Photograph by Bob Smith.

International Folk

Art Market


ethnographic arts



The annual outdoor International Folk Art Market marks its tenth anniversary of bringing the world together at the Milner Plaza on Museum Hill in Santa Fe, New Mexico. From Friday, July 12 through Sunday, July 14 thousands of attendees will visit more than one hundred ninety artisans from some sixty countries. Throughout the year Santa Fe is a destination for the many venues that makeup the city’s busy calendar from ancient, contemporary and ethnographic shows to the Spanish and Santa Fe Indian Markets. But it is the Folk Art Market that many consider Santa Fe’s jewel in its crown. Imagine finding handmade treasures from around the globe, without leaving the United States, and enjoying it in an atmosphere of excitement and activity centered in The City Different.

“People want what is real,” says Judith Espinar, cofounder and the market’s creative director. “By keeping the vitality and cultural values of their homelands alive through their art amidst a mass-produced world, the Market is the real thing. Each piece of art becomes the starting point for a journey that leads to the artists and stories behind their work. When you touch an object of art, you can’t help being touched by the artists themselves.”

There are artists like Aboubakar Sidiki Fofano who practices traditional indigo dyeing dating back to the eleventh century. From Mali, he has traveled throughout Africa, France, Japan, and Great Britain on his mission to teach and preserve the ancient techniques that bring a singular vivacity and vitality to his textile design. Everything is by hand from spinning and weaving the cotton and linen to the dyeing and sewing of each piece of fabric. Along the way, Fofano has managed to revive and stimulate the growth of biological indigo and organic cotton in West Africa.

Photograph by Bob Smith.

“Artisan work is the second-largest income-generating sector in the developing world,” points out Shawn McQueen-Ruggeiro, who is the Folk Art Market’s executive director. “We recognize the incredible power that providing a marketplace and training for folk artists can bring. Folk art has become an engine of enterprise, bringing opportunities to indigenous artisans the world over.”

Consider the International Folk Art Market as a pop-up global village where you meet artisans whose creative skills convey their community’s authentic cultural identity and whose works embrace both the utilitarian and decorative—basketry, beadwork, ceramics, musical instruments, glass, jewelry, paintings, textiles. In the past nine years, six hundred fifty artists from eighty countries have traveled to Santa Fe to present their creations and then returned home after reaping sixteen million in sales, with ninety percent of the funds going to them. Many live in poverty-stricken countries where less than three dollars a day is average income. Market artists have returned to their countries to build schools, houses and wells for clean drinking water with the wherewithal to make positive shifts for themselves, their families and communities.

Mili Baas, who designs silver filigree jewelry, comes from the Itzincab Camara community in the state of Yucatan, Mexico. She is part of the Fundacion Haciendas del Mundo Maya, an organization that trains more than five hundred artisans and works closely with two hundred of them in workshops throughout sixteen communities. A member of the World Fair Trade Organization the Fundacion supports seven cooperatives by providing follow-up training for the production process, quality control, administration, and marketing. Part of its focus is to promote identity, bring positive recognition and stimulate appreciation for the Mayan culture.

Photograph by Bob Smith.

Another silver filigree artist is Katarina Doda, but Doda lives a world away in Macedonia where she designs jewelry in her family’s workshop. Jewelrymaking has run in her family for generations and Doda takes pride in carrying on their traditional skills. She in turn teaches younger students her techniques so that they will achieve the mastery, from bridal presents to jewelry for daily life, that will help maintain Macedonian cultural heritage.

Also located in another hemisphere, costumer Bayarchimeg Sanduijav is an expert practitioner of constructing and decorating the traditional garments of her homeland in central Mongolia as well as other nearby regions. She discovered early that she loved to sew, and following her grandmother’s teachings, she became proficient in the appliquéd and decoratively stitched long coat known as the deel, and the ornate vests and jackets worn by both women and men. She reveals that her extraordinary stitches are not just due to her skill, but to the thread itself which is spun from the wool of a camel’s mane.

There are many other stories from the artisans who make up the International Folk Art Market. Lider Rivera Matos, from Peru, was in Lima's largest prison, for seventeen years because of his involvement with the Shining Path, the Communist Party of Peru. He is making a new life for himself and his son and feels now that change must come about in a more peaceful way. Matos learned how to carve and shape horn from a fellow prisoner, and has gone on to make hair combs and spoons with great intricacy and elegance.

Daouda Mohamad is a Tuareg metalsmith from Niger, who lives near Agadez, a dry and isolated area. Mohamad is part of a cooperative, started in 1997, which currently has twelve members, all male. Taught by their fathers and uncles, apprenticeship for boys starts at about age seven and continues over fifteen years. With simple handtools for making earrings, rings, pendants, bracelets, and necklaces, the Tuareg use fine silver, ebony, malachite, and lapis for their graceful jewelry. This cooperative has distinguished itself by receiving the Unesco Award of Excellence.

There are a number of embroiderers at the International Folk Art Market and a new addition for this year is Puriben Vaghabhai Ayar from India. She produces and sells embroidered cloth made into wall and door hangings as well as traditional bags. With three children and no work, her family had to mortgage her farm after a severe drought. She became part of the Self-Employed Women’s Association, a trade facilitation center in India that made a critical difference in her life. Now she can make in a month almost as much as a laborer in a year. She is able to provide a living for her family and an education for her children, and in the process ensuring the important craft art of embroidered textiles.

These samplings of personal histories are some of the compelling reasons to attend the International Folk Art Market this year and in years to come. The artisans who show here are committed to economically transforming their lives, their family’s lives and the communities in which they live. Then, without question, there is the art and the craft of their material goods, so many of them beautifully handmade. Imbued with their native traditions, the fruit of their labor is a profound tribute to the vibrancy of the human spirit and its ever questing desire to create.






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