International Folk Art Market – D. Hamilton

Having been associated with a viewpoint called internationalism, allow me to describe a recent event in which Sally and I participated, the International Folk Art Market, sponsored by the Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe. It just completed its third year and will doubtless continue to occur the second weekend in July for the foreseeable future. It was perhaps internationalist in a more conventional and benign sense, but it was an inspiring spectacle regardless.

The market takes place on the large plaza in front of the museum and in the adjacent parking lots. It was designed to provide a money-maker for the museum and a venue for folk artists from all over the world and has succeeded in both objectives. It started in 2004 and was a huge and instant success. That first year, they sold about 15,000 entrance tickets, three times what they had expected to sell. The next year attendance jumped another 5,000 with 300 one-hour early shopper tickets selling out at $50 each. This year’s attendance jumped another 5,000. It has now joined Indian Market and Spanish Market to become one of Santa Fe’s signature events.

This year, there were 106 rather spacious booths for artisans from 36 countries. There is a selection process that remains somewhat opaque to me after a year of discussing potential candidates from Guatemala. There are now hundreds of applicants. It’s like getting a band in SXSW [South-by-SouthWest]. Successful applicants all have Santa Fe sponsors who help with travel arrangements, housing and visas. We are joining the museum partially because we feel it may improve the chances of Guatemalan Maya nominees we sponsor.

Regardless, the market ends up with a fantastic collection of people and artistic talent in many different mediums from almost every corner of the globe. At this point, adjacent booths might be from Peru, Malaysia, Botswana and Romania. Next year they may go for continental groupings. Many of the vendors are in traditional dress, often quite elaborate. But there were also the lady basket makers from the Sudan who looked exactly as if they had just stepped out of a Darfur refugee camp because they had.

They always sat on the ground working, neither chairs nor inactivity being within their normal experience, and looking about at the admiring and wealthy American folk art lovers in total amazement, some heavy culture shock was going on. We heard that they originally wanted to sell their baskets for ten dollars each but their sponsors made them sell them for more, hopefully much more. They were perhaps at the extreme end of the vendor sophistication spectrum, but it was doubtless the culmination of a lifetime’s work for many artisan participants. The one vendor from Guatemala, a sculptor and painter of ceramic birds and figures, almost made enough at this event to support his family for a year. I talked to a Haitian tin sculptor who sold out the first day.

Besides the artisans and their wares, there are ethnic foods and a continuous entertainment schedule that aspires to the same authenticity and diversity as the folk art. The peak internationalist moment is at the post-market party for vendors and sponsors in the museum auditorium. It’s a big cocktail party with an extensive food buffet and music where the most incredibly eclectic groups of people are mingling and sharing experiences with their global colleagues. It usually ends in a spirited conga line like no other you have ever imagined.

Sally and I are not artisans and so we don’t have a booth. We participate as guests of the museum shop selling our collection of Maya traditional textiles. Scott and Arina Pittman attended this year and will attest to this being an uplifting event showcasing a fascinating array of artists, mostly from humble origins and traditional cultures. It may not change the world, but it powerfully acknowledges the work of a deserving few.

David Hamilton

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