Tucson and Phoenix Prep for Major Art and Craft Fairs

Tucson and Phoenix Prep for Major Art and Craft Fairs

Lee Allen

Local citizenry and the traveling public have been counting down the days to the 2013 Native American fair season in the Southwest -- and it's just about upon us. Two of the largest Native American fairs and marketplaces in the region take place this weekend and next.

The season gets underway in Tucson, Arizona, with the milestone 20th annual Southwest Indian Art Fair, sponsored by Arizona State Museum.   Since its 1993 inception as a small pottery fair, SWIAF has grown to be the highlight of the Museum’s yearly educational and cultural celebrations as well as a highly anticipated feature of the state’s winter festival calendar.

“Last year over 6,500 visitors came to admire and purchase works from 200 artists throughout the West and we expect a similar crowd turnout this year,” said Daniel Vander Ploeg, 2013 Committee Chair.  “In addition to the $1.5 million resulting from the purchase of artists' offerings, our artists -- through juried competition -- took home over $11,000 in prize money in 20 different award categories.  This year we expect the event will be even better as we continue our focus on cross-cultural communication through new educational programs, artist demonstrations, and Native performances at the February 23-24 event.”

The 2013 festivities will include renowned Hopi Katsina doll carver Gerry Quotskuyva as featured artist.  Canyon Records is sponsoring the appearance of two well-known recording artists, R. Carlos Nakai and Will Clipman.  “We’ll also have free introductory tours of the museum’s exhibits given by docent tour guides, geared toward familiarizing the public with our displays that explore Native cultures of the Southwest,” said Vander Ploeg.

Visitor comments about the fair come close to unanimous approval of its form and function.  “Upscale exhibitors” commented one attendee while another noted: “We enjoy this show because we can actually have a conversation with the artists whose craftsmanship is amazing.”

A week later and one hundred miles to the north, the Heard Museum Guild in Phoenix will present its two-day Indian Fair and Market, the state’s largest such attraction, on March 2-3.  The theme for this year’s 55th annual event is ‘Weaving Worlds with Wool – a celebration of the weaver’s art’

Florence Riggs (Navajo), a member of the Nez weaver family, has been named Signature Artist.  With nearly three decades immersed in the wool arts, Riggs has moved on from traditional tribal patterns characterized by non-representational geometric forms to weaving pictorial items that incorporate depictions of everyday scenes and objects. 

Some of Riggs' work hangs in Ohio University’s Kennedy Museum of Art, where its curator says Riggs has become known for her “highly detailed and often whimsical representations of scenes from reservation life.”  The acclaimed artist and several members of her family can be found at a special Weaver’s Village set up in Phelps Dodge Plaza.

In paying homage to the Navajo weaving tradition, Riggs will be one of more than 700 of the nation’s most outstanding and successful American Indian artists on hand to interact with the expected 20,000 visitors.  Collectors from around the world arrive early to be first in line to purchase many one-of-a-kind artworks that range from jewelry, pottery, baskets, katsina dolls, textiles, fine art and more.

The Fair is a bell-weather event for indigenous people’s activities in the Valley.  It began life as a small community event and over the years has grown into a world-acclaimed festival that draws grand masters like jeweler Jess Monongy and cutting-edge contemporary craftspeople like painter Maria Allison.  Also expected to be in attendance are last year’s Best of Show winner Stetson Honyumptewa and 2011 Best of Show basketmaker Jeremy Frey.

Speaking at last year's event, David Newark, the fair's chairman, told The Arizona Republic that the it "gives the public an opportunity to spend time with artists, see their work and share the culture of the tribes.  People are able to get an immersion in American Indian cultures in a very  short span.”

Authenticity reigns in an array of American Indian music (including legendary Navajo performer R. Carlos Nakai and his trio that includes Will Clipman and William Eaton), cultural performances, and a variety of Native food favorites ranging from fry and piki bread to posole and Hopi stew.

A Best of Show reception will be held on the evening preceeding the event where visitors can meet the artists and preview their winning works.  

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