Negotiate, Navigate, Innovate: Strategies Folk Artists Use in Today’s Global Market Place

We were honored to be a part of the Gallery of Conscience at the Museum of International Folk Art.  It was a large investment of time spent with a cadre of New Mexican and international artists, over  the space of several months.  It has been difficult to communicate what we were doing during that time, but the Museum’s website explains.  “The Gallery of Conscience is an experimental gallery in the Museum of International Folk Art where the public is invited to help shape the content and form of the exhibition in real time.

Visitors notice the Gallery of Conscience looks different than the rest of the museum.  In this gallery, visitors are invited behind the scenes to participate directly in the creation of an exhibition.  That is why the space looks informal and unpolished- it’s on purpose.  The Gallery of Conscience team seeks to make visitors feel welcome to write comments, leave thoughts and participate in the exhibition’s creation.

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Negotiate, Navigate, Innovate is about contemporary folk artists and their relationship with their patrons, buyers and collectors. We are especially interested in understanding the pressures they might feel to keep their traditions alive in the face of modern technological advances and new consumer demands. Visitors will see a kind of “mock up” or series of idea sketches. The artworks will come at a later point in the process- after we have heard from visitors, artists and local community members.  Even the exhibition title itself is up for grabs- so be sure to vote on which title you like best, or suggest your own. Come back often and see how the exhibition has changed in response to your ideas.”

There were a number of opportunities for us to interact with the other artists involved.  We also were encouraged to take on an apprentice and create a video documentation of the experience.  That is what you see above.  These experiences have given me a lot to think about over the last several months, and I’ve been anxious to record my thoughts.

About selling traditional arts in a big, well-connected world.

Obviously there are countless approaches.  We were all involved in one of the big summer markets in Santa Fe: the International Folk Art Market, the Spanish Market, and Indian Market.  So we all were aware that there were people who decided who was in, and who was out, of these venues.  It’s not easy to be allowed to show in any of these, there are rules involved, and policies to navigate.  We talked a lot about interacting with the buyers of the products we made, and how those interactions affected our work, and how it affected us on a personal level.

Most interesting to me was how our selling of our work influenced how we understood our traditions.   A list of questions I’d like to explore further in the future, emerges.

  • What do our traditions mean to our community?

Some traditional arts are essential threads of connection in communities.  Others are more pragmatic expressions of comfort, communication, or personal expression.

  • What is the economic role they play? Is it serving to empower community members by providing employment, a creative outlet for self expression, or a role in a community’s sacred interactions?

This is, of course, a question of survival for these art forms.  We met women from countries where creating these goods for sale served as a vital connection to others beyond the walls of their homes.  And their cooperatives created leaders who played essential political roles as voices of the women involved.  For many artists, these forms connected them to their personal and community histories.  Others created objects that were important to a spiritual community beyond themselves.  Some traditions, like ours, have always been primarily in a commercial realm, created for trade beyond the local community.

  • Does it inform and express culture to those within the culture,  or to outsiders?

What I think I heard in our discussions is that this was a very personal question, and how we communicated with those who were interested in our work was at the heart of this.  Who we sold to could be only people who were sincerely committed to the art form or the community, or it could be anybody willing to pay for the product.

  • What about the traditions are sacrosanct and what is changeable?  Are we comfortable with new techniques or different materials, and why?

Again, this is a very personal issue.  But some folks dealt with rules imposed by others regarding what is defined as traditional and what is not.  And others were faced with choices as to how to respond to pressure to make change.  Sometimes change meant making a markedly improved product, like drum heads not damaged by changes in humidity.  Other times market changes might mean using color to appeal in a new market in a way that might go against the community of origin’s intentional use of color.  There were new approaches that helped speed up the process and make it less work intensive, and there was clearly some conflict over the appropriateness of that kind of change too.

  • Do we make changes because of the pressures of outside economic forces?

These forces seem likely to continue to affect these traditional forms, but individuals may choose where they will bend and where they will not.

  • How do we respond to “cultural appropriation”?  And what is our appropriate role in guarding traditions?  Who “owns” these traditions?

As a person who grew up outside of the culture whose weaving tradition I am devoted to preserving, this is a very personal question.  I don’t have any answers to this one.  But I confront it regularly.

In the end, each one of us has to draw boundaries for ourselves, and these questions can help guide our choices.  These are issues that we are often deeply emerged in, and the answers for us have probably grown more nuanced as we have been at this for some time now.  But it was the work we did with our apprentices, and the videos that were made to document that work, that brought me to one conclusion.  Traditions will, and must, change over time.  They are in flux because new people must take them up in every generation. 


