August is an exciting time in Santa Fe. It is the time for a world-class gathering of Native American artists, musicians, clothing designers joining together with collectors and aficionados of all things beautiful. While the Annual SWAIA Indian Market is at the core of the celebration, amazing events and shows take place throughout the city. In fact, the Santa Fe Indian Market has the feel of a city-wide party.
If you are planning to attend “market,” set aside a week or more to spend in Santa Fe savoring the art and cultural events, some of which are traditional and some of which change and evolve year to year.
SWAIA Indian Market Fills The Plaza and Surrounding Streets
The highlight, the must-do experience, and the event that has been around almost 100 years is the gathering of juried Native artists selling their wares in simple booths.
From 7 a.m.to 5 p.m. on Saturday and 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday, the Southwestern Association for Indian Arts (SWAIA) Santa Fe Indian Market transforms the City of Santa Fe with nearly 900 of the continent’s finest Native American artists showing their work in booths filling the Santa Fe Plaza and surrounding streets. The Indian Market is the largest and most prestigious Native American fine art show in the world. And, it’s an experience that will wow you.
While the show officially opens at 7 a.m., the thrill of the hunt for collectors and museum reps starts as early as 3 a.m. One morning just before dawn, I walked down to the market to see this phenomenon. At the booths of award-winners and famous artists, there were lines of people patiently waiting for the artist to open their booth at 7 a.m. on the dot. A list was on the table. The first one to arrive and sign his name was eligible to choose the first piece of art to add to his collection. It was exciting to watch.
You’ll encounter artists like contemporary Zuni jeweler Colin Coonsis, who often arrives just past 7 a.m., making a grand entrance. Collectors greet him, chide him about his late arrival and form a tight circle around a small table at his booth. Colin places his beautiful inlaid cuff bracelets, pendants and earrings out on the displays for all to admire. Collectors take their turns buying and it’s not unusual for him to be sold out by 9 a.m. and headed for brunch. Such is the culture of Indian Market.
I love shopping Indian Market in the early morning. It’s cool out and I have a better chance of talking with artist friends. I enjoy watching children sleep on benches wrapped up in blankets while their artist-parents are at work. Many travel all night to be there to set up in the wee hours of the morning.
By 10 a.m. tourists driving from out of town arrive and join in to make the Plaza very crowded. There may be no seats at the music performances and there are lines to buy breakfast burritos. But it’s all fun and all part of the excitement of Indian Market.
Santa Fe Indian Market Week
As SWAIA Indian Market grew, they added events to keep things fresh and new. On their website, you’ll see an exciting week-long schedule of events ranging from the Native Cinema Showcase to both traditional dress and haute couture fashion shows.
One year, I watched a skateboard competition and walked a block to Cathedral Park to see thrilling traditional dancing from Alaska. There is a free program available at the market so you can plan your day and find your favorite artists’ booths.
Another year, I was surprised by a parade of models winding their way through the streets. They were dressed by Project Runway designer, Patricia Michaels from nearby Taos Pueblo.
Past the Plaza
There are the official juried artists, clearly marked with their SWAIA signs and booth numbers, but walk a block farther and you’ll encounter other vendors with jewelry and souvenirs for sale.
Every hotel has something going on whether a musical performance or a place for vendors. It’s fun to explore and find these small shows. One I’ve always enjoyed is held in the courtyard of the Hotel Chimayo de Santa Fe, only a half block from the Plaza. The first floor rooms are usually full of vendors selling jewelry and collectibles.
You just have to explore and check out all the hotel lobbies and side rooms. Signs may point the way, but sometimes you just happen on a special event.
The Galleries—Canyon Road and Downtown
There are gallery openings and special evenings set aside to stroll both Canyon Road and the downtown area.
Friday evening, as the tents and booths were being set up, I always headed for Manitou Gallery on West Palace Avenue. While the art enticed me, it was the party on the second-floor balcony with Mariachi music that was my destination. Sipping wine and watching the action in the streets below made one of those special Indian Market memories for me.
Don’t miss the artist demonstrations. At Blue Rain Gallery, at the Railyard, you will see impressive pieces of Native art and you’ll often get to see artist demonstrations. One year I spent over an hour mesmerized by internationally known Preston Singletary’s work with glass. This famous artist, from the Pacific Northwest, was assisted by a Santa Fe glass artist who brought a portable glass blowing oven. A group of us, transfixed, watched them create art from the molten glass.
Canyon Road is also bustling with activity during Indian Market. On one evening prior to Indian Market, the galleries are open, refreshments are served and the entire adobe lined street becomes a party.
When You Go to Santa Fe Indian Market
Needless to say, get your hotel reservation in Santa Fe early. I even recommend making dinner reservations at restaurants in downtown Santa Fe months in advance. Parking can fill up so go early. Consider taking a shuttle if you wish to arrive later.
You can get on the New Mexico Rail Runner train in Albuquerque and enjoy the train ride to Santa Fe. The Rail Runner is met by a shuttle that will take you to The Plaza.
There is so much going on, that it is hard to decide where to go but by checking event websites, you may be able to prioritize your visit and see the things that interest you most. You can’t do it all!