WHILE its emphasis rests firmly within the native American art world of the Southwest, the three-day Santa Fe Indian Market is a decidedly national event.
This weekend, an estimated 150,000 casual and serious collectors of native American fine art, sculpture, jewelry, pottery, and traditional crafts will shoehorn their way into this centuries-old city. Their destination is Santa Fe's central plaza, where nearly 1,000 of the country's most accomplished native American artisans will gather for the 72nd annual Santa Fe Indian Market.
Not only is this one of the most unique and colorful of all art fairs, Indian Market also happens to be an economic powerhouse of an event where prices for individual works of art occasionally top $100,000. Among the Navajo, Sioux, Santa Clara, Zuni, Chippewa, Crow and other indigenous people who sell their creations at Indian Market are dozens of artists whose work is regularly exhibited on the international art circuit.
In this high desert city (7,000-foot elevation), a place where more than 200 galleries compete for art collectors' attention, some native American artists choose to exhibit their work and host collectors in the more sedate confines of gallery spaces. That's why R.C. Gorman can be found in the Navajo Gallery, sculptor Allan Houser prowls the Glenn Green Gallery, painter David Bradley stays inside the Elaine Horwitch Gallery, and jeweler Ray Tracey is found in his namesake gallery. Besides avoiding the cru nch of bodies circulating around the plaza and its surrounding streets, these galleries are sheltered from the afternoon thunderstorms that descend on Santa Fe in the late summer.
But many native American artists are in the same position as Hopi jeweler Phil Naavaasya and Navajo painter-sculptor Nelson Tsosie. Despite their being established presences on the Southwest arts scene, their work isn't sold in one of the many galleries along Canyon Road or tucked into the adobe-walled streets surrounding the city's plaza. That's why the Indian Market is an important venue for artists like Mr. Naavaasya and Mr. Tsosie. Collectors of their work can rely on the fact that the artists will h ave booths on the plaza in which their latest work can be seen.
Each year, several particularly ardent followers of a select group of Indian Market artists will camp out on the city's plaza, directly in front of the booth of their favorite artist. For some, this is in response to an artist's having won a top award in the prestigious juried arts competitions that take place the Friday evening of Indian Market weekend. Others are just following a hunch about an up-and-coming artist whose work, they feel, is a sure-fire bet to appreciate in the Southwest's still-healthy
art market. Still others are simply enthusiastic about an artist's work and return to the market each year solely to add to their collections.
Indian Market is coordinated by the Southwestern Association of Indian Arts, (SWAIA) an organization whose board of directors is evenly split between native American and non-Indian members. When it first began sponsoring this event, SWAIA was attempting to revive several of the traditional arts-and-crafts skills practiced by New Mexico's Pueblo Indian tribes. The SWAIA's idea turned out to be enormously successful. Not only did this region's native Amerian population suddenly have an economic reason to c ontinue their traditional practices, but the event also spawned a fine-arts industry that continues to grow and bring prosperity to the Southwestern art marketplace.
Judges for the juried exhibitions have struggled in recent years to keep up with the leading edge of trends favored by young native American artists. In all fields, from pottery to stone sculpture, jewelry, apparel design, and two-dimensional painting, artists who have graduated from universities in places such as California, Massachusetts, Texas, and Colorado are pushing the boundaries of what's generally defined as native American art. In many instances, what's being created is solid contemporary art t hat happens to have been the work of a native American artist.
THIS year, the Indian Market has embraced two of the newest forms of native American artistic expression, modern dance and fine-art photography. Much of the work included in the "Through the Native Lens" photography exhibition deals with the deplorable living conditions found on many of this country's Indian reservations. (The photographs will be displayed through the end of August at the Institute of American Indian Arts Museum one block from the plaza.)
The modern dance "Sacred Woman, Sacred Earth" is also being staged this weekend at the nearby performing arts center of the New Mexico Repertory Theater. It is a production of Daystar, the native American company directed by Blackfeet-Cree dancer Rosalie Jones. Its theme deals with the role of women in native American myth, and it features a score written by Mohican lyricist Brent Michael Davids.
This weekend, as experienced and entry-level art collectors from around the country work their way from one artist's booth to another, they're taking part in an important modern-day tradition.
Noshing on Indian fry bread, sipping iced teas made from pueblo-grown herbs and desert cactus, making new friends with this region's original residents, they come to realize that the trite images of war-bonnets and tomahawks are nothing more than junk. The Santa Fe Indian Market allows non-Indians the opportunity to come face-to-face with the talented individuals of contemporary native America.
* Indian Market hours are from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. tomorrow and Sunday.