Indian Market Report
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Indian Market 2000
Ever since I purchased my first piece of Indian pottery, I heard rumors of a wonderful weekend show in Santa Fe, New Mexico called the Indian Market. Three years ago, I finally got the chance to attend my first Indian Market, and I was totally blown away. I've attended large public events frequented by collectors for many years, but the dynamics of Indian market are so special, and so interesting, that it has now become my favorite annual event.

Indian Market is held each year on the weekened after the third Thursday in August, in the central plaza area of Santa Fe. When it was first begun in the 1920's, the market was intended to provide a means for Native American craftspeople to exhibit their wares to a large concentration of potential purchasers, in a single location, on a single weekend. Since those early markets, the Indian Market has grown to become the single largest public event in Santa Fe, with tens of thousands of visitors from all over the world, and over 1,400 Native American craftspeople in attendance.

My goals in attending Indian Market are remarkably similar to why comics fans attend comics conventions. I want to meet my favorite potters, and I want to purchase from them pieces that seldom, if ever, are sold through auctions or galleries. This is particularly important for me because my pottery collection is focused on effigy and figural pieces, rather than pots, bowls, and vases. While my penchant for figural and effigy pieces makes my collection far more interesting than most, it also increases the difficulty of finding cool pieces.

A small part of Chuck's purchases from the 2001 Indian Market
Because pots, bowls, vases, and plates are far more "acceptable" to the bulk of Pueblo pottery collectors, figural pieces constitute less than 10% of the overall annual production. In fact, some potters produce no figural pieces, either because of the difficulty of selling them, or because they are still prohibited by some of the tribal councils. Finding figural pieces from Santo Domingo Pueblo, for example, is very hard as their tribal leadership tends to be very conservative, and does not approve of human or animal forms, either as decorations on pottery, or as actual pottery. This is not only a political stance, but also a religious one, as the production of pottery at most Pueblos is tied in closely with their religious practices. This intertwining of pottery production with their strong religious beliefs is in great part what makes Pueblo pottery so special, but it also can make collecting far more difficult. Especially for me...

Robert Tenorio, of Santo Domingo Pueblo, with an incredible bowl he created with a painted turtle on the inside.

With that thought in mind, I need to explain the operational dynamics of Indian Market. To begin, the central plaza in Santa Fe is a square block, in the center of the oldest part of the city, that acts as a public park, and an outdoor events venue. Throughout the year there are concerts and craft shows held in the park area. Directly across the street from the park is the veranda of the Palace of the Governors (one of the oldest buildings in New Mexico), where approximately 60 4-foot long spaces are rented to Native American craftspeople, on a rotating basis, throughout the year. Because the plaza gets so much use, however, it is important for Indian Market to minimize the time that it occupies the plaza, and the adjacent streets. With over 1,400 exhibitors, the booths of Indian Market take up the entire plaza, all the streets around the plaza, and an extra block in every direction. Setting up these booths requires shutting down all the main streets in the city center, so the market staff is required to wait until Friday afternoon to begin assembling the booth structures. Each exhibitor is provided with a space 10 feet long, by six feet deep. Even with that small amount of individual space, however, by Friday evening the market takes up an enormous area.

In addition to setting up the actual Indian Market, Friday evening is the night for gallery shows throughout Santa Fe. Santa Fe is a city with a year-round economy that is built around the sale of art (I doubt if there is a city in the world with as many galleries per capita) of all kinds, including sculpture, paintings, and all manner of non-Indian forms of expression. There are also a very large number of galleries featuring Native American art, and the Friday before Indian Market is when those galleries have free parties for anyone who wants to attend. Nanette and I mostly hung out at the parties hosted at the Rancho de Chimayo galleries, as we're friends with Sandra Martinez and Pamela Rivera, who run two of the three stores.

Nanette and Sandra Martinez at the Rancho de Chimayo Gallery Show Pamela Rivera and artist Linda Dunlap at the Rancho de Chimayo Gallery Show

Jennifer Sisneros at work during the Rancho de Chimayo Gallery Show

It was also nice that our friend Jennifer Sisneros was exhibiting that evening, and actually creating a beautiful bowl during the party.

