Indian Market was started in 1922 under the auspices of none other than Edgar L. Hewett, founding director of the School of American Research and the Museum of New Mexico and responsible for saving the Palace of the Governors, as well as building the Art Museum. It started as an indoor fair but it has grown and grown until today when it takes up the entire plaza plus about 10 additional blocks. This year there were over 1000 Native American exhibitors from160 tribes and Villages.
More than 100,000 visitors come to Santa Fe for Indian Market from all over the country and abroad. During the last two weeks I have been counting state license plates. I have found over 30 states represented and a couple of provinces from Canada. They have come from as far as Alaska, Vermont and Florida. This is clearly the main event of the year for Santa Fe.
Each year there is a preview the night before market begins for members of SWAIA (the South West Association for Indian Art) that organizes the market. This year there was an additional preview event, a luncheon at which the winner of the prize for the best piece in their category and the object voted best overall of the entire show is announced and the artists celebrated. There were about 200 who came out for the luncheon and another 8,200 for the evening preview.
They come in order to get a jump on the tens of thousands of others and see which prize winners they may wish to seek out. Just like Spanish Market, no one is allowed to buy that day but has to wait until the next morning. One such individual who got up early to get a prize winning piece was the founder of a major East Coast financial firm. He has a great private collection of Indian ceramics and wished to add a prize winning piece by Susan Folwell. To be sure he would get it he arrived on the plaza at 2:30 AM to wait at the artist’s booth, knowing full well that he would not be able to buy it before 7 AM. Now that is what I call a devoted collector!
When we first came out for Indian Market around 1990 we wanted to devour everything in sight. There were works of art not just in our chosen area of collecting, the Hopi Tribe, but works from all over the country. North West Coast and the Art of the Plains Indians seemed particularly attractive but, like most collectors, we have limits of space and disposable income. That is where the discipline comes in and that is probably part of the fun of collecting, deciding what is really important to you. While Penelope and I each make our own choices, we do try to influence each other, and, if there is a big negative, i.e. “I don’t want to live with this”, it is left behind. Of course, after collecting for over 20 years your ‘eye’ has been refined and there are not many gaps to fill. We now buy mainly what we feel we cannot live without, or something that lifts our spirits.
Let me tell you about one such piece. As mentioned in the past, the Hopi on the Reservation do not live in the lap of luxury, many still have outhouses, but they always retain their sense of humor, and it is often bawdy. So there was one object that was not part of Indian Market but at the Blue Rain Gallery that we could not leave behind.
Neil David is a carver that uses a Hopi koshari clown as his main character and he has made it his own. Many funny things happen to his clown in his carvings such as his dog grabbing his breach cloth from behind and taking it off. We bought a variation on the theme. Neil David’s clown is sitting in his outhouse with a pained straining expression on his face. On the outside of the outhouse he has written comments such as “Keep Politics out of the Kivas” and “Be Neat – Rest your Butt on the Seat”!
We give a small dinner every year at this time and this year we had a curator from Edinburgh, the director from the Museum of Northern Arizona and his editor wife, as well as a prominent dealer in town and his wife who is a designer of unique clothing. Needless to say, it makes for great conversation and learning. Indian Market is a time for people who love Native Art to come to town and we get to mingle with friends made in the field over the last 20 years.
N.B. Bruce Bernstein, Executive Director of SWAIA, has just written a book called, “Santa Fe Indian Market: A History of Native Arts and the Market Place”, published by the Museum of New Mexico Press.