible and not, for their grandchildren. It was easy to fall in love with adorable wooden toys, carefully sewn stuffed animals, old-world inspired tree ornaments, elegant glass decorations, hand-crafted wool ornaments, stables and manger figures, and other lovely items.

Temptations

Glass Temptations

Lebkuchen Santa cookies

Lebkuchen Santa cookies

We shopped at vendor stalls and selected small, hand-crafted tree trimmings and decorations made of pewter, wood-shavings and lace; indulged in many kinds of local sausages; drank local wine and beer, and of course, also enjoyed many glasses of the holiday spiced wine known as Vin Chaud in France and Glühwein Germany.

A very popular Christmas Market stall

A very popular Christmas Market stall

We wandered in and out of charming old book stores, lusted over and purchased a few reproduction gingerbread cookie molds, visited nearly every church and cathedral to be found, and took in as much feeling and atmosphere of the old city streets as we could.
In both France and Germany, many food vendors work in their stalls – roasting chestnuts, caramelizing almonds, baking Lebkuchen gingerbread cookies, fruitbreads, etc. We were enthralled watching them work and the aromas of their foods was enticing. These displays of cakes and confections was very appealing, and shoppers were quick to snap up the best looking offerings.

Rich, honeyed fruit breads

Rich, honeyed fruit breads

In Germany, we watched a glass artist put the finishing touches on a richly colored piece of stained glass that depicted a drummer clad in medieval tunic and stockings keeping time on his drum. Around the corner we joined a crowd of onlookers who were mesmerized watching a baker who was giving the final decorative touches to a sheet pan of spicy Lebkuchen cookies.

Decorating a tray of ready-to-bake Lebkuchen

Decorating a tray of ready-to-bake Lebkuchen

Old poster in a shop window

Old Lebkuchen-vendor poster in a shop window

In Alsace, city streets leading to the old square are festooned with lights and decorations, and shopkeepers add to the magical atmosphere by decorating buildings and storefronts with elaborate decorations and themes.

Strasbourg,France

Pedestrian street Strasbourg, France

specialty food shop in Strasbourg, France

Above the awning of a specialty food shop in Strasbourg, France

Elegant Christmas-inspired  storefront decorations

Elegant Christmas-inspired storefront decorations

In Nurnberg, we awoke on our last full day to an overnight snowfall. It continued to snow throughout the day, adding to the fairy-tale feeling of this place. We feel truly blessed to have been able to experience a little taste of European Christmas and look forward to more years of such adventures.

My new friend!

My new friend!

Anderson Peynetsa, Zuni Potter

My needle always settles between west and southwest. The future lies that way to me, and the earth seems more unexhausted and richer on that side. – Henry David Thoreau

I discovered this line in a Thoreau essay titled Walking. It expresses how I feel about the Southwest more eloquently than I could do myself.

A fanciful decanter vividly painted and shaped like a duck

What is it that inspires me  to return again and again to this rugged, sometimes lonely place ? I think just about everything – the wide open, un-blemished spaces; the soft, pale colors of ancient mesas, sprawling desert and deeply cut canyons that define the landscape; the clear, pure light; the shifting weather and dramatic skies; the high elevation and dry air; the tumultuous history of this place and the blended cultures of today; the museums and galleries (equally educational); and Native American art and artists.

While there are fine art painters of all stripes in the Santa Fe and Taos areas, and galleries that specialize in Spanish Colonial art, Cowboy art or Western art, Native American textiles, sculpture and jewelery, my special weakness is for polychrome Pueblo pottery. Although I admire the diverse work of many talented Native American potters, my favorite pieces are made by Zuni potter Anderson Peynetsa.

Anderson holding one of his little painted pots

When I finalized my plans to attend Indian Market this year (Indian Market is a once a year juried show of Native American art held in the streets of downtown Santa Fe on the 3rd weekend of August and produced by SWAIA). I quickly scanned the exhibitor listing for Anderson’s name. YES,  he would be there and I was thrilled that I would be able to meet him and see some of his new work.

