IF YOU’RE A FLEDGLING INDIGENOUS ARTIST, a golden opportunity to launch your rising star into the stratosphere comes around every August. Since 1922, the Santa Fe Indian Market has provided emerging Native and First Nations artists with a valuable showcase for work in a variety of traditional and contemporary art forms. Over the past century, the event has blossomed into the world’s largest Indigenous juried art market, presenting hundreds of artists who represent more than 250 tribes.
For a first timer, it’s an opportunity to present work to an audience of roughly 100,000 people—and to win top prizes. From traditional potters to digital photographers, artists toil year-round to create works solely for Indian Market, which can count as a hefty share of their annual income. The Southwestern Association for Indian Arts (SWAIA), which hosts the weekend event, also provides up-and-coming artists with professional support to help build their careers. These ingenues of the Native arts scene have the same opportunities as veteran market artists to earn much-coveted awards for their work.
Many traditional Indigenous artists learn skills that have been passed down generationally and continue to work in a traditional vein. Others innovate, combining old and new ways, or focus on the contemporary moment to present their visions. Here are three first-time Indian Market artists whose work you must see.
Gabriel and Naomi Natan (Diné)
In jewelry inlaid with turquoise, or bearing the representational imagery of squash blossoms or the inverted crescent called Naja, husband-and-wife jewelers Gabriel and Naomi Natan layer their work with imagery from the wellspring of Diné culture.
Gabriel, who grew up on the Ramah Navajo Indian Reservation, south of Gallup, is the son of jeweler Gene Natan. “He learned the basics of silversmithing from his mother,” Gabriel says of his father. “Then he taught me the basics and taught me how to stamp.” In their first application to the market, the Natans were wait-listed for the initial jurying round. “We were patient and decided to wait it out,” he says.
The Natans work independently and collaboratively to create elegant squash blossom hoop earrings, bracelets, and rings. A variety of other pieces are stamped with arrowheads, bear tracks, and other motifs, or shaped into corn stalks, hummingbirds, and imagery representing the four sacred mountains of the Navajo. Often big and bold, their wearable designs make a statement.
Stevevost Jim (Diné)
In 2021, Diné artist and photographer Stevevost Jim went viral on Twitter when he posted his “Caucasians” T-shirt in response to the national debate over the former branding of the Washington Commanders professional football team. Jim’s shirt, which bore the NFL team’s colors and font, replaced its antiquated and stereotypical depiction of a Native American with an anonymous white man.
In response to the controversy that followed, Jim wrote to his younger followers, “I hope this photo encourages YOU to always believe in yourself, have the ability to laugh and stand up for your Indigenous brothers & sisters always. Remember, privilege and power comes in many forms.”
Jim’s photography is centered on the people and landscapes of the Navajo Nation. He captures his subjects in candid and semicandid portraits. Stunning landscapes spotlight the beauty of the light on the terrain in his impactful compositions, which sometimes blend color and black-and-white imagery.
Naomi Calabaza (Santo Domingo)
Replete with floral and geometric patterns, Naomi Calabaza’s remarkable beadwork shimmers in vibrant colors. Her beaded jewelry pieces, including necklaces, earrings, and bracelets, are studded in glass beads and combined with synthetic materials, silver, and inlay. Calabaza, owner of SD Red Fox Designs, combines her interests in beading, lapidary, and silversmithing in her jewelry. Her pieces express a contemporary aesthetic while honoring a traditional art form.