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Bringing Native arts to the world by inspiring artistic excellence, fostering education, and creating meaningful partnerships.


The History of Santa Fe Indian Market and SWAIA

Each August, an estimated 100,000 people attend the largest juried Native American art show in the world – Southwestern Association for Indian Arts’. (SWAIA’s) annual Indian Market. This remarkable event takes place on and around the central plaza in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and sponsors over one-thousand Native artists from more than one-hundred tribal communities in North America and Canada. Artists show their latest work and compete for awards in SWAIA’s prestigious judged art competition. Santa Fe’s Indian Market has endured for the past 100-years and today generates upwards of 160 million dollars annually in revenues for artists and the community.

Over the past century, the American Indian art world has been significantly shaped and sustained by Santa Fe’s Indian market and tourist industry. The market provides income to artists and their families while serving as a vehicle that connects Native and non-Native worlds through the interactions it fosters. Indian Market has evolved out of years of these mutually influential interactions as artists react to collectors’ demands and collectors react to artists’ works. It is through these interactions that Native artists communicate cultural histories to non-Native visitors. In this respect, Indian Market has served as a forum for shared cultural exchanges.
The vibrancy and excitement of the market can be felt by long term Market goers, as well as first time attendees. This is especially apparent at SWAIA’s Best of Show Awards Ceremony and preview reception held the Friday before Indian Market weekend. Artists bring their works to the Santa Fe Convention Center, where SWAIA volunteers receive, record, and categorize the entries for judging.

Anticipation looms as artists reveal their latest creations to the classification specialists who then place their works into numerous categories that include traditional and contemporary divisions. Artworks are then displayed on tables in preparation for the SWAIA judging process. More than a thousand examples of the finest Native-made jewelry, pottery, paintings, sculpture, photography, carvings, textiles, beadwork, and basketry are submitted to the competition.

The Best of Show awards ceremony on the Friday before market weekend, celebrates Native artists whose careers are often advanced after receiving awards.  The winning artists are announced, and they speak about their work, their families, and communities, and what the award means to them. One of the classification winners is selected and awarded the grand prize, the Best in Show for Indian Market each year. This is the most highly revered award in the Native art world.
Following the Awards Ceremony, additional opportunities to view winning artworks at preview events held Friday afternoon and evening. Collectors often take notes on artworks they hope to acquire as they compete to be the first in line at an artist’s booth Saturday morning. Avid collectors have been known in some instances to sleep overnight in an artist’s booth to ensure that they will be the first in line on Saturday morning to purchase the piece they want to own.

Numerous events are held in tandem to the main event throughout Indian Market week. These include museum and art gallery openings, a Native American film festival, a trending Native fashion show, dancing, demonstrations, and other various shows and auctions. It is possible to move from one high-energy happening to another during the entire Indian Market week.

The Market has grown tremendously in scope and size since its 1922 beginnings. Originally sponsored by non-Native Museum of New Mexico staff, the market has shifted to being facilitated by mostly Native staff and Board Members of the Southwestern Association of Indian Arts. It has also changed from participation by mostly Pueblo artists to include Native artisans from the entire United States and Canada.  Another major shift that has occurred in the market is the mission of preserving traditional designs and technologies of the past to also include the honoring and encouragement of innovation and new technologies.

The Market has always been a family matter since its inception with several generations of artists often participating in the same Indian Market booth, and in the creative process. The history of Indian Market also reflects many of the social and political movements that have unfolded over the last century and SWAIA’s longstanding commitment to, “Bringing Native arts to the world by inspiring artistic excellence, fostering education, and creating meaningful partnerships.”

The last Indian Fair was held in 1931 in Santa Fe. This Fair included two important innovations: it was held outdoors under portal of the Palace of the Governors; and, most importantly, artists were expected to make their own sales rather than depending on the Committee members.
From 1932-1935, there were no fairs. Instead, judging competitions were held in the villages on saint day celebrations; at the Indian schools in Santa Fe and Albuquerque, various Pueblo Day schools; and at trader and Agency-organized tribal fairs at Zuni, Shiprock and Gallup’s Inter-Tribal Ceremonial. Committee members, Chapman, Amelia White, Margaret McKittrick, and others traveled from village to village and fair to fair hoping to discourage the production of “curios” through their sponsorship and awarding of cash prizes.


This remarkable marketplace had much smaller beginnings in 1922 when Museum of New Mexico director, Edgar Lee Hewett, and curator Kenneth Chapman, sponsored the first market-known as the Southwest Indian Art Fair and Industrial Arts and Crafts Exposition. The art fair was sponsored by the Museum of New Mexico (MNM) and the School of American Research (SAR), now known as the School for Advanced Research. It was held indoors, admission was charged, and both artist and traders submitted work to the judged art competition. Artworks were judged by a panel of non-Natives who also set prices and sold artworks to the public. Native artists themselves did not interact directly with visitors at these early fairs. Interactions of Native artists with the public has become one of today’s more popular aspects of Indian Market.

The first Indian markets were very similar in scope to the Southwest Pavilion display at the 1915 San Diego World’s Fair. The San Diego Fair built an Indian Pueblo, cliff dwellings and had art making demonstrations by San Ildefonso potters, Maria, and Julian Martinez.  The displays were created to introduce Southwest Native Americans and their creations to the world.

