There were no hints of political divides on a breezy July evening in Santa Fe at the opening of the International Folk Art Market. Instead, nearly 200 artists — all selected by juries of experts — displayed colorful jewelry, basketry, carvings, pottery, metalwork, paintings, textiles and much more.
They came to the world’s largest international folk art market from more than 60 nations with a range of ethnic, cultural and economic diversity.
From Japan, there were silk and bamboo kites. From Oaxaca, Mexico, came delicate gold filigree and pearl jewelry. From Peru, there were carved gourds, and from Uzbekistan, handwoven kilims. Every stall brought a story.
Reyna Isabel Pretzantzin Chipix is part of a cooperative of 63 Guatemalan women who make hooked rugs using recycled t-shirts. “Secondhand clothing is everywhere in Guatemala,” she says.
Most of the T-shirts come from the U.S. They’re cut into strips, then fashioned into rugs using traditional Mayan designs. The rugs sell at the market from $125 for a small one to $4880 for the largest and most complex design. The money helps women pay for basics, providing a bed for one, a refrigerator for another. More than that, they gain freedom and independence. Men “value” their wives’ work, and they become “an inspiration to their children,” Pretzantzin Chipix said.
Serge Jolimeau from Haiti represents 200 workers in the Haitian village of Croix-des-Bouquets. After the 2010 earthquake, it became more difficult to make a living. Jolimeau, along with other artisans, takes old oil drums, burns off the toxic residues, and flattens them. Using hammers and chisels, he carve mermaids, suns, and traditional Vodou symbols and gods.
In Rwanda, after the 1994 genocide, women from the warring Hutu and Tutsi tribes came together to form the Gahaya Links Cooperatives: a group of 4,000 women in 52 cooperatives who fashion baskets. Baskets have long been a part of Rwandan culture, used in wedding ceremonies and as palace decorations — these have been dubbed “peace baskets.” Today, the women are the primary earners in their families, and the money they make goes to food, education, medicine and other basic needs.
Kebira Aglaou is one of 60 artists coming to the market for the first time. Before this trip, she’s never left her home country of Morocco. The designs for her flatweave and knotted handmade rugs are passed down “from grandmother to grandmother,” she said through an interpreter. The chance to be part of an international market makes a difference in the lives of the 12 weavers in her village of N’Kob. “For a woman not educated in our village, there’s no incoming money except this,” she said.
Some 20,000 visitors come to the market each weekend. They meet the artists, hear their stories, and sometimes leave with handcrafted works of art made with natural materials. Last year’s proceeds totaled more than $3 million, and 90 percent of that money goes back home with the artists.
In the days leading up to the market, the Santa Fe-based International Folk Art Alliance offers lessons for the artists on developing businesses, selling online and marketing.
The International Folk Art Market will appear in Santa Fe through July 10th. Some items are available online throughout the year.