On the first day of Indian Market, I arrived in downtown Santa Fe around 6 AM and made several passes by his booth hoping that he would be there. Towards 7 AM he was at his table and had just finished unloading his precious cargo from his car. His wife and children were busy  un-wrapping some large, exceptionally gorgeous pieces, and I scanned the table quickly to take in all that they had brought.

He told me that he had made these large pieces to sell at Indian Market, and I was thrilled to see them. I knew that these pieces would certainly be snapped up before the weekend was over, and I was envious of the lucky collector (s) who would take these pieces home with them.

I have been a fan of Anderson’s work and Zuni pottery for a long time, and have admired many of his pots in galleries in the Santa Fe area over the years. Honestly, these stunning pots (he let me hold them!) were among the best pieces of his work that I have seen. They simply took my breath away.

Anderson’s pots are built the way Zuni potters before him have made their pots – from hand-rolled, thin coils of clay. The shapes of his pieces are pleasing to the eye and are impeccably gracious in aesthetic and even in shape. His painting has matured into a fluid, rhythmic style. Like most pueblo potters, he makes his paints from earth and plant pigments. He paints with black and reddish-brown pigments on either pure white or dark, earthy red highly polished backgrounds.

Working as a team, Avelia sands and polishes the pottery. Anderson told me that she has the touch for that – he breaks the pots when he tries to polish. Pots are made in the morning and painted at night. Small pots dry in one afternoon; large ollas dry for several days. He applies his white slip evenly and rather liberally – the color of clay body of the pot does not show through. Some artists let the clay show through a thin coating of slip and I find it distracting from otherwise nice work. He also has a very steady hand with the paintbrush and is very good at loading his brushes to deliver an even application of pigment over the surface of the pot (no thin spots in the color).

Someone else’s pot with a thin application of white slip

Anderson’s trademark heart-line deer motif painted on a large water jug ( olla). Notice how differently the deer is rendered in this pot versus the pot above

The Peynetsa family is well known in collector circles. Anderson’s sister Agnes makes smaller pieces, most of which are adorned with lizards and frogs, animal symbols that are very esteemed by the Zuni. In fact, it is one of her frog pots that brought her family to my attention. Avelia is more than happy to let the spotlight shine on her husband, but she did tell me that she, too, makes pots.

Frog pot by Agnes Peynetsa

Anderson and Avelia learned their craft at Zuni High School from Jennie Laate ( an accomplished Acoma potter who taught at Zuni), and he has been a potter ever since. Working as potters is how this family makes their living – this is not a part-time occupation. I would say that Anderson is close to being middle-aged, and, from the pieces that I saw, in the prime of his craft.  I look forward to watching his work change in the years to come as he grows as an artist.

I could not help but notice Anderson’s hands – they so clearly look like the hands of someone who works with a wet medium. Clay is very drying as it sucks the oils from the surface of skin. And, preparing clay from rock sherds is a laborious, hands-on job. He told me that he, like other Zuni potters and his ancestors, dig their own clay on the pueblo lands in a sacred place where only the potters are allowed to go.

After digging the clay from the earth, the clay is hauled to their home and soaked in water for 2-3 days to soften. Sometimes small, broken pieces of  pottery sherds are added to the clay for suppleness if needed. Excess water is drained away, and the clay in put in pillow cases outside to rest.

By Sunday afternoon, all of Anderson’s big pots, including the exotic duck canteen, had sold. They were very happy with that, and I was pleased for them. I imagined that one lucky buyer purchased all three pieces, but I will never know. Perhaps one or more pieces will go into a museum collection, or to a gallery overseas, or to the home of someone rich and famous living in the Santa Fe foothills.

For those visiting the Santa Fe area, the Zuni pueblo is located far in the western edge of New Mexico about 2 hours driving distance from Albuquerque. There are several crafts shops on the pueblo who sell Anderson’s work. In addition to pottery,  Zuni is famous for little carved fetish animals, and inlaid turquoise jewelry. For those who drive this route, be sure to leave several hours in your schedule and visit the Acoma Pueblo along the way, too. Beautiful polychrome pottery can be purchased here as well.

