On August 20 and 21, I had the opportunity to represent Rio Grande as I joined tens of thousands of shoppers, collectors and onlookers in Santa Fe’s central plaza for the 95th annual Indian Market—the country’s largest Native American arts market. The town square was bursting with nearly a thousand artists from 230 tribes from across the nation showcasing handmade art that included textiles, paintings, pottery and, of course, jewelry.
It was my first time attending the market, and from my first step onto the plaza, I became engulfed in a world of art, easily browsing through 20-30 booths a block. The artists were eager to answer my questions and explain intricate details about each hand-crafted work. While the treasures presented along the plaza were all one of a kind, I noticed they had one thing in common: each piece had its own story.
I heard stories of heritage, of ceremonial symbols dating back centuries and of skills that had been passed down generations. It was then that I realized what the Santa Fe Indian Market is all about—heritage. As I browsed each jewelry booth, I had the opportunity to meet artists, artists’ children and, in many cases, their grandchildren, all of whom had been involved in the creation process in some way.
As I met with the jewelers and identified myself as a Rio employee (mostly because I was wearing a bright blue RIO shirt), I was regaled with stories about how “Grandpa refuses to order from anyone else;” or “We’ve been ordering our findings from you guys for years;” or “I should own stock in your company!”
Hearing stories of how they became involved in their craft and of how they have built thriving family businesses made me proud to be part of a company that has been providing their tools and supplies for decades. As the day went on, I stopped thinking about the artists I met as Rio customers. I realized they are so much more. They are our partners. They are our family members. I met them at a market that has been promoting their craft for 95 years, and I was working at a company that has been supporting their businesses for 72 of those years. Talk about heritage!
As I made my way out of Santa Fe’s central plaza that afternoon, I was drawn to one final booth, Decontie & Brown. The jewelry was contemporary by design but had a distinct Native American flair. The man behind the designs, Jason Brown, grew up on Indian Island, Maine, the ancestral home of the Penobscot Indian Nation. The people of his tribe are known for their basket weaving and beadwork, and he learned those skills at a young age.
“Most children in my tribe are taught to weave at a young age as part of our cultural schooling,” he says. “In fact, I have the very first basket I ever wove, which was done back when I was in third grade.”
During a summer arts program in high school, Jason began learning metalsmithing, which eventually became his passion. Being from a tribe famous for its basketry, he tried to find a way to incorporate traditional weaving into his metal work. The piece he is most known for is the Creation Cuff, which combines the brown ash used in his tribe’s traditional weavings with Argentium® silver.
“In our tribal creation story we were created from brown ash when an arrow was shot into the trunk of the tree, Jason says. “This story is depicted in the cut-out design of the cuff.”
As my conversation with Jason drew to a close, I noticed a Sunshine® cloth on the back of his table and commented on it.
“I hand one out to every one of my customers,” he said “I can’t live without them.” Then he motioned to the items on his table and said, “I get all my supplies at Rio, the Argentium® sheet, the displays, and all my findings. I love you guys!”
Thank you Jason, we love you, too. And to all the amazing artisans who attended the 95th Annual Santa Fe Indian Market, we look forward to seeing you again next year!