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Hispanic Art in New Mexico

Hispanic, Native and Anglo Americans in New Mexico have made use of the market for ethnic art to express their artistic, religious and economic values. Spaniards arrived in the region by 1540 and encountered both hostile and helpful Pueblo Indians. One remarkable thing about the interactions between these cultures is that each has been able to preserve much of its unique character. After 1800, Anglo American culture added a third element to daily life in New Mexico. Hispanics and American Indians living along New Mexico's Rio Grande Valley between Santa Fe and Taos have retained much of their culture, as reflected in such crafts as pottery, weaving, jewelry, and images. Today, these crafts link the past with the present, and provide a source of income.

The Hispanics who settled in the mountainside village of Chimayó displaced the Indians after 1700, and are famous for their zig-zag and diamond woven designs. They farmed and raised sheep, bartered with villagers as well as the Pueblo Indians, Apaches, Comanches, and Utes. They were also skilled woodworkers and blacksmiths.

After 1848, when much of Mexico became American territory, Anglo investors and promoters discovered and exploited the cultural practices and products of New Mexico's Hispanics and Pueblo Indians. In turn, both groups sought ways to convert the tourism trade to their own benefits. While relying on the tourism market for income, many contemporary New Mexican artists use their work as a way of reaffirming old cultural values. Black, polished and carved pottery by Indians at Santa Clara Pueblo is still done by families, but also as individuals as a means of individual self expression.

Well before 1900, New Mexico's tourism market provided Hispanic and American Indian artists with a modest income. The overall demand for New Mexican crafts increased between 1920 and 1960, as promoters from eastern states became more successful in attracting visitors to New Mexico. By 1960, the popularity of Hispanic and Native American arts created a major market in Santa Fe.

The tourist trade also altered traditional craft practices. The first popular tourist items were Navajo weavings and silverwork. Rugs were woven in sizes and colors that appealed to Anglo visitors, and dealers provided Navajo silversmiths with Mexican patterns such as the pomegranate “squash blossom” that made their work look "Indian" to tourist eyes. By the 1920s, Pueblo potters experimented with forms and glazes, including the famous black-on-black finish developed by Maria Martinez of San Ildefonso Pueblo, who became the best known of all Indian potters among collectors.

To encourage and stimulate production of Hispanic weavings and furniture, the state of New Mexico established more than 40 craft schools in the 1930s in the hopes that they would develop into profitable village-owned craft cooperatives. But the market for Hispanic crafts proved to be much smaller than that for Indian goods. And the onset of the Great Depression in 1929 prevented most of the schools from becoming profitable businesses. Crafts became an important source of income in some Hispanic mountain communities like Chimayó and Cordova, where farmers became weavers and woodcarvers.

Even today, market pressures continue to influence what is created by Hispanic and Native American artists. Basically, items come in and the "system" says, "We love this and don't like that. Oh, by the way, we'd love this if it had an arrowhead on it. Water jars are great, but we'd prefer dinnerware." But some dealers and collectors are becoming more knowledgeable about traditional crafts, and the cultural values they express.



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