The Simple Beauty of Native American Pottery

I have been in awe of the beauty of Native American Indian pottery from the American Southwest for some time now. As my interest grows and I learn more, I realize how much there is to know and understand. My appreciation of both the old styles of pottery and new interpretations by today’s generation of potters will happily keep me learning about the artists and their work for years.

The elegant, sweeping design of a coil vase mimics the coils of clay used to build this piece of traditional coil pottery. Form meets function as the coils become the design element of this gorgeous pot.

Last year, before leaving for our tea buying trip to Japan, we stopped off along the way in Albuquerque  and purchased some traditionally-made   pottery to take as gifts to colleagues and traditional potters with whom we would be visiting in Japan. We wanted to take them a style of pottery different than their style of pottery ( and different than all East Asian pottery in fact ) and something truly American.   We chose an Acoma seedpot and a Jemez  coil vase, similar to the one pictured above.

Our hosts were fascinated by the pottery. As potters and artisans, they were interested to learn about the craft of the pottery – how it was made, how it was decorated and how it was fired.  We explained that both cultural influences and the practical matters of how the pottery is made were responsible for ‘shaping’ the pots, and that these factors  are as integral to the essence of this pottery as their Japanese techniques and values are to the pottery that they make.

They were curious about the clay and the way in which the clay was shaped and worked by hand. The earth and plant pigments used to decorate the pieces brought the most astonishment, as did the color photographs that we brought of the landscape of the American Southwest. This pottery is so different from what they are familiar with that we knew we had made a good choice.

I wish that Native American pueblo pottery was as well known across all regions of the USA as it is in the Southwest. These artisans deserve recognition and respect for their work and talent. Those here and abroad who collect Native American pottery are fiercely loyal and are determined to build important collections. Museums are adding pieces to nascent collections, and galleries across the USA often feature the work of Indian potters. But more people need to be exposed to this pottery, which, by collectible standards, are still very reasonably priced.

Most Native American artists in the Southwest live on or near one of the Pueblos of the northern and lower Rio Grande river, close to extended family and the center of their culture. Many of these pueblos maintain centuries old pottery making traditions ( and many other fine arts, as well ). Today’s most well-known potters are children, nieces or nephews or grandchildren of legendary potters who contributed significant advances to the pottery making tradition of their particular pueblo.

These pueblos are spread along the Rio Grande River from Taos ( north of Santa Fe ) to Albuquerque and west to the Arizona border.  Most potters still work with many of the same expressive design elements that their ancestors used.

A contemporary interpretation of         a traditional, old-style figure made       by Lisa Holt and Harlan Reano

But young artists are introducing contemporary design and movement in new directions, too. In the world of pottery collectors, all of these styles have been embraced as new work and ideas advance the art form. I admire Pueblo pottery in all of its glorious shapes, styles and designs, but for me it is the old-style, thin -walled, traditional, polychrome pottery painted with simple, symbolic motifs in earth pigments that appeals to my magpie eye the most.

Potters from the Acoma, Cochiti, Laguna, Santo Domingo, Zia, and Zuni pueblos are known for this style of pottery. Cross over into Arizona and the Hopi too, create finely painted, highly detailed and stylized pots.  Feast for a minute on these fine, eye-dazzling examples of painted pots by two acclaimed artists of the Acoma pueblo. These pots express precision and exuberance in painting at its most difficult and best.

stylized ‘eye-dazzler’ pots from Acoma potter Victoria Sandorino

    Traditional Acoma seed-pot with applied insects by artist Carolyn Concho

Polychrome pots are painted with designs applied by brush ( yucca or modern, adapted brushes ) in earth-tone pigments. The palette features blacks, tans, ocher and brownish-rust colors ( the natural colors of the Southwest ) applied to a solid white or tan slip painted background.

