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Santa Fe Indian Market: The business of art

SANTA FE, N.M. - Competition can be tough on young artists trying to break into the business of fine art collection when it seems every art form has plenty of established artists firmly cornering their market.

That's why Dennis Esquival, 42, a former painter turned woodworker, has combined his talents to bring something new, something different, and something never done before to the largest Indian art market in the world.

"There's so many awesome painters out there and it makes it hard to compete. I think that's why I started over," Esquival, from the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa, said about changing from painting to fine furnishings.

This year at the 82nd annual Santa Fe Indian Market, Esquival competed and won a fellowship earning him money to work and valuable booth space at Indian Market.

"This is SWAIA's way of recognizing up-and-coming artists. We award eight fellowships in all. It gives these artists a chance to show their work," said Jai Lakshman, executive director of SWAIA about the fellowships.

"The fellowship includes an award of $3,000 and booth space, not to mention they are introduced to the public during Market on our busiest day. So, hundreds of people will see them and more importantly their work," he said.

Indian Market heralds nearly a 1,000 artists from more than 80 different Indian nations. Vending booths to temporarily house and display each individual artist's work become a maze for even the most frequent of visitors.

"Getting into Indian Market makes it possible to reach a bigger market of potential buyers but there's a waiting list to get in and it's really competitive. The fellowship gets you in and it puts a spotlight on you," Esquival said.

Esquiral kept the spotlight shining and his vending booth was in a central location - Santa Fe's Plaza. Winning a first place award in "Diversified Arts" at Indian Market added more spark to his moment too.

The table he entered for competition is made of imported and domestic woods with steel accents.

"The most important thing about the furniture I make is where my designs come from," Esquival said about what distinguishes his work from other fine furnishings.

"My designs are inspired by traditional objects from my tribe. But I didn't want to reproduce them. I wanted to incorporate, put them into something subtly, so they're still there," he said.

His winning piece is a sloped and shining piece of mahogany, a canoe, delicately balanced by what Esquival describes as canoe paddles and war clubs, but only to the trained eye.

"I was building frames for my paintings and started working with the wood. This sparked my interest so I took a fine woodworking course at Santa Fe Community College - and I was hooked," he said.

In May, Esquival completed the woodworking course at the college. He also has a 2-dimensional arts degree from the Institute of American Indian Arts. Skills from both avenues of education do collide in one piece, a drum shaped table with painted eagle feathers.

"I'm going to be doing more of that," he said about painting his furnishings. "I like the way it turned out and I get to paint a little."

Along with his awards Esquival said his work drew the kind of attention every artist needs to become known.

"All I can say is fantastic. It's been really good. Just the reaction from everyone has been really good for exposure," he said.

Next on this artist's agenda for exposure is a contemporary furniture exhibition, "Passing down the Craft," sponsored by Santa Fe Community College, faculty, staff, students, and alumni. One of Esquival's pieces was chosen as the premier piece for the show.

The exhibition runs through Oct. 23.

For more information about Esquival's work, call his studio at (505) 438-2062. For more information about the "Passing Down the Craft" exhibition, call SFCC Fine Woodworking at (505) 428-1726, or SFCC Art on Campus at (505) 428-1230, or visit www.sfccnm.edu.