Exhibitions at world fairs in general included idealized displays of Southwest indigenous cultures and living demonstrations of pottery, textiles and jewelry making. The Bureau of Ethnology designed exhibitions for the 1893 Chicago and the 1904 St. Louis world’s fairs. The MNM/SAR designed the 1915 San Diego’s Southwest pavilion and followed a similar formular for the first Southwest Indian Art Fairs held in Santa Fe.
Historic photographs reveal the interior of the Santa Fe show with Pueblo pottery arranged on tables and shelves according to tribal affiliation, Navajo rugs were displayed on walls, and Plains Indian beadwork placed on tables. In the courtyard and under the Portal of the Palace of the Governors, demonstrations were held by Native artists who made pottery, jewelry and textiles for visitors to observe.

As with the San Diego World’s Fair Southwest Pavilion, Santa Fe Indian Market was created from an intention to provide Native American Artisans with a venue to sell their works, and to preserve and perpetuate the cultural heritage of Native Americans out of the fear of their disappearance. The market began to protect what remained of diminishing Native American cultures subjected to colonialism, settler encroachment, death from diseases introduced by Europeans, and U.S. Federal Indian policies.


Beginning in the early 19th century United States governmental policies of Indian Removal and the Reservation Period (1829-1886) tore across the country moving westward. These acts removed Native people from their homelands and forced them to live in abject poverty on Reservations. By the late 19th century 90% of North American Indians had perished because of these policies, diseases for which they held no immunities, and warfare.
However, some tribal groups of the Southwest, such as Pueblo and Navajo Indians were able to remain in their original homelands. This phenomenon would make the Southwestern United States an area of great interest to anthropologists and historians.

After Removal and Reservation policies were enacted, the U.S. government shifted to Assimilation policies (1887-1932) that included the establishment of boarding schools. U.S. government officials removed young children from their homes and discouraged or forbade Native children from speaking their languages and practicing religious ceremonies. Many Native adults were encouraged to learn a trade or farming techniques, all of which contributed to the diminishing of Native cultures and languages.

As the Industrial Revolution produced more and more manufactured goods, fewer Native made goods were being produced. In the 1923 Annual Fiesta and Southwest Indian Art Fair brochure the following statement is found:

That there is a danger of losing to the world the priceless heritage of distinctive Indian Art and handicraft unless something is done to keep it alive…. All too frequently comes the reply from Indian Agents, when solicited to send an exhibit from their jurisdiction. “My Indians have forgotten their ancient crafts and there is nothing along that line produced nowadays.”

It is through the desire to preserve Native made goods that advocates also began to work towards preserving the people and cultures responsible for making these objects.

A reaction among some anthropologists, collectors and institutions was to buy as many Native made goods as possible. Some of the buyers included the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, New York’s American Museum of Natural History and in New Mexico, the New Mexico Historical Society, and others searched the United States, and especially the Southwest, for Native made goods, which ultimately reduced their availability. Pueblo pottery was one of the areas that institutions and private individuals collected heavily.

This would be deemed “salvage anthropology” as anthropologists and collectors competed for and acquired millions of Native artifacts and objects. Native made objects became rare in the hands of Natives themselves and the continued passing down of some designs and technologies was in danger of being lost through their removal from Native hands. Today, some institutions hold consultations with Native tribal members and artists to reintroduce technologies and designs found in the work of their ancestors.

Another component to the preservation of these materials was to provide a marketplace where Native made goods could be sold. It was believed that in this way the continuation of Native culture would be ensured. As evidenced in the 1923 Fiesta and Southwest Indian Fair and Industrial Arts and Crafts Exhibition brochure:

The Southwest Indian Fair and Industrial Arts and Crafts Exhibition of 1923, is the second of its scope and character to be held in Santa Fe.

The objects in the exhibition are the encouragement of native arts and crafts among the Indians; to revive old arts, and keep the arts of each tribe and pueblo as distinctive as possible; the establishment and locating of markets for all Indian products, the securing of reasonable prices; authentication of all handicraft offered for sale and protection to the Indian in all his business dealings with traders and buyers.

Additional social, political and economic issues were converging on this moment in history and contributed to shaping these early Indian Markets. For instance, in 1922 the New Mexico Association of Indian Affairs (NMAIA) was formed by a group of individuals in Santa Fe whose main agenda was to defeat the U.S. Senate’s proposed Bursum Bill. This bill would have ceded Pueblo Indian lands to non-Native settlers.

The NMAIA was established to promote and protect the rights of New Mexican Natives. (ADD) It would eventually become known as the Southwestern Association of Indian Affairs and then today’s Southwestern Association of Indian Arts (SWAIA) which hosts Santa Fe Indian Market annually.
In addition to the formation of the NMAIA and the first Indian Market in 1922, the School of American Research (SAR) was founded along with the Pueblo pottery fund and Indian Arts Fund (IAF) which funded the purchasing of Indian Pueblo pottery now in the collections of the SAR and shown in this exhibition. The Gallup Inter-Tribal Ceremonials also began in 1922 and showcased the work of Native artists. These entities were created to preserve and protect Native cultures of the Southwest and provide a venue for Native artists to sell their works and provide incomes to artists and their families.
The Southwest Indian Fair continued to be sponsored by MNM and SAR from 1922-1931 and was held in the armory building near the Palace of the Governors during the annual Santa Fe Fiesta celebration. During this time there was a revival of Pueblo pottery partly due to the Museum’s efforts and their promotion of artists that participated in the Fair.