There is still an underlying question too, about who supports these traditions, and why, and how.  We have always had moral, if not a lot of financial, support from institutions of various kinds, some governmental and some private.  We are always grateful when these kinds of acknowledgements of the value of tradition are made.  It would be impossible to measure what these things have meant to our ability to keep up our efforts.

Another thing I will always be grateful for about getting to engage with all these artists in this program is that it engenders a sense of common ground and unity of purpose. Each of our opportunities to share with one another were seriously uplifting.  I don’t think I am alone in feeling that way.  For me that is a powerful spiritual thing.

 

 

This was the group of artists and staff who stuck around after the videos were premiered at the end of our project.

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This was a group of us deeply involved in learning how to make videos.  I am grateful for the immersion in a whole new creative process, and hope to apply what I have learned to future projects.

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Fall’s Colors

Every fall I struggle with the onset of cold weather. I don’t know if we work harder to keep warm than other people do, but it really is a long hard slog through the long winter months. And as the temperatures drop, the anticipation of that effort distracts me from the beauty that the season brings. In an effort to keep myself in the present, I can go out and take pictures of the glories of the season.

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Apricot tree at the watergate.
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From the garden up to the tree across the ditch.
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In the corral, where there are pallets that are falling apart.
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On the fence in the arroyo.
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The willow umbrella is on the wall for the winter.
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Virginia Creeper

Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts 2015

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New Mexico is, without a doubt, just packed with art and artists.  People move to New Mexico to pursue their artistic passions, and those who live here all know people who eke out some kind of living as creative souls.  I think that this place really is different than other places in that way.  So it isn’t a surprise that over the years our Governors have awarded recognition to small groups of artists.  This year Irvin Trujillo was so honored.  That’s Governor Susana Martinez standing next to Irvin in the back row in this picture.

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Irvin has received honorifics before, but he continues to be surprised when they come to him. This award is one that he was aware of long ago, when his father was nominated for it repeatedly. His father never was honored by the Governor. This makes this award a little bit of a bittersweet experience for Irvin, as he has always regarded his father as a great master of weaving. 20150918_191903[1]

It was an even more memorable event because we were able to celebrate with the whole family!

DAM Opening of Creative Crossroads: The Art of Tapestry

Irvin Trujillo in front of the Denver Art Museum on the night of the opening.
Irvin Trujillo in front of the Denver Art Museum on the night of the opening.

Once upon a time I taught about our weaving tradition to a group of weavers who were all tapestry weavers from a guild in a distant part of the country.  I totally enjoyed the experience, but one thing about it stands out in my memory more than all the joys of that teaching experience.  We all were at the old Victorian-era home of one of the students for dinner.  The hostess was very gracious, but made the statement that what I was teaching, and what the group was learning at that workshop, was not tapestry.  I was pretty taken aback.  By all definitions of tapestry weaving, it is what we do.  That is, we weave a discontinuous weft.  To my knowledge, most of the other students agreed that we were weaving tapestry, but I have wondered why she felt that way ever since.  Most of what we do is geometric tapestry, and we simply don’t use a lot of joins that other tapestry weavers do because we have to have both sides be equally useful, but it is definitely the same weaving technique that people have used for many centuries and within a wide variety of cultures all over the world.

Sadly, most of the tapestry shows that I have been aware of have been put together by tapestry weavers.  I don’t want to think that nobody else ever thinks to put together these shows, or that shows organized by other tapestry artists somehow have less to offer.  But a show curated out of a love of the art form by someone whose expertise is in a full range of textile traditions across the centuries, and who can present it in the context of a world-class art museum is a very special thing  I haven’t ever experienced such a thing before

Here is the text from the opening invitation.

Creative Crossroads:  The Art of Tapestry displays more than twenty tapestry-woven wall hangings, rugs, furniture covers, garments and sculptural forms that illustrate the creative possibilities of this technique.  The selection includes historic European tapestries made by large ateliers, twentieth century collaborations between artist and weaver, and works by solo artist-weavers who use tapestry as their creative medium.  While some designs are culturally specific, others borrow from, transform, or transcend tradition.  Contemporary tapestries join historic weavings from Europe, Turkey, China, Peru, Mexico and the American southwest in the main gallery, complemented by a selection of smaller tapestries in the Nany Lake Benson Thread Studio.

