New Mexico Magic: Santa Fe Indian Market 101 Preview

Here, where the Old World and the Wild West meld magically, it’s always the Land of Enchantment. But New Mexico is especially enchanting, and the City Different is wonderfully so in August during Santa Fe Indian Market.

Santa Fe Indian Market 101 arrives in August with artists, fashion, and frybread.

Close to 1,000 artists from more than 200 Indigenous nations in the U.S. and Canada. New fashion designers, among them the on-the-rise Montana beader Elias Not Afraid (Apsaalooké). A new “Diamond Experience” ticket for VIP seating at Sunday’s Indigenous Fashion Show. A fresh tagline (“The First Year of the Next Century”), a new executive director (Jamie Schulze, who’s Northern Cheyenne/Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate), and a later opening time (9 a.m.). That’s what to expect as Santa Fe Indian Market rolls into its 101st year on August 19 – 20. And, oh yeah, gonna be turquoise everywhere.

The action gets underway on Wednesday, August 16, when artists arrive at the art receiving station. Thursday is for official judging. Come Friday, winners are announced at the best-of-show ceremony. On Saturday and Sunday, it’s the grand affair — look for 650 booths, with 30 percent of the artists newcomers in 2023. They’ll be offering up jewelry, pottery, paintings, sculpture, beadwork, photography, and more. Bringing the glam? The gala live auction, fashion shows, art auction, and thought panels — and the surge in lapis, sugilite, and opal stones. It’s all part of Indian Market, the largest juried Native American art market in the world. It attracts some 100,000 visitors annually, with Ali MacGraw, Tom Ford, Robert Redford, Wes Studi, and Diane Keaton sometimes among them.

Wes Studi walks at the 2019 Santa Fe Indian Market fashion show.

Lives can change at Indian Market. Fine-art photographer Cara Romero (Chemehuevi) landed her first major museum acquisition there when artist Tony Abeyta (Navajo) brought a curator from the Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian to her booth. In 2021, Romero was again at her booth when U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland (Laguna Pueblo) came by. “I got a selfie with Deb,” Romero recalls. “That was probably one of the most exciting people who ever came by.” Romero’s favorite thing to see at market? “The best-of-show preview on Friday night.” To do? “Purchase something from an emerging artist and an elder every year.” To eat? “Lamb frybread tacos with green chile.” Last year, Romero became a best-of-class winner.

Evolvers, Cara Romero, 2019.

So did jeweler Ernest Benally (Navajo). “They called me Thursday afternoon and told me to come to the best-of-show luncheon, and not to tell anybody. It’s like a big secret. Don’t tell anybody you won,” he remembers. He only told his kids, “Want to have lunch in Santa Fe?” His favorite thing to do at market? “Do sales and meet the customers.” To eat? “Something from The French Pastry Shop. And dinner at Tomasita’s.”

Glenda McKay (Ingalik Athabascan) won best of class last year, too, for her traditional harpoon. She loves when the artists set up at dawn before the show opens and “everyone goes around to see everyone’s things first, before anybody else.”

Potter Russell Sanchez (San Ildefonso Pueblo) won the big award last year: best of show. Even before that, when he would show up to unload his pots on Saturday at 6 a.m., there would already be a line waiting at his booth. “I get a lot of calls before market. To be fair, I tell them to get there early and get on my sign-up list,” he says. He usually sells out within an hour of opening. For dinner that night? You may spot him at Geronimo or The Shed with one of his collectors.

Russell Sanchez


This article appears in our August/September 2023 issue, available on newsstands now or through our C&I Shop.

Santa Fe Indian Market takes place August 19–20. For more information, visit swaia.org.

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