Sunday, August 28, 2016

One More Fair: The Zuni Show

Bear with me here.  You have read before in my missives comments on too many fairs.  This year Santa Fe went over the top when it came to shows for Native American Art.  First there were three shows organized by 2 different managers to have dealers who showed non- contemporary Native Art.

As I wrote last week the Ralph T. Coe Foundation opened an exhibition of mostly contemporary Northwest Coast Native art.  I won’t list all the galleries that had their own Native American shows to take advantage of the 150,000 visitors who come for Indian Market, run by The Southwestern Association for Indian Arts (SWAIA) which this year seemed to be far larger with far fewer standards than in the past.  There were the fabulous artists but there was quite a bit of mediocre material, which depreciates the show.

Then there was the Indigenous Fine Art Market (IFAM) which split  from SWAIA a couple of years ago and, at least last year, there were a number of Northwest Coast artists who are sorely lacking at Indian Market.  This does not include 2 out of town shows within commuting distance, which we did not attend.  Here is the view of our local cartoonist Ricardo Caté ...

The Zuni pueblo is located in Western New Mexico, 55 miles fro, Gallup, a town that is at the apex of three Southwest reservations, The Hopi, The Navajo and the Zuni.   The Zuni tribe has the largest population of any of the pueblos with 12,000 members and it is believed  that 80% of them make their living from their art. 

Robin Dulap, one of the founders of the Zuni Coop in 1981, taught at Zuni, and her daughter Bronwyn Fox who spent formative years on the pueblo, runs the Santa Fe gallery Keshi: The Zuni Connection and they both were instrumental in establishing the Keshi Foundation.  When the Zuni felt neglected by SWAIA which had dropped a number of them from Indian Market last year without explanation, Keshi , tried to take up some of the slack by doing 10 individual shows during the very brief Indian Market week in order to help the artists make some sales.  This year they decided it was necessary to do their own show and they took over The Scottish Rites Temple, a most impressive building in Santa Fe.

The Zuni used to do a lot of work in silver with inlaid semi precious stones but as silver became more and more expensive they turned to carving as their primary art form.  They are noted for their small animal or bird fetishes that they carve out of semi-precious stone.  These carvings serve a ceremonial purpose with special qualities attributed to certain carvings.   The most important and numerous fetishes are bears.  They are felt to have curative powers, and white bears have especially powerful healing.  Not everyone agrees on the powers of the fetishes.  Owls and other birds are sometimes thought of as harbingers of death while others believe that they are guardians of home and village, hooting when an enemy is approaching.  There are many other animals and beliefs and one can find books listing them, though they may not always be consistent.

I remember when we first went to Zuni many years ago there were white limousines on the street with Middle Eastern men sitting inside waiting for the store owners to bring them fetishes which they would take home for sale as the fetishes are popular all over the world.

Here is a typical table of fetishes with the work of three carvers Todd, Sheldon and Nancy Westika, and, at another table that of Herbert Him, Sr. He has shown in the front row of his carvings the process of carving a fetish at each stage.

In my opinion one of the most innovative artists, who I would actually designate more as a jeweler that a carver, is Gomeo Bobelu   He does not live on the pueblo but keeps up with their traditions.  On his table I was particularly taken by the bolo tie clasp which was missing its leather cord and could just as well been hung as a pendent.  It is the piece in the center carved with the woman’s white face and dark hair.  Here are images of the artist and his display.

The Zuni Show had more visitors than they imagined would come.  Probably 8.000 potential clients came during their two-day show.  The best part is that the artists were extremely happy with sales, which one hardly ever hears no matter what kind of an art show it is!

When you are in Santa Fe I would recommend visiting the Keshi, the Zuni Connection, as you will know you are buying form a shop that truly represents these artists.


  1. As part of Peace Corps training (for the Sehel in Africa) I spent some long days helping to build "Shalako" dwellings in Zuni, using traditional methods and materials - handmade adobe bricks and stone. We trainees lived in the rather rustic firehouse headquarters of the Zuni Smoke Jumpers and took our meals with local families. It was a great experience. These were wonderful people, as reflected in their art.

    1. I never knew that Nick, thanks for sharing. You probably saw the blog about the Zuni show and we have visited there 2 or 3 times. There is the most wonderful church there with painted murals. I thought I wrote about it some time ago but cannot find it now! Not sure it was done when you were there, however.