 

And Irvin has not one, but two, tapestries in the show.  2015-05-29 11.10.16

 

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Here are some other magnificent tapestries from the show.

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This is an English tapestry about the five senses.
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And a detail of the center panel.
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This very large tapestry was from Belgium, if my memory serves me correctly.
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And an entertaining detail.
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Detail of a Peruvian tapestry.
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A Rio Grande Saltillo that has been identified as a “slave blanket”, because it has “lazy lines”.
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These three pieces are from contemporary, Santa Fe area weavers. On the left is an early piece by James Koehler, in the middle is one by Ramona Sakiestewa, and the one on the right is by Rebecca Bluestone.
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A Navajo weaver created this from the artist-provided image seen to the right of the weaving.

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Why this Weaving Thing is So Much Fun.

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(This may be heavy on hyperbole, but it’s hard not to hit the high notes when talking about something this good!)

1) There is a proud history to Rio Grande weaving.  There once were a lot of people here in New Mexico weaving blankets for trade to far away places.  And that was over a period of hundreds of years.  At any one time at least some of those weavers were trying new things – designs and techniques – and their legacy remains for us to explore.

2) The old pieces are things of beauty.  The time we get to spend closely examining historic Rio Grandes is time we really enjoy.  There are always exciting details to pay attention to, and new things to be learned from them.

3) The design process and the weaving process are one and the same – and it’s magic.  Okay, sometimes we are working from pictures or things that are pretty well planned out.  But even if we plan things out on paper, there are lots of design decisions that need to be made during the weaving process.  For the most part, though, when we’re weaving a traditional design we get to design it while we are weaving it.  It’s a very dynamic and exciting process that makes standing at the loom and weaving a mind-stimulating adventure.

4) Sometimes I can be all alone and weaving and never feel lonely.

5) Sometimes I get to weave and talk to the most interesting people at the same time.

6) I get to meet every kind of person there is.  People come here from all over the world and from every walk of life.  And they are almost always relaxed and happy when they are here ’cause they’re on vacation.  And people are the most interesting things imaginable.

7) There are so many processes and skills that apply to this business that I am always learning new things.

8) I get to live in the prettiest place around.

2014 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.  Clearly I need to get back to my blogging.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 2,900 times in 2014. If it were a cable car, it would take about 48 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Spanish Market 2014

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We have participated in Spanish Market for a very long time.  Irvin’s first Market was in 1976, and Lisa started in 1982.  It was under the two portals, at the Palace of the Governors and on the east side of the Plaza, on Old Santa Fe Trail.  There are only a handful of us who go back that far.  What it means, more than anything, is that Spanish Market has become a blur in our memories.  We remember people we meet there kind of vaguely, even if we spent time engaged in fascinating conversation with them.  I wish I could be better at remembering what happens at Market, but over the years have just come to let people know that if I talked to them at Market, my memory is bound to be just a blur.  Short of writing down everybody’s names and taking snapshots of them, I don’t think I’m ever going to do any better.  But I can give you a sense of what Market is like for us.

Preview Night – Preview night is the best time to catch up with artist friends, and with some of the stalwart collectors of Spanish Colonial art.  It’s also a good time to get dressed up.  I’m guessing that most of the artists don’t have lots of opportunities to put on fancy clothes, so this is kind of a treat for all of us.  At least one of us has to be there at the end of the evening to pick up the pieces that we put up for judging.  Irvin doesn’t much like all the socializing, so if he goes, it tends to be overly late.  In recent years we got phone calls as the judging was in progress telling us that a ribbon would be ours.  But this year it didn’t happen.  So there was no obvious reason to go early.  As it turned out, there were five ribbons on our pieces, all of the weaving ribbons there are to be had.  But we missed the awards ceremony ’cause we were so late.

The awards this year were as follows – Saltillo Shroud – 1st place in Weaving, and the La Lana Wools award.  Red Rio Grande – Jake O. Trujillo award and the 2nd place in Weaving.  Vista – Honorable mention in Weaving.

So preview night is all about competition balanced with whatever camaraderie we feel as fellow artists/weavers.  It’s safe to say that the balance shifts around from year to year.  There is something awkward about competing with the people that you like and respect whether you win or lose.  I’ve got years of experience competing with my husband, so I’m hyper-conscious of the problem.  I like to say that I am a second class citizen at Market, but I guess that maybe all of us weavers other than Irvin have every right to feel that way.  But at the end of the night we’re all left trying to figure out how to take our weavings down from the display that the Market volunteers have rigged up.  We have had to find ladders or chairs and screwdrivers in recent years.  This year we made do with chairs and a couple of tall men among our little group.  We always work together to get out of there ASAP on preview night.

