SANTA FE – When you flip over a tag on a shirt on a hanger and see “Made in China” or look underneath an item in the dollar store to find a “Hecho en México” label, it doesn’t usually warrant a second look.
But at Santa Fe’s International Folk Art Market, the world’s largest, everything you see and touch has undeniably, unabashedly and spectacularly been painstakingly handcrafted in a foreign land.
Sumptuous textiles from India, filigreed silver jewelry from Israel and lustrous, hand-woven carpets from Uzbekistan make up just a tiny fraction of the truly one-of-a-kind wares available at the market, which continues today.
“It’s very beautiful,” said Alejandro Jimenez of Oaxaca, Mexico, in Spanish.
It was Jimenez’s first time at the market.
He and his father, Armando Jimenez Aragon, create jewel-hued, fantastical “alebrijes,” painted sculptures of mythical creatures.
Aragon, taught to do so by his father, carves each out of the wood of the copal tree before his son paints them in exquisite detail.
The pair brought along 80 pieces; by noon on Saturday, they were down to six.
It’s common among the master artists at the market to have been taught by a family member.
Thembi Dlamini of Swaziland’s Tintsaba Master Sisal Weavers, said her grandmother taught her to weave baskets when she was 12.
Uzbekistani jewelry maker Shokhrukh Khamraev said he learned to craft the silver and gold-plated pieces from his father.
His grandfather had taught his father.
Khamraev’s home city of Bukhara has been known for its jewelry-making for centuries, using its central location on the Silk Road to trade for gems and stones to use in their work.
Jeff Snell, CEO of the market, said more than $2.4 million worth of art had been sold by the end of the day Saturday, matching last year’s sales at that time.
“Given that we are exactly where we were last year, we feel the universe continues to smile on the artists when they come to the market,” Snell said.
A record was broken during the market’s opening night on Friday, when Snell said more than $800,000 worth of art was moved in just 3½ hours, a 7 percent increase over last year.
A brief but intense thunderstorm that started just before 2 p.m. prompted artists to cover their work with large plastic tarps and drove those in attendance to pack into whatever bit of shelter they could find, but did little to dampen spirits.
Joining the 162 artists and tens of thousands of visitors are more than 2,000 volunteers, who are responsible for everything from cashiering to translating.
“It’s an amazing town, to put on an event like this,” said volunteer David Mainland, who was translating for Spanish- and French-speaking artists.
Volunteer Jon Gurrola said he worked seven days a week for three weeks with a team to prepare Museum Hill for the event.
“And I’ll spend next week tearing everything down,” Gurrola said.
When he wasn’t volunteering at the market, Gurrola was a customer, spending $3,500 with a particular Peruvian artist one year.
“With that money, he was able to send his kids to school,” he said. “That’s the name of the game.”
Snell said first-time artists at the market take home 90 percent of their sales, while returning artists take home 80 percent.
Snell said the market is also committed to making sure no artist loses money as a result of attending.
If sales end up at last year’s level of $3.14 million, Snell said each artist will have averaged $20,000 in the 22 hours of selling, a huge amount of money, especially for those who travel from developing nations.
“The transformational impact of participating in the Santa Fe market cannot be overstated,” Snell said. “The earnings are truly monumental in the lives of the artists and their families and their communities.”