SANTA FE CULTURE REACHES A HIGH PITCH Open-Air Art Market Stirs Up Enthusiasm for Indian Artists

Article excerpt

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 crunch 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 have 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. …