In the past, pueblo pottery had a utilitarian function or had ceremonial uses. Large and medium sized pots – ollas -were made to collect water. Bowls in varying sizes and widths were made to hold food and foodstuffs, and offerings to spirit deities. Today, the pottery is made in these same shapes, but often with a new injection of creativity and artistic flair. Most artists will say that their pots are completely functional, just as the pots made by their ancestors were. But for collectors, these works are purchased strictly as objects of beauty and fine art.

Although some similarities exist, each Pueblo has a recognizable style.  Potters develop their own style based not as much on the shapes of their pieces ( which can be similar to others ) or the colors used ( also similar to other potters ) but by the designs and motifs that they emblazon on their pots.

A display of stunning Pueblo pots

All pueblos use geometric elements such as lines, arcs, circles, and more in their designs. Some of these design elements mimic patterns found on ancient potsherds attributed to the Membres culture. Acoma and Zia ollas and vases often feature roadrunners, flowers and parrots in their design, and small insects and frogs appear on tiny seed pots. Zuni potters feature animal designs, such as frogs and lizards, butterflies, feathered serpents, and heartline-deer.

Highly-polished black pottery from the San Ildefonso pueblo  can be deeply carved or feature designs painted with a trademark black on black technique. Similarly, the Santa Clara pueblo makes highly polished red-brown earth tone pottery, which is most frequently carved. Very complementary one to another, these pieces are different in execution and complexity.

Dramatic and stunning carved container by Nancy Youngblood

          a classic pot from an unknown             Santa Clara artist

I copied the following information from a sign in the Buschsbaum Gallery of Southwestern Pottery at the Museum of Indian Arts & Culture in Santa Fe, New Mexico. This museum is a must see for anyone visiting Santa Fe who wishes to see a fantastic collection of historic pots plus  exhibitions of contemporary artists and their work. The sign explained the steps of traditional pottery making and polychrome painting in a concise way. I have embellished a few lines to make the meaning clear as I was not able to reproduce the accompanying images featured in the exhibition.

Clay is living. Potters speak to it, pray to it, revere it. Gathering clay is hard work and once collected, it is dried and then soaked to remove impurities. It is sieved to clean it further. A temper is then added to the clay to reduce shrinkage and cracking during firing and drying.

Traditionally made pots are formed using the ‘coil and scrape’ method. As fingers pinch clay and roll it into coils, successive coils of clay are used to build the pots. Coil junctures are smoothed with a curved edge tool such as pottery shard. But potters have also adapted popsicle sticks, hairbrush handles, can lids, and kitchen knives.

After excess clay is scraped away to achieve a uniform thickness, the pot is smoothed with sandpaper.

Next the potter applies the slip, a watery clay mixture. While this is still damp, the pot is polished with a smooth river stone. Painted decoration is applied according to established traditions, using earth and plant pigments, but each potter paints in his or her own individual way.

Although some pottery is now fired in electric kilns, most is fired outdoors. Several pots are placed on a grate, and fuel – usually cow or sheep manure – is stacked around the pottery and then mounded to cover the entire fire pit. The firing is a delicate stage – imperfections in the clay or air bubbles can cause a pot to explode, often damaging other pots. While warm, the pots are removed from the fire and wiped clean.

Indian Market 2011, Part 2

Saturday, opening day of Indian Market

Hand-woven Navajo rug by Lynda Teller

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.

            Fancy dancer doll by                Jamie Okuma

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.

Pottery by Jody Naranjo

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

Basket by 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.

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 !

Shop at a local Winter Farmers Market

Let’s hear it for the resolve of farmers and those of us who wish to eat good food all year long. I just found this post on the USDA website and am happy to report that there are several thriving Winter Farmers Markets in my area. If you live in one of the States mentioned or know that your area indeed has a Winters Farmers Market, please spread the word to family and friends.

Embrace your seasonal fruits and vegetables!

USDA Highlights Nearly 900 Operating Winter Farmers Markets; Many Markets Located in Cold-Weather States

WASHINGTON, Dec. 8, 2010 – With winter on its way, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced today that its National Farmers Market Directory   http://apps.ams.usda.gov/FarmersMarkets  lists 898 winter farmers markets across the country, accounting for more than 14 percent of the nation’s 6,132 operating farmers markets and extending opportunities for consumers to access locally grown food.