Early mornings on the Plaza – We were supposed to unload this year by 7:30 AM.  This means getting up in the dark of a summer morning.  Anybody who knows me knows that isn’t really my time of day.  They seem to change up the schedule of who unloads at what time every year.  And the people guarding access to the plaza are apparently very strict about late arrivals.  So it was a very good thing I looked at the paperwork to check on it before we went to bed Friday night.  The one good thing about those early mornings is that they are a great time to indulge in coffee.  Lots of coffee.

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This is the procession, led by Mariachis, of the Archbishop and his priests followed by Market artsists who participate in the Artist’s Mass at the Basilica. It is followed by the presentation of the Archbishop’s award, which is given out each year. I’m confident I will never get that award. There is Holy Water involved with this procession every year.

People- The market floods with people on Saturday morning.  Some years more than others, but this year was pretty good that way.  From opening on, we talk to people.  There are some occasional slow times, usually Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning while most of the artists are in a mass at the Basilica.  Engaging in non-stop conversation all weekend long is absolutely exhausting for us introverted artist types.  There are other generalizations I can make.  a)There are a lot of people who talk to us every year at Market but who we never see otherwise.  For the most part, I can’t remember their names.    b) People from our distant pasts will show up.  This always comes as a shock.  c)We learn of people’s big life changes.  Generally this stuff hits later on, well after the conversation we had at our table.  Often it’s in the middle of the night when I should be sleeping.  d)Slow times are good for people watching.  Santa Feans and tourists are both good for some relaxing entertainment.  I prefer watching for pets, however.  But dogs weren’t allowed on Saturday this year.  They were there on Sunday.  I have no idea why the rules changed, but I much prefer the canine additions to the parade going by.

Food – This is a big challenge for us.  There are good food vendors just down the street from where we are.  But we have a hard time getting there.  So we are dependent on others to go get the stuff for us.  This year Irvin’s restaurateur cousin brought us food.  And it was wonderful.  We have eaten at his restaurant a few times and it was delicious.  But on Sunday afternoon he brought us the best burrito I had ever eaten.  It was a green chile lamb chicharrone burrito.  And it was heavenly!  Now you have to go to Casa Chimayo and ask for one.  Okay?  You won’t regret it.

Weather – It often rains while we are at market.  And it’s often pretty hot.  So Saturday it was in the nineties.  We were all unpleasantly sticky and felt a bit melted by the end of the day.  (Note to self: never ever forget to bring a water bottle to Market.) And then on Sunday it rained.  It was one of those really heavy monsoon rains with a little bit of hail and the rain at a serious angle.  So I can tell you what happens when it rains at Market.  Basically everything comes to a halt.  Art gets covered with big plastic sheeting.  Everyone goes under tents and portals and waits it out.  They don’t shop where they’re at.   For the most part they watch the rain in utter amazement.

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The Load-Out – At the end of the day there are lines at the corners of the plaza with all our cars and trucks.  We wait in line and all get to our booths eventually, where we load all our stuff into vehicles.  But the part that terrorizes me every year is that I have to drive through big crowds of pedestrians.  We go by the food booths all trying to get closed down, and then the intersection where the contemporary and traditional markets meet.  All those pedestrians always make me nervous.  I’ve never heard of anyone getting hurt during the load-out.  2014-07-27 17.13.33

And the one thing that happened this year that was unlike other years.  An obviously anxious lady came up to me to tell me that our display touching the walls of the Palace of the Governors was absolutely unacceptable and that it could get the Market kicked off of the Portal there forever.  All of a sudden the display that we have used year after year was a terrible threat to the Market.  It was rather disturbing.  And there wasn’t much we could do about it at the time.  We padded where it touched the wall and will design something freestanding for next year.

Re-hanging the shop- On Monday, we have to re-organize and re-think what goes where if we sold anything at all at Market.  So it’s a day of assesment.  And rest.  It used to be that we would have some inevitable conflict, but nowadays we seem to have gotten much smoother at the process.  Which is good because we are always exhausted.  I have now had a really long night’s sleep to recover from Spanish Market weekend, and can relate this all to you.

That’s all the important stuff about Spanish Market I can think of.