We also went to (momentarily) to the Andrea Fischer Gallery, to see an exhibit by Nancy Youngblood-Yugo, and her 8 year old son. By the time we got there, however, all the pieces by both mother and son were sold. Andrea Fischer Gallery specializes very rare (and expensive) pottery, and has the best selection of 1920-1970 Native American pottery in the world. Since that is my favorite period, I love to go into the Andrea Fischer Gallery to browse, but I generally can't afford their prices. Other people certainly can, however, as is evidenced by the fact that Nancy Youngblood-Yugo usually charges at least $5,000 for a 3-inch diameter bowl, and she sold approximately 20 bowls, in under an hour, during the gallery show. Suffice it to say, Indian Market attracts some incredibly rich collectors from all over the world, and many of them don't even hesitate when purchasing items for $10,000 or more. The good news, however is that most of those rich folks are lazy, so while they get all the good stuff at the gallery shows, us hustling poor boys beat them out at the actual Indian Market. More on that later...

An interesting peculiarity of Indian Market is that once the first booths have been installed, people begin camping in the empty booths of their favorite creators. The reason for this unusual behavior is that Indian Market is strictly an original art show. All exhibitors are required to be of Native American descent, and all items sold must be made by the artist, preferably of native materials, gathered by the artist. These restrictions mean that the quality of the artwork sold (whether it be pottery, rugs, jewelry, paintings, beadwork, etc.) is fantastic. The quantity of items produced by each craftsperson, however, is typically very low. It is not unusual for an artist to bring less than 20 pieces per year, and to sell out immediately on Saturday morning. To keep from being shut out from buying from a particular creator, some avid collectors have actually adopted the policy of sleeping in the artist's booth overnight!

Chuck outside the Plaza Diner at 4:45 AM
Well, I'm (not quite) that crazy. I'm as competitive as the next collector, but I slept in too many public parks, and under highway bridges, in the days when I was really poor, to put up with that level of personal discomfort any more. I will, however, set my hotel room alarm for 3:45 AM, and rush over to the wonderful Plaza Diner for their special Indian Market opening time of 5 AM. This year, in fact, I was the first one in line at the the Plaza Diner, at 4:45 AM!

Chuck and Nanette in side the Plaza Diner at 5 AM. Look who's not awake!
This is very important, as the staff of the Plaza are aware of the competitive nature of Indian Market, and serve customers on the basis of who arrives earliest. By being first in line, Nanette and I were fed, full to the brim with coffee, and out the door shopping, before the sun even started to lighten the sky.

Chuck and Joyce Leno-Barraras at 5:35 AM
This kind of maniacal behavior may sound nuts, but bear in mind that many of the exhibitors can't afford Indian Market prices for local motel rooms. To get around this high cost of lodging, quite a few of them drive in first thing in the morning, either from outlying cities (such as Albuquerque) where motel rooms are cheap, or they drive all night from their reservation homes, arriving to begin setting up at 5 AM. My goal is to be out roaming the plaza streets at 5:30 AM, rushing from booth to booth, checking out pottery immediately as it is being unpacked. This year I made my first purchase at 5:35 from Joyce Leno-Barraras, of Acoma Pueblo.

Snake Canteen
Given that my favorite creators are spread randomly throughout the huge Indian Market exhibit area, this makes for an incredibly hyperactive sprint, requiring snap decisions as to whether to purchase a given item, or to temporarily defer. While this can be very stressful, I have to tell you that is is fun, fun, fun! This year I beat out another crazed collector by only five minutes (at 5:45 AM) by purchasing an unbelievable snake effigy canteen from Ethel Shields, of Acoma Pueblo.

Chuck and Ethel Shields at 6 AM
It was the only one she made this year, and it took a second prize at the Gallup (New Mexico) Cermonial, just the week before. Had I not made her #1 on my priority list, the other collector would have scored, and I would have missed my favorite piece of the entire Indian Market. Ka-ching!

