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Bringing back the ‘all-stars’

When she wasn’t accepted into Indian Market this year, Evelyn Bird-Quintana says the rejection left her “surprised and hurt.”

The Ohkay Owingeh textile artist got the news in a letter.

“That was it,” she said. “And I’m going, why? Why was I put out? There was no reason.”

She had been at Indian Market each year for more than 40 years. She began showing in her early 20s with her mother, textile artist Lorencita Bird.

Bird-Quintana was one of the several traditional pueblo artists who once had tenure, with an automatic spot in the market.

The Southwestern Association for Indian Arts, which runs Indian Market, ended the tenure program in 2017, a change SWAIA leaders said was made to ensure fairness to all applicants. Formerly tenured artists now have to send in a standard application with images of their work.

Bird-Quintana was accepted last year, but not for this weekend’s show.

In June, she learned that a local Native Art scholar told her he was putting together a separate show for elder, traditional artists.

Vests made by Ohkay Owingeh textile artist Evelyn Bird-Quintana on display at last year’s Indian Market. The artist, along with more than 60 others, will show at a new market at the Scottish Rite Center designed for formerly tenured elder artists and their families. (Courtesy of Evelyn Bird-Quintana)

“It was just so good to hear someone wanted our type of artwork to be still seen out there,” said Bird-Quintana.

She will be one of 68 artists from 44 tribes showing in the Free Indian Market Show at the Scottish Rite Center Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 18-19.

Gregory Schaaf, a retired Native American studies professor who has written nine volumes of artist biographies since moving to Santa Fe 20 years ago, was inspired to organize the show after he received numerous calls from elder artists upset about not being accepted into market this year.

He met many of these traditional artists years ago when working on his books.

“I felt sorry for them, and decided I would do something to help them,” he said.

Schaaf isn’t charging the vendors a booth fee. He is paying for the event – an estimated cost of $7,500 – through sponsorships, a silent auction with donated artwork and a GoFundMe campaign that had netted about $2,300 as of last week. If he and his co-organizers don’t reach their funding goal, Schaaf said he’ll pay for any remaining costs out of pocket.

Schaaf says he’s noticed a positive shift in the artists’ demeanor since he organized the new show.

“Instead of being rejected former tenure artists, they said, ‘We’re no longer rejected; we’re welcome and honored artists,’ ” he said. “How you perceive yourself is important.”

Bird-Quintana’s textiles include traditional designs left behind by her mother. She does her embroidery on traditional men’s dancing kilts and women’s white manta dresses used for pueblo feast days, along with more contemporary vests and purses. It’s always been important to her to carry on traditional craft, as it was for her mother.

“Once that goes, your culture is going, as well,” she said, also expressing worry that Indian Market is pushing out older, traditional Southwestern artists like her to make way for younger artists or those whose work is more contemporary.

Elizabeth Kirk, president of SWAIA’s board of directors, told the Journal last month that the organization isn’t trying to shift the focus to younger or contemporary artists by doing away with tenure. She said the idea is to better accommodate all tribes, pueblos and nations from across the U.S. and Canada, and find the “best of the best” with a fully juried show.

“It’s not about excluding,” said Kirk. “It’s about being more inclusive.”

Depending on which artist list from over the years is used as a baseline, the number of formerly tenured artists who did not get into Indian Market this year could range from about 13 to possibly 40. That’s a relatively low number, Kirk maintains, considering that about 800 artists show each year.

She said the SWAIA board views Schaaf’s show the same way it thinks about all of the other shows going on around Santa Fe during Indian Market time.

“He’s promoting Native art, we’re promoting Native art,” she said, adding SWAIA isn’t concerned about losing visitors to another show.

Kewa potter Robert Tenorio will be bringing his traditional pots like this one to the Free Indian Market Show this weekend at the Scottish Rite Center. The formerly tenured Indian Market artist said he was waitlisted for this year’s Indian Market. Though he was eventually offered a booth, he says, he chose to show at the other event instead. (Courtesy of Gregory Schaaf)

The nearly 70 artists in Schaaf’s market range in age from 21 to 86. They include elder and/or formerly tenured artists who either weren’t accepted to Indian Market, were waitlisted or lost their traditional, desirable booth locations; family members of traditional artists; and artists who weren’t rejected, but chose to be at Schaaf’s show instead.

According to Schaaf, the vendors include past Indian Market award-winners in textiles, jewelry, katsina dolls and other media. Some of the artists are also previous Best of Show and Lifetime Achievement recipients.

“The young people call this show the all-stars,” he said. “It’s like the hall of fame. These are the celebrated masters of Native art that have been instrumental in maintaining Native American culture in New Mexico, the Southwest and beyond. These are the most important people.”

Kathy Sanchez, a San Ildefonso potter and the granddaughter of famed pueblo potter Maria Martinez, stopped showing at Indian Market following the end of the tenure program.

But the 68-year-old artist will be at Schaaf’s show, along with some of her eight grandchildren, who also make pots. Her sons, artists Gilbert and Wayland Sanchez, will also be on hand.

She has made traditional black-on-black and black-on-red pottery, and participated in Indian Market nearly her entire life, she said. She said there’s a special “soulfulness” that comes with bringing traditional art forms to market, where artists can share the family history and the traditional designs that are part of each work. That’s what people come to experience, she said.

“I’m excited to see all the hustle and bustle again of being able to relate to people, seeing those relationships blossom again,” said Sanchez.

Schaaf isn’t sure if the elders will ever get their old spaces back – “that remains for history to record if it ever happens,” he said. But he plans for his show to continue annually.

“We’ll keep that safety net secured as long as there’s a need,” he said.