In 1931 the Southwest Indian Fair was held outside under the Portal of the Palace of the Governors along the Santa Fe Plaza. This marked an important transition as artists interacted with and sold directly to the public, eliminating the Museum of New Mexico’s staff as intermediaries between artists and buyers. Here we see the beginnings of Indian Market transitioning to having more Native held control over sales and direct interactions with consumers.

This trend coincides with the political movement, the Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 that reinforced tribal sovereignty and enabled Native groups to reorganize their governments to better self-govern and strengthen their communities. It also put an end to the allotment of Indian lands to individual households. This act was created in part to decrease the paternalistic power of the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), which was running numerous Indian boarding schools.

The Indian Reorganization Act was created partly in response to the Meriam Report, published in 1928 which was a government study that described high poverty and death rates, and poor living conditions on Indian reservations, as well as the grossly inadequate care of Indian children in boarding schools. The Meriam report also conveyed the destructive effects of the erosion of Indian land caused by the General Allotment Act. The Great Depression began shortly after this report was issued, causing living conditions and employment opportunities to fall everywhere in the country. President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s ‘New Deal’ policies were designed as a response and focused on relief, recovery, and reform. It was in this atmosphere that Congress passed the Indian Reorganization Act (IRA) in 1934, also known as the Indian New Deal.

From 1932-1935, the market was held at various Pueblos during feast days, and at Indian and Pueblo Day schools. Fair committee members traveled to the Pueblos in attempts to continue their influence over Native arts. Committee members encouraged artists to refrain from making “curios” or smaller and less complex objects to sell to tourists who tended to purchase objects that could travel easily. One of the categories for winning awards involved the size of pottery pieces encouraging larger more utilitarian types of vessels reminiscent of objects made in the past. Larger pieces of pottery have historically won awards more often and were encouraged from the beginning of the early Fairs.

The New Mexico Association of Indian Affairs (NMAIA) officially took over sponsoring the Market in 1934 and promoted an educational component to inform the general public about Native made goods and culture. The Fair returned to Santa Fe and the Market was held weekly under the Portal of the Palace of the Governors from 1936 to 1939. The Southwest Indian Fairs continued to be held during Santa Fe’s annual Fiesta celebrations until 1962. Today it is held the 3rd weekend in August each year.

During the middle 1940s to the 1960s Federal Indian policy shifted again to the Termination Era which, ended many tribes’ special relationship with the government and federal recognition of their status as sovereign Nations. It also worked to relocate Natives from Reservations to urban environments in favor of assimilation. Public law 280, a federal statute was enacted by Congress in 1953. It enabled states to assume criminal, as well as civil, jurisdiction in matters involving Indians as litigants on reservation land, further diminishing Native sovereignty.

During the Termination Era, more than 100 tribes were terminated and those that were not, suffered from increased governmental paternalism during this period. Indian Market decreased in size and the amounts of award monies available. NMAIA member Gladys Auger financed the Market and kept it going through 1959 when a group of traders and anthropologists began to run the Market.

That same year, the NMAIA changed its name to the Southwestern Association of Indian Affairs to describe it’s reach into the greater Southwest United States. In 1993 the organization shifted its name to the Southwestern Association of Indian Arts (SWAIA). Indian Market became the main focus of the group and the cultural preservation and education regarding Native made goods and culture became the main objective.

The 1960’s brought on more change socially and politically, and renewed policies of Self Determination began to take hold. Native Americans sought to restore tribal communities, self-government, educational control, and input into federal government decisions concerning policies and programs. The Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA) was founded in 1962 and proved to greatly influence Indian Market. Many artists that participate in the Market have attended and were trained at IAIA over the past sixty years.

During the 1960s, increased activism for civil rights proliferated Indian country and the movement for Self-Determination steadily gained momentum.  This renewal of Indian activism ushered in a new generation of activists. Public protests such as the occupation of Alcatraz and the Wounded Knee incident, are examples of American Indians uniting to change their relationship with the United States government.  In 1968, Congress passed the Indian Civil Rights Act after acknowledging that the policies of Indian termination were a failure. Native Americans had persisted in keeping their cultures and religions alive. Self-determination became official federal government policy in 1970, when President Richard Nixon addressed the issue and asserted his support of the movement.

Over the next decades, Santa Fe’s Indian Market became increasingly popular and attendance by both artists and visitors continued to rise above that of the Gallup Inter-tribal Ceremonials. The hosting and running of Indian Market became more and more controlled by individual Native artists and tribal members who joined the SWAIA staff and Board of Directors. New generations of artists and buyers continued to meet annually on the Santa Fe Plaza to exchange knowledge of Native American arts and culture.