From 6 AM onward, the pace gradually slows as far more creators finish unpacking. I keep making the rounds of the streets, however, looking for booths that have just unpacked. It becomes more and more difficult to be first in line, however, as the crowds start building pretty rapidly.


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Indian Market crowd as the sun begins to rise at 6:15 AM

According to the experts, this year's market was a reasonable success, with an estimated 80,000 visitors. Most knowledgeable observers believe this is down from the approximately 100,000 visitors of years past, but still a very respectable number. All I know is that the competition became pretty savage by 7 AM. I would guess there were 10,000-15,000 hardcore collectors jostling with each other by that early hour. By 8 AM (when all the rich folks start showing up), the most interesting pieces (at least by my definition...) were pretty much gone. Nanette hauled our prizes back to the room, and took a nice nap, while I wandered slowly through the market, looking for small effigy items I might have missed.


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Indian Market crowd at 7 AM

After a slow and methodical amble through all 1,400 booths, it was time to wake Nanette, and to stand in line for our Indian fry bread brunch. If you've never had fry bread with broiled mutton, you haven't lived! It can be very spicy, but the flavor is simply wonderful. Each year there are about a dozen Native American "roach coach" type vendors that drive their rolling kitchens in from all over New Mexico to serve the crowds at Indian Market. Beware, however, that the lines are always quite long during Indian Market. Indian Fry bread is also great with honey!


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Nanette can barely be seen among the flowers at our hotel

After brunch is when we typically have gone to the Santa Fe flea market. The flea market is five miles north of Santa Fe, right next to the opera house. In my opinion, the Santa Fe flea market is the coolest flea market market in the world. I've certainly been to bigger (such as London's incredible Portobello Road ), but Santa Fe has unbelievable quantities of reasonably priced art. There are rugs and jewelry from all over the world, plus insane amounts of Mexican and Native American crafts. Bear in mind, that since non-Indians are banned from Indian Market, the only way that out-of-town dealers can take advantage of the huge crowds during Indian Market is to set up at the flea market. So, while the Santa Fe flea market is open from early March through November, the greatest selection is during Indian Market weekend.


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Santa Fe Flea Market

My one bit of cautionary advice about the flea market is to be careful, and to only purchase items when you know what you're buying. Flea market dealers are sometimes rascals, and many of them are not above taking advantage of a tourist's lack of knowledge... Shop carefully, however, and you can find some great deals! I bought a Maria Martinez candleabra at the flea market last year for $100. I saw a similar one in a Sotheby's auction estimated at $2,500-$3,000! Going to the Santa Fe flea market is fun!


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Santa Fe Flea Market

My final pictures from this year's market are of a few of my favorite potters. Most of these fine people have become personal friends, and it has been a wonderful experience to get to know them. While I enjoy collecting pottery very much, it has been getting to know the actual creators that has kept me coming back to Indian Market each year. As I stated in the beginning of this report, Indian Market has now become the single most enjoyable event that I attend in any given year. I hope that my words and pictures help convey to you, in some small measure, why I treasure my days at Indian Market above all others.

Happy collecting !

Chuck Rozanski, President - Mile High Comics, Inc.


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Stella, Denise, and Sunday Chauarria with their trademark deeply carved Santa Clara pottery


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Star Tafoya, and her mother Jane Baca, with the wonderful animals they sculpt.


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Gilbert Sanchez with the fantastic Yoda figurine he made especially for me!


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Gilbert's mother Kathy Sanchez, along with his sister Corrine. Both of them are excellent potters.


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Laguna potter Michael Kanteena at last year's Wheelright Museum show with one of the incredible Mimbres deer sculptures he creates.


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Hopi potter Jean Sahme at this year's Wheelright Museum show. Her bowls sell out each year at prices of over $2,500 each!


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Indian Market at 8:00 AM!

Chucks Pottery

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