By Donna Baldwin
With the popularity of today’s Indian art markets here in the Southwest, it is interesting to look back at the development of Indian art markets in general, as well as our very own Prescott Indian Art Market (PIAM).
In the late 1800’s trading posts scattered around Indian reservations in the Southwest became the primary contact between Indians and whites. The traders exchanged merchandise and food for rugs, jewelry and other handicrafts. The blankets, especially, became popular among the whites because of their high quality.
With the arrival of the railroad in the West came meager passenger dining facilities at stops along the route. Thanks to the Fred Harvey Company, these eventually evolved into efficient and high-quality dining rooms. Travelers getting off the trains were interested in taking home items as a remembrance of their trip West, so Indians would gather alongside the tracks to sell their wares. Later when the Harvey Company opened hotels at a number of these railroad stops, gift shops selling Indian wares were incorporated into them. Perhaps one of the most noted of these gift shops was the Hopi House at the Grand Canyon, opened in 1905 and still operating today.
Quite likely the first organized Indian art market was in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The market there was organized in 1922 as part of a fiesta sponsored by the Museum of New Mexico; it continues to this day. The primary art forms at that first market were Pueblo pottery, Navajo textiles and Pueblo easel-style paintings.
Our own PIAM began at the Sharlot Hall Museum in 1998 at the request of then- Director, Richard Simms. Dr. Sandy Lynch, Curator of Anthropology at the museum, was tasked with organizing an Indian art market because of her knowledge of the art as well as her numerous contacts among the Navajo and other Southwest tribes. The spacious grounds of the museum, with its signature rose garden, provided the perfect backdrop for an outdoor market.
The first market was held on October 24th and 25th, 1998 and featured over 50 artists from Arizona, California, Oklahoma and New Mexico. In order to assure that only authentic, high-quality items produced by Native Americans were sold, it was decided that each exhibitor’s work would have to be approved by an all Native American jury. Later, exhibitors also were required to provide proof of membership in an official Native American tribe. Arts represented at the first market included paintings, sculpture, pottery, jewelry, metalsmithing and traditional crafts of basket- and moccasin-making. Also popular were demonstrations by artists showing how they made their wares.
A highlight of that first market was a Featured Artist, an exhibitor whose outstanding work would be used as a unique design to promote the market. The design would also be on a T-shirt to be sold at the market. This has become a popular feature for each succeeding market.
Another attraction of the first market was entertainment provided by Native American musicians and dance groups. Fry bread, a popular Navajo food, provided a tasty treat for market visitors. Both these attractions continue today.
That first market was so successful that it became a yearly event and now celebrates its 25th anniversary. Dr. Sandy Lynch was coordinator of the market from its beginning in 1998 until her retirement in 2017.
The 25th annual Prescott Indian Art Market is to be held September 16 and 17, 2023 at the Sharlot Hall Museum. This year’s market is dedicated to the memory of Dr. Sandy Lynch, who passed away in July of this year.
“Days Past” is a collaborative project of the Sharlot Hall Museum and the Prescott Corral of Westerners International (www.prescottcorral.org). This and other Days Past articles are also available at www.archives.sharlothallmuseum.org/articles/days-past-articles/1 The public is encouraged to submit proposed articles and inquiries to email@example.com Please contact SHM Research Center reference desk at 928-277-2003, or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org for information or assistance with photo requests.