Collectors at Market Need a Battle Plan

Experts give tips on how to spot real finds at the annual Santa Fe Indian Market

Date August 21, 2008 at 10:00 PM

Categories Local News & Sports


You know the drill: slather on the sunscreen, wear a hat and take water. Plan your attack like it was D-Day. But the barrage of pottery, jewelry, carvings and rugs can overwhelm even the most serious collector at the Santa Fe Indian Market. Filtering through the glitter and the dust can be a daunting experience. Seven authors of Southwestern art books offered stories and tips on surviving the 87th annual Santa Fe Indian Market at the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian Thursday. The largest and most prestigious event of its kind in the United States, the market runs 7 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday and 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday on the Plaza.

A collector€™s maiden voyage into a sprawling event that draws about 80,000 people, including more than 1,000 of the nation€™s top Native artists, requires a plan. Do some research. Visit museums, check out the pueblos and reservations and read, the panelists said. They also talked about emerging trends and how to spot a winning design.

Dexter Cirillo, the author of €œSouthwestern Indian Jewelry: Crafting New Traditions,€ recommended checking out Indian Market fellowship recipients. The Southwestern Association for Indian Arts (the event sponsor) gives $5,000 professional development awards to emerging artists annually. Past recipients have included market superstars like Harry Fonseca, Marcus Amerman and Ramona Sakiestewa.

€œThe great treat is always to find something new and different and undiscovered,€ she said.

Navajo folk art expert and author Chuck Rosenak said his main interest is in talking to the artists. Rosenak wrote €œNavajo Folk Art€ with his wife, Jan.

€œWe look for why it was made and how it was made,€ he said. €œWe were always looking for that something wonderful that everyone else has ignored.€ Jewelry

artist Verma Nequatewa (Hopi), a niece of the legendary Charles Loloma, emphasized the importance of connecting with the artist . Nequatewa is also the author of €œVisions of Sonwai.€ €œSonwai€ means €œbeauty€ in the Hopi language.

€œThey€™ll be quiet and won€™t open up,€ she said. €œThen they have so much to share with you.€

Most artists consider a question a compliment rather than an obligation to buy, moderator Chip Conway said.

Find out what materials were used; if they say turquoise, ask what kind, because it can indicate value, Cirillo said.

€œYou can go to the inspiration of the design,€ she continued. €œLook at the inside of things.€

Loloma was one of the first artists to extend the design onto the back of a piece; today this approach is common, she said. The contemporary concha belts of multiple awardwinners Gail Bird and Yazzie Johnson have continued this all-encompassing approach.

As the Indian Market has evolved, attracting collectors from across the globe, so have the artists, panel members said. More are seeking formal training in the United States, Europe and Japan, said Bob Rhodes, author of a book on Hopi baskets and plaques. That education is pushing quality higher and higher, he added. And as more markets spring up nearly every weekend, cross-pollination has produced some intriguing combinations.

€œYou might see a Navajo painting with sand,€ he said. €œYou€™ll see glass artists. Native Americans hadn€™t done glass at all until Preston Singletary.€

Pottery is evolving as artists express the influences of the world around them, said Charles King,, author of €œBorn of Fire: The Life and Pottery of Margaret Tafoya.€

While some artists are determined to maintain cultural traditions, others are committed to breaking down barriers. Jason Garcia creates pottery tiles using everything from €œGrand Theft Auto€ to comics as inspiration.

Cirillo devoted an entire chapter to sculpted objects and jewelry in her latest book. In 2006, Edison Cummings took Best of Show awards at both Santa Fe and the Heard Museum show for his silver teapot and purse. Watch for unusual forms, she said.

€œYou€™ll be going to a booth and find a lovely little box,€ he said.

Go with your heart and your gut, the panelists said. If you waver too long, someone else is bound to grab it in this atmosphere of frenzied collecting. It€™s better to leave Indian Market having spent too much than to kick yourself for letting someone else walk away with what you wanted.