Tonight I arrived in Santa Fe at the home of my hosts for the weekend. I was introduced to Sherry and Adel by my neighbor Betty who, upon learning of my trip emailed me that she knew some people that ran a gallery in Santa Fe. I contacted them and Sherry was insistent that I change my travel plans to attend the International Folk Art Market. She could not have given me better advice.
Just walking into their home was a bit overwhelming. Sherry is an art curator and has been collecting since she was a child alongside her mother. Her guesthouse