Monday, August 30, 2010

Indians Indians Everywhere !

For three weeks in August there is Indian mania in Santa Fe. It actually starts in Albuquerque with the sales fair at the state Fairgrounds. Here traders (called “dealers” back East) sell not only to some local collectors but they also buy and trade with each other.

This in preparation for the following week when collectors will begin swarming into Santa Fe. At the new Santa Fe Convention Center, the best dealers will offer Indian works from the secondary market . These are just a couple of the events that lead up to the week-end of Indian Market (or Indian Mark-up as it is called by some).

The Santa Fe Indian Market has been in existence since 1922 and today brings some 100,000 visitors from all over the world to a town with a population of around 70,000. The market is estimated to bring in $100 million in revenue to the area. With an accent on the southwest about 1200 Native Americans from all over the United States representing approximately 100 tribes set up in 600 plus booths on the Plaza and the surrounding streets.

Why? Aside from it being a successful commercial enterprise for them, there is intense competition among the Indians. They vie for ribbons, with attendant cash prizes. Those who win the ribbons are extremely proud and show them off. A single piece may have been entered and won ribbons in previous markets in Phoenix, Gallup and elsewhere and with each ribbon the price of the art work seems to increase.

In Santa Fe prizes have individual sponsors and the judging is done by juries of three specialists including Native artists, scholars and sometimes traders with a certain specialty. The yellow, red (second place) and blue (first place) ribbons are given in categories that include painting, jewelry, pottery, and textiles, and, this year for the first time, film . These divisions are broken up into subcategories corresponding to specific techniques and the traditional styles of different peoples, but increasingly important is the designation “contemporary” , which may be as subjective as objective. There is a People’s Choice award and, of course, the coveted and much-publicized “Best in Show”.

The reason that many pieces have seemingly high prices is that the Indians bring their best work. They want to show the other artists how good they are, and they know that their pubic expects it of them. The very best pieces by the best artists command the highest prices and they usually sell quickly. In good times, well-known artists are sold out the first day. The second day, the artists that still have goods left may be amenable to giving a better price. The other side of that coin is that if you want the best that an artist has brought with him, you better buy it right away because it won’t be available for long. Even with unsold works, if the artist is affiliated with a gallery, a piece may appear there after market and you will find the gallery mark-up added to the price.

One of the additional events introduced this year was a skateboard competition. A long-time popular favorite is the Costume Contest with competitors in categories according to age, starting with 2 to 4 year olds and going on to adults. They show off traditional wear of their own nation with costumes often sewn by a grandmother. Recently a contemporary fashion design category was introduced.

Indian Market is conducted under the auspices of SWAIA (The Southwestern Association for Indian Arts) and many recent innovations are due to the Executive Director, Bruce Bernstein, a scholar and entrepreneur who had previously been director and chief curator of the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture in Santa Fe. He also served as Assistant Director for Cultural Resources at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian in Washington D.C.

People who come to town just to see what Indian Market frenzy is all about often get caught up in the spirit and become immersed in the subject matter. Here you have the opportunity to speak with the Native Americans themselves about their art and culture. It is an exciting time to learn something about the “foreign” world of Native Americans who were here before us foreigners!