Photos: Eight Mind-Blowing Artists at the SWAIA 96th Santa Fe Indian Market

Frances Madeson

A talent bomb goes off at the 2017 SWAIA 96th Santa Fe Indian Market, as Native artists pass the inspiration around

Well-established art markets like the 96th SWAIA Santa Fe Indian Market are also marketplaces of ideas. It’s a mystery what attracts collector to artist, but surely part of the magic must be the ideas circulating around the work.

Crow beader Elias Not Afraid beaded Wonder Woman-style cuffs on kevlar, a material developed at Dupont in 1965 that is five-times stronger than steel.

He had to pre-punch the holes and use buckskin needles. “I think about if my ancestors had had this material, they would have been bulletproof,” he told ICMN. “This would have been medicine for them.”

Not Afraid also showed a Crow man’s mirror bag that took more than 200 hours to make. It features a classic hourglass design from the late 1800’s. On the flip side is a floral design from the 1900’s. “I used vintage beads on the newer design, and modern beads on the more antique design,” Not Afraid told ICMN.

Joyce Growing Thunder and Juanita Growing Thunder, Sioux mother and daughter, worked together on their “doctor’s bag” from Switzerland, purchased on the Internet for its elegant shape, unusual brass fittings and houndstooth silk lining.

“I’d been looking for that bag for 20 years,” Juanita said, “but you can’t force things.” Depicted in porcupine quills, the bag commemorates past quill artists, and is called “Remembering the Quillwork Society.”

“It was a real society,” Juanita Growing Thunder explained to ICMN, “and a true Native art form, a women’s art. To be initiated, a woman had to be humble, hard working, from good people with good characteristics. The idea to make it came to me in a dream.”

The scene shown on the bag is from an initiation ceremony. A society member leads the initiate throughout the camp by a rope so everyone can see who’s been inducted. Both women believe in the importance of keeping the tradition alive, but they acknowledge it’s not without its sacrifices. Joyce’s fingertips are severely calloused and she’s worn down her teeth gripping the quills between the uppers and lowers.

But she has perfect clarity about her life’s purpose. “I was put here to do this by Creator,” Joyce Growing Thunder told ICMN.

Virgil Ortiz told ICMN that traditional Cochiti red, white and black pottery has always been a form of social commentary. So, creating a pot that depicts the imminent destruction of the fossil fuel industry by the very snakes they’ve unleashed is in alignment with tradition. And perhaps even prescient given the flooding in Houston, a capital of the oil and gas industry.

“It’s part of my taboo series,” Ortiz said. “Topics that are hard to talk about—cancer, transgender issues, bi-racial identities, church and politics.”

Ortiz believes stewardship of the Earth will revert to Native Americans. “That’s the way the Earth will survive. No one protects the Earth like Native Americans,” Ortiz said. The pot itself is a Classic shape from the 1800’s. “I want to give voice back to the clay,” Ortiz said.

Fernando Slivers, Navajo, is the first to admit that he experienced trauma during his Marine service in Iraq and Afghanistan and suffers PTSD even now. Slivers is a full time nursing student, but photography is what helps him relax.

“I suffer, but I realized that when I pick up my camera I can forget about what’s bothering me. I can be alone, free, capturing things that would otherwise change and die,” he said.

Slivers showed an image of his nephew DJ with Oreo crumbs on his lips holding his beloved pig, and felt encouraged when it won Honorable Mention. This was his first Indian Market.

“DJ dresses like that every day. He always has his bracelets on, there’s no taking his jewelry away. When he falls asleep his mom takes them off,” the artist told ICMN.

Slivers remembers that while taking the picture the pig was squealing and DJ was laughing.

“He had on his going-to-town hat. He wipes his brow with his bracelets and there’s little scratch marks on his forehead. His concho belt was a former hatband,” Slivers revealed.

Slivers’ dream project is to photograph Native American veterans, and will turn his attention to that next.

Renowned beader, Jackie Beard, Blackfeet from Browning, Montana showed a beaded portrait bag portraying a family ancestor. Beard says the beadwork portraiture connects her to family and culture.

Kevin Pourier, Oglala Lakota Sioux, presented a Standing Rock narrative belt carved from buffalo horn, that tells the story of what he witnessed and experienced as a water protector there. Pourier believes that art is the best way to ask questions.

California collector Janie Kasarjian made a special trip to Liz Wallace’s Indian Market booth to purchase her dragonfly earrings made from sterling silver, vitreous enamel, opal, 24K gold, garnets, and fresh water pearls.

“No matter what she creates, it is always innovative, beyond beautiful, and completely recognizable as her own work,” Kasarjian told ICMN.

“I have missed out on a couple of her pieces in the past, but I was not going to let it happen this year. I feel so fortunate that luck was with me this time!”

Inspired by her participation at Indian Market Wallace is already planning her next major piece for the 2018 Heard Museum show–a collaboration with Diné potter Samuel Manymules, a relation on her Diné side (she’s also Washoe and Maidu).

Wallace says her part of the sculpture will be “a gruesome carnivorous flower with teeth that will rip apart the Black Snake (to be made of jet),” she said. They may title it “Full Circle.”

“The earth is destroying the snake. It will be beautiful, but a little scary,” promises Wallace.