Exquisite Native American wares featured in Old Town outdoor fair
By Joyell Nevins
Take in the sights, sounds and rich art of Native American culture at Bazaar del Mundo’s 35th annual Santa Fe Marketplace.
The outdoor fair brings two dozen vendors of Native American arts, crafts, décor and jewelry every year to Old Town. Wares come from the Navajo, Cherokee, Hopi, Pima, Isleta Pueblo and Santo Domingo Pueblo tribes.
Some vendors are crowd favorites, some are talents spotted by the Bazaar coordinators throughout the year and some are found through the national Indian Arts and Crafts Association (IACA). This year, five of the Marketplace artists are previous “Artists of the Year” through the IACA.
“Every year, we try to bring exciting artists and new people in,” explained Leslie Greggory, manager of The Gallery at Bazaar del Mundo and co-organizer of the Santa Fe Marketplace.
One of those new artists is Veronica Benally of Gallup, New Mexico. Benally makes intricate inlaid jewelry, primarily with turquoise and coral: stabilized turquoise mostly, as American turquoise became a rare and expensive item when the mines closed down (also see many American turquoise items at returning vendor Silver Sun’s booth). Benally notes that in the Navajo, the color turquoise represents prosperity and wealth.
“It’s how the holy people recognize someone in the spirit world,” she explained. Turquoise allows the holy people to offer that person protection and bring good things.
Benally works with her husband, Ernest, who makes larger, more extravagant pieces, in a studio behind their house. They have their own equipment to cut and refine stone to fit their imagined designs.
“It’s like putting our own puzzle together,” Veronica said.
Other jewelers will also be showing their talents. Frederico brings bold pieces of turquoise, red coral and pearl. Kim Yubeta uses vintage beads in a variety of gemstones, such as lapis, oyster, amber and jet, in her necklaces. Lester Abeyta’s engraving and stonework includes beaded necklaces and lightweight earrings. And that’s just to name a few.
Concho belts are another popular item at the marketplace. Some are made by the vendor displaying them, like Veronica’s unique designs. Last year, a belt she made with spiny oyster shells and sleeping beauty turquoise won “Best of Show” at the Museum of Man’s native market in Balboa Park.
Some have unknown stories behind them. Art Quintana of Art Quintana’s Indian Trading Company brings his “dead pawn” for perusal. At his pawnshop in New Mexico, people use jewelry and other goods for collateral to borrow money. While most loans are paid off, less than 5 percent of these items do go unclaimed. After 14 months and two official notices, the unclaimed collateral becomes available for sale. Quintana has been bringing boxes full of these items to the Santa Fe Marketplace for more than 30 years.
“People just like digging through the boxes,” he said. “It’s like a treasure hunt.”
Treasure shoppers find include handmade sterling silver trinkets, squash blossom necklaces, bolos and concho belts. He has many other goods on display as well for those who don’t want to forage for their wares.
Quintana will also be doing appraisals of fine jewelry and family heirlooms — up to two pieces per person. He noted that one time, a woman brought in two gold pieces by a renowned designer that had been in her family for years: They ended up being worth more than $20,000.
Handmade art will also be in the marketplace. Harry and Isabelle Benally are award-winning wood carvers who work with red juniper, aspen, cottonwood and alabaster. Jesse Hummingbird brings his “intertribal fantasy” acrylic paintings, and John Balloue’s acrylic and mixed media paintings have been featured in museums across the country.
Although the Bazaar del Mundo organizers still scout for new artists and vendors, they now have vendors coming to them to take place in this evolving marketplace and collector’s haven.
“The word’s out,” Greggory said.
Quintana added, “They do a beautiful job of setting everything up. We look forward to it every year.”
—Joyell Nevins is a freelance writer who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Find her blog Small World, Big God at swbgblog.wordpress.com.