For more than 400 years, Spanish settlers in New Mexico have farmed, raised families and kept alive ancient folk and colonial artistic traditions that are passed down from generation to generation.
A week-long celebration of Hispanic culture kicked off on Monday, culminating in the Spanish Market, which takes place on the Plaza on Saturday and Sunday. About 350 artists proudly display and sell tin work, retablos (devotional paintings on wood), furniture, bultos (sculptures of religious figures), jewelry, reredos (altar pieces) and colcha embroidery (developed in New Mexico).
More than 70,000 new and seasoned collectors flock to Santa Fe for what is now the largest market of its kind in the U.S. They come for the art, and learn from the artists about their rich heritage.
Sometimes the booths get quite crowded, as excited locals and visitors vie to get a first look at the art, and buy pieces from their favorite artists. When there is down time, the craftsmen are happy to explain how they obtain and use traditional pigments, which tools they work with, who taught them the traditional arts, and the stories of the saints whom they lovingly depict.
One of the delights of Spanish Market is the section devoted to children artists. In most cases, they are the sons, daughters and grandchildren of the adult artists. Their work ranges from naïve and fanciful to meticulous and sophisticated; visitors with a good eye can purchase inexpensive art from kids who may grow up to be accomplished and well-known artists.
Next to the Plaza, on Lincoln Street, is the exciting and lively Contemporary Hispanic Market. More than 130 booths feature paintings, sculpture, collage, jewelry, furniture and wearable art that ranges from quirky to dazzling. It is a tribute to the vitality of Hispanic art in New Mexico that some artists have gone off in directions that are semi-traditional and experimental. And, like the artists in the traditional Market, they love talking about their work and sharing their techniques.
On the Plaza bandstand, and in the streets around the Plaza, visitors to the Market delight in mariachi music and matachine dances, pageantry, Mexican and Spanish dance, posole, plump burritos and bowls of fiery chile. During the days leading up to market, there are talks for collectors, cooking lessons, films, lunch with the artists, and the Archbishop’s blessing of the Market, the art and the artists.
Here’s an insider’s tip: As you stroll from booth to booth at the Market, look carefully at the face of the artist, and then look at his or her work. In many cases, without realizing it, the artists produce self-portraits, or portraits of family members who may be sitting right next to them in their booths.
While you are in Santa Fe, it is highly recommended to visit the Museum of Spanish Colonial Art at 750 Camino Lejo, on Museum Hills. Thousands of objects from four continents are on display, and it’s an opportunity to see some of the best examples of Hispanic artistic traditions.
Also, on or right near the Plaza are two museums that have wonderful temporary and permanent exhibits about the history of New Mexico from its indigenous roots to the present: the New Mexico History Museum and the Palace of the Governors. Of special interest to Market visitors are informative displays about Spanish colonization, the Mexican period, and travel and commerce along the Santa Fe Trail.
Judith Fein is an award-winning travel journalist and author of LIFE IS A TRIP: The Transformative Magic of Travel. She resides in Santa Fe.