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The International Folk Art Market in Santa Fe Photo: Bob Smith

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Why Santa Fe Should Be Your Next Shopping Vacation

Every summer, The City Different plays host to three festivals full of wearable art.

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Every summer in the high desert, Santa Fe, New Mexico, plays host to three different arts festivals that draw excited visitors from around the world: the International Folk Art Market, the Spanish Market, and the Indian Market.

The International Folk Art Market (July 14th-16th) is now the largest of its kind in the world, and shoppers are agog that it takes place in a city of 70,000 inhabitants. More than 160 master artists come from 53 countries as far away as Tanzania, Tajikistan, Nepal, Jordan, Laos, and India. Most of them are attired in authentic, colorful native clothes, and they will happily share stories about their art.

Mary Padar Kuojok of the Roots Project of Juba, South Sudan
Photo: Courtesy of The Roots Project

Besides dazzling sculptures, textiles, basketry, ceramics, rugs, metal work, toys, and woodcarvings, wearable art abounds. Two women from Tanzania will be selling distinctive hand-beaded jewelry made by a sisterhood of Maasai artists. The Adiv Pure Nature Dyeing Team from Mumbai uses temple flowers to dye one-of-a-kind, beautiful, blessed scarves. For other fabulous scarves, artist Abdul Jabbar Khatri of Gujarat, India, who was twice awarded the UNESCO Seal of Excellence, makes intricately patterned bandhani scarves that have been featured on Paris runways.

The problem is not what to buy, but how much you can carry and ship home to wear and give as gifts. (And while you shop at this huge global gallery on Museum Hill, non-stop international music and dance performances take place on a central stage.) Jewelry? You can adorn yourself with an almost overwhelming choice of handmade ethnic, tribal, and folk art. Clothes? You’ll find conversation-piece hats, caftans, shirts, skirts, slippers, jackets, coats, and shoes in brilliant colors and patterns unlike anything you could find at your local mall.

It’s also important to note that when you shop the market, you’re helping to both preserve living folk art traditions and create economic independence for disenfranchised women and artists from developing countries. Proceeds from sales — 90 percent of which go directly to the artists — are used to support families, build bridges, schools, and wells, provide much-needed employment, and fight gender inequality back home.

Tinsmith Jason Younis y Delgado
Tinsmith Jason Younis y Delgado at the Spanish Market.
Photo: Daniel Quat

The traditional Spanish Market (July 29th-30th) is the oldest and largest event of its kind in the United States — 2017 will be the 66th annual market. The traditions the artists use go back to the colonial period (from 1598 to 1821), when artists were self-taught and the styles mostly reflected Spain and Spanish culture, especially in religious art. With the advent of trading along the Santa Fe Trail and the arrival of the railroad, influences in the work broadened and could be traced to Europe, Asia, the Americas, and the nearby Pueblo Indians. The result is an aesthetic that is uniquely Hispanic New Mexican.

Today, many of the 230-250 juried artists are still self-taught and depend upon the sale of their work to survive. They use traditional methods and materials and attract huge crowds who admire and buy their colcha embroidery, copper engravings, furniture, two- and three-dimensional religious art, straw appliqué, and woodcarving.

The wearable art is unique and finely crafted. Weavers create and sell magnificent high-quality vests, jackets, and shawls (rebozos). Precious metal artists display their jewelry that ranges from traditional filigree to the new category of “Innovations Within Tradition” (using traditional materials that appeal to a modern sensibility; think “something old, something new”).

The market sprawls over the historic Santa Fe Plaza and onto surrounding streets, and one of the most delightful sections is devoted to the creations of young people who range in age from 7 to 17. They are a testimony to the living Hispanic arts and culture, which are passed down from generation to generation.

Indian jewelry with natural colored stones
Jewelry made by Verma Nequatewa, sold at the Indian Market.
Photo: G. Marks for Santa Fe Indian Market

The Indian Market (August 19th-20th), which has been running for 96 years, is the most prestigious and largest juried Native art show in the world; it also takes place at the Plaza and the surrounding streets. You can shop (or just gaze at) 750 booths featuring about 1,000 artists. Like the Spanish Market, there are also young artists under 17 whose work you can collect and track as they become masters.

The categories you’ll find range from pottery, painting, and Pueblo figurative carvings to basketry, bead and quill work, sculptures, textiles, and even films that are screened during the market. Part of the joy of Indian Market is that you can learn about and buy one-of-a-kind jewelry and accessories, and then wear them as you continue to shop; other shoppers will admire your new pieces and ask you which booth you found them.

An artist with some of her work
Artist Jolene Bird.
Photo: G. Marks for Santa Fe Indian Market

A few of the wearable art masters to look out for in particular are Jolene Bird, Jessa Rae Growing Thunder, and JT Willie. Jolene Bird is a master of traditional Santo Domingo Pueblo inlay, and her dazzling mosaics adorn sunglasses, bags, and other jewelry with natural stones like orange sponge corral, mother of pearl, and denim lapis. Jessa Rae Growing Thunder does beadwork on buckskin and specializes in bags; she uses material as diverse as antique seed beads and otter fur. And JT Willie’s inventive work appears on beadwork bags, silver and beaded jewelry, and shoes. (How do high heels decorated with abalone shell, beads, and Swarovski crystals sound to you?)

No matter which of the markets appeal to you, it’s advisable to secure accommodations well in advance. You can fly directly to Santa Fe or to Albuquerque (which is about an hour away from Santa Fe). The Indian and Spanish Markets are walkable from anywhere downtown, and free shuttles will whisk you to Museum Hill for the Folk Art festival. So all you have to do is reserve, shop, and enjoy!

The dates to remember: July 14th-16th for the 14th annual International Folk Art Market, July 29th-30th for the 66th Traditional Spanish Market, and August 19th-20th for the 96th Indian Market. For more information on Santa Fe and the markets, visit,,, and

Judith Fein is an award-wining travel journalist, author, speaker, and workshop leader. Her website is


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