A Brief 100 Year History of the Santa Fe Indian Market

Potter Margaret Tafoya of Santa Clara Pueblo, 1971 (photo courtesy of the Palace of Governors Photographic Archives, negative 190688)

SANTA FE, NM—Hundreds of thousands of visitors are expected to gather in New Mexico’s capital this summer, where the centennial edition of the Santa Fe Indian Market is scheduled to take place in person on Saturday, August 20 and Sunday, August 21. 2022. According to the Southwestern Association for Indian Arts (SWAIA), the juried Native American Art Fair features approximately 1,000 Native artists from more than 200 federally recognized tribes selling works ranging from pottery and textiles to jewelry and paintings.

That’s a far cry from its beginnings 100 years ago, when market organizers wouldn’t allow participating Native American artisans to be seen by the buying public. Today, the nation’s largest public Native American event, featuring contemporary and traditional Native art from the United States and Canada, is organized and produced by Kim Peone (Colville Confederated Tribes/Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians), which is supported by a team of mostly Native American women. Throughout its history, the market has often reacted to the country’s changing socio-political climate and the evolution of the creative output of Aboriginal artists.

“It originally came from a perspective of preserving cultures and now it has evolved into this place of sustaining and supporting living cultures,” says Peone, who became the executive director of SWAIA, the organization nonprofit leading the market, in 2020.

Zia pottery sellers under the gate of the Palace of Governors, 1938 (photo courtesy of the Palace of Governors Photographic Archive, negative 135047)

The market’s beginnings in 1922, a smaller affair billed under the stuffy title of the Southwest Indian Fair and Exhibition of Industrial Arts and Crafts, took place indoors rather than on the bustling Santa Fe Square. The event, which included Navajo rugs, beads and Plains Indian basketry, focused on ceramics in an effort to revive Pueblo pottery making, according to Cathy Notarnicola, curator of the history of the Southwest at the New Mexico History Museum. (The Santa Fe Cultural Institution, in partnership with SWAIA, is set to open the tradition and innovation exhibition on August 7, 2022 which tells the story of the market; it should remain visible until August 2023.)

Notarnicola adds that the event borrowed influences from the Panama-California Exposition, a World’s Fair-style shindig that took place in 1915. Edgar Lee Hewett, archaeologist and director of the Museum of New Mexico, attended the fair of San Diego and later co-founded what would become Indian Market with Kenneth Chapman.

Jewelery seller, 1971 (photo courtesy of the Governors Palace Photographic Archives, negative 190706)

The market has attempted to capitalize on New Mexico’s booming tourist industry – tourism remains one of the state’s biggest money-making businesses – which has brought visitors to the land of enchantment via the path of Santa Fe iron,” says Notarnicola. It was also in response to the various failed policies of the U.S. government—including withdrawal, reservation, and assimilation—that attempted to wipe out Indian Country.

“It was like a recovery ethnography in an attempt to salvage what was left of Indian cultures after all the devastating policies,” says Notarnicola.

“The first market came from an anthropological perspective, thinking they were going to preserve Indian arts because we were on the verge of extinction,” adds Peone.

The first “Indian Fair” in the Armory building on Washington Avenue, 1922 (photo courtesy of the Governors Palace Photographic Archive, negative 014288)

Native artisans were not allowed to sell their works in person in the market until 1933, which preceded the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934, a federal government policy that attempted to reverse the damage of the cultural assimilation.

India’s federal policy of termination and relocation after World War II – the US government abandoned its relationship with the tribes so that the natives could be “civilized” in the dominant white society, often in the big cities – made a certain number in the Indian market.

The cultural event rebounded in the 1960s with the beginning of the era of self-determination and the establishment in 1962 of the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA). Notarnicola says the IAIA, founded by Lloyd Kiva New (Cherokee) and George Boyce, is often credited with creating contemporary Indigenous art. Fritz Scholder (La Jolla Band of Luiseño Indians) and Allan Houser (Chiricahua Apache) taught at the school in Santa Fe; Alumni include current American Poet Laureate Joy Harjo (Muscogee/Creek), sculptor, ceramicist, Indigenous food activist and gallery owner Roxanne Swentzell (Santa Clara Pueblo), and the late painter and printmaker TC Cannon (Kiowa/Caddo).

Vendors under the gate of the Palais des Gouverneurs, 1952 (photo courtesy of the Palais des Gouverneurs Photographic Archive, negative 183510)

“Another major shift has occurred in the mission of the marketplace, which originally preserved traditional designs and technologies from the past,” says Peone. “Today, the market honors and encourages innovation in its works by Indigenous artists.

By the 1970s, the market had become a predominantly Native American-represented organization, according to Jamie Schulze (Northern Cheyenne), SWAIA’s director of operations, and grew steadily. Today, the annual summer event attracts more than 150,000 visitors, who can chat with Native artists and purchase works by Native artists in approximately 17 blocks in and around historic Santa Fe Plaza.

“There is a camaraderie that is created with artists and collectors where every year they see each other again and catch up with what has happened in the past year,” says Notarnicola, who adds that she has seen the children of artists and collectors grow together at the market over the past 30 years.

Crowds on Palace Avenue, 1971 (photo courtesy of the Palace of Governors Photographic Archives, negative 132581)

Going forward, Peone says the Santa Fe Indian Market, which also produces an annual winter market, will continue to adapt to the contemporary moment while promoting the personal and cultural sustainability of Indigenous artists.

“We are definitely pivoting,” she says. “We really want to get out of an organization that only focuses on two markets. How it happens really comes from the perspective of partnerships and how we want to not only be part of this community, but contribute to this community 365 days a year.

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