Anne Constable | The New Mexican
Posted: Monday, November 22, 2010. This article was syndicated from The New Mexican, click here
for the original article.
2011 Algerian Berber Culture jewelry application from Karim Oukid Ouksel
Judy Espinar, a founder of the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market, called this event the “heart of the market.”
It is the three days in late November when a selection committee meets to evaluate the hundreds of applications received from around the globe and choose those artists who will be invited to Santa Fe for the popular July event.
The process ensures the work for sale is authentic and of the highest quality, and, Espinar said, “Without it we would not have succeeded.”
The stakes are high for these artists, some of whom have never left their villages. Earnings from the market can — and have — meant they can send children to school, pay for health insurance or pipe fresh drinking water into their communities. In one case, an Afghan co-op used some of its market revenue to train female beggars in traditional embroidery, enabling them to earn income safely at home, and, they say, removing them from the streets of Kandahar.
Being chosen for the market — the largest of its kind in the world — is also a validation of the artists’ skills and the value of their work in preserving and sustaining the culture of their communities.
This year, 403 artists or artist cooperatives submitted applications. Under the direction of Suzanne Seriff, a committee of six experts, many with doctoral degrees, evaluated them, looking for a geographic balance, a wide choice of genres and prices, and a 60-40 ratio of new artists to returning ones.
2011 application from Ukraine: pottery by Golovko Mykhailo
The market is always looking for new work to keep visitors interested in coming back, while continuing to present the art of masters that marketgoers expect. Looking to enhance the visitors’ experience, it also has a preference for applications in which the artist plans to be present in Santa Fe, as opposed to a dealer or nonprofit representative.
Some applications are rejected outright because of shoddy workmanship or because the committee does not believe the work would sell here. “Quality and marketability are essential,” Seriff said. “If we thought something would not sell, we would not approve bringing it here.”
Applications are also turned down because the design, materials or form are not traditional. The market doesn’t accept Western clothing, even if it is made from traditional textiles, or trinkets like cell phone covers or eyeglass holders, although it does approve of items like place mats and table runners that might originally have had other uses.
Other times it’s a close call. One application from Kyrgyzstan was still being discussed Sunday. The design (the sacred symbol of mother deer) of the shawl was expertly rendered in felt, sandwiched on either side of a layer of silk cloth.
“It’s a delicate balance,” market director Charlene Cerny said. “We don’t want to put folk art under a bell jar.”
But a company that is keeping indigo dyeing alive in a Malinese village — accepted last year after a long debate — was rejected for 2011 because the artisans are now using linen cloth that they didn’t weave themselves.
So too a Nigerian painter. “I’d love to have his work on my wall, but it’s not traditional art,” said Diana Baird N’Diaye, a committee member from the Smithsonian Institution.
One of the first-time applications that was accepted came from Association Sahalandy, a group of silk weavers in the highlands of Madagascar who make hand-woven, naturally dyed scarves, bed covers, tablecloths and other products, ranging from $35 to $150.
2011 applicant from Indonesia: Ni Wayan Widiarmini; beaded baskets
A former Peace Corps volunteer from the area, who is now a small-enterprise development volunteer, helped the women prepare their application, which requires a detailed description of how the folk art is made. Their process is laborious.
“First, cocoons are sliced at one end to remove the pupa. They are then turned inside out and stacked on top of each other over a peg. Once bundled, they are boiled for a couple of hours and then rinsed. Afterward, the silk is thrown onto brick walls and dried in the sun. The clumps are then pulled into large balls to be spun.” The yarn is then dyed using tree bark (deep red), mud (black) mushrooms (yellow) and other natural resources.
Some applicants might lose out because their category is particularly competitive — African baskets, for example — but the odds are better in other genres, like ceramics, wood and leather, which are more threatened around the world.
Although giving young people a reason to continue to make traditional folk art is a “huge issue” for the market, in the words of Baird N’Diaye, applying is not easy — nor is it meant to be. Artists must complete an eight-page form (in triplicate) and submit five to 10 high-quality, clearly labeled photographs of each distinct type of folk art they would be bringing to market, as well as three photographs of each artist who will attend. Some applications are fairly slick, others are handwritten in broken English. In Kyrgyzstan, a travel agent supplements her living by helping people prepare the forms.
Applicants are responsible for obtaining their own passports and visas — although the market provides them with advice on how to go about it — and arranging to ship their artwork.
“They have to be ambitious enough to get here,” noted Cerny. “But a wide variety of people somehow find a way.”
The application includes a section on artistic and cultural information in which applicants are asked to explain how they learned to make the folk art, its history, how it represents their community’s cultural traditions and how the work is used in daily life or for special occasions. The market also asks applicants to tell their personal stories and how art fits into their lives.
Each member of the committee does the initial review of applications from a particular part of the world. But the final decisions are made by majority vote (consensus was found to be too difficult) of the entire committee.
The scorecard, or matrix, rates the applications on artistic quality, marketability, traditionality of form or final product, and traditionality of design or materials, as well as on whether the production process is rooted in tradition, how the artistic knowledge was acquired and the community use of the item. There’s also a place to check whether the artist has a compelling story.
Rejection letters explain the reason the applicant was turned down but invite artists to contact Seriff for a more complete explanation. Many do, she said.
So far, the 2011 market looks new and fresh, said Espinar, who observed the process last weekend. And she expects that will continue for a long time to come because “we have the world. There’s no end to it.”
2011 dates: July, 8, 9, 10
2010 Market Facts
132 artists from 50 countries
22,167 people attended
$2.1 million in artists’ sales
$13.5 million in local spending by visitors (outside of Market)
$16.1 million estimated total economic impact
2011: 57 percent
2010: 48 percent
Artists requesting financial assistance:
2011: 31 percent
2010: 28 percent
2011: 63; 2010: 63
Countries with most applicants:
2011: Uzbekistan, 66; Mexico, 45
2010: Uzbekistan, 71; Mexico, 43
Artist Selection Committee
Suzanne Seriff, senior lecturer, Department of Anthropology, University of Texas at Austin
Diana Baird N’Diaye, Smithsonian Institution, Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, Africa
Barbara C. Anderson, director of museum resources, New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs, Mexico
Marsha C. Bol, director of the Museum of International Folk Art, Latin America
Felicia Katz-Harris, curator of Asian and Middle Eastern collections, Museum of International Folk Art, Asia, Middle East, Europe
Melinne Owen, artist, volunteer, China, Tibet, Mongolia, Uzbekistan