“Fresh, local, and healthful food isn’t just a good weather offering,” said David Shipman, Acting Administrator of USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service. “Clearly in many places, winter markets are hot despite the cold weather. Even in states where the traditional growing season is short, the market season is long. This allows more small and local farmers to continue bringing in income for their families and their businesses, while also providing great, nutritious food to communities year round.”

Farmers markets are considered winter farmers markets if they operate between November and March. The top 11 states for these markets are: New York (153), California (140), North Carolina (53), Florida (45), Pennsylvania (42), Ohio (34), Massachusetts (32), Kentucky (30), New Jersey (24), Connecticut (20), and Michigan (20).

The last time USDA released a count of winter farmers markets was in 2009 as part of the agency’s National Farmers Market Manager Survey. Since then, winter markets have grown 17 percent. Results from that same survey indicate that farmers markets operating more than seven months per year have higher monthly sales than their strictly seasonal counterparts.

Sam Jones-Ellard (202) 720-8998

Our May Tea Sourcing Trip to Asia

This May we returned to Asia to make our selections of this year’s premium grades of spring tea, to further our tea research and to continue our education in tea and tea culture. This trip did not take us out into the remote tea fields and tea factories as past trips did, but instead we visited with potters, tea masters, tea roasters, tea producers, and tea gardens owners ( in the Fan Cun Tea Market, the largest in China ! )  in the cities, at their studios, in their shops, etc.

We successfully made new connections for tea that is sold by those who grow it , which insures that the product has integrity in how it is grown, plucked, manufactured, and that each one will deliver delicious, full flavor in the cup. We also brought back a small selection of teawares on which we hope to build a unique collection of items to import and sell from the potters that we met.

Finally, we had the opportunity to visit South Korea for the first time, and tasted tea that was just a few days old. This year we will ( at last ! ) have spring tea from Mt. Jire-san, the region that produces Korea’s orgainic, hand-plucked tea. This tea should arrive sometime in mid-July. The early tea season was delayed in Korea because of cold weather, and tea plucking and manufacture had just begun when we arrived. Fortunately, we had the opportunity to taste the new tea and make our selections. Without much tea to see in process, we were able to visit several celebrated Korean potters who make elegant and graceful Korean-style tea bowls and teapots, the style of which is rarely available in the USA. It was very exciting to see these teawares and add a few pieces to our personal collection, to boot !

From Korea we returned to Japan where we tasted the new spring Shincha tea ( it’s available from us now in the shop and online! ) and also had an immersion course in regional Japanese tea ceramics.

From Japan we went to Guangdong Province, China, where we visited the largest wholesale tea market in the world ( and yes, it was overwhelming and yes, a few special teas will be coming ! ) and tasted many fine teas. Our focus was on fine oolongs and black teas and we were not disappointed.

Colleagues introduced to a respected  Tea Master and we spent an entire day with this gentleman who shared some aged Pu-erh and Fenghuang Dan Cong tea with us and then kindly invited us to ask him any questions that we might have. This was wonderful for us because we always arrive in Asia with a laundry-list of questions as there are so few here in the USA who have the answers we seek.

Lastly, we finished in Hong Kong where we ate ourselves silly at our favorite dim sum restaurant and visited with tea colleagues who spoiled us with many fine oolong and Pu-erh teas. In fact, we brought back several tongs of Pu-erh tea in our suitcase ( keeping our fingers crossed that the tea was not considered contraban by a trained security beagle ) which will be available for sale soon.

It was exhilarating to be away and spend time in such vibrant places and to immerse ourselves in such ancient, unique but complimentary tea cultures. But it is also nice to be home and get back to work preparing our new teas for sale.  There is much to do. As the dust settles from our time away I will be adding new posts from our trip in the coming weeks.

click here to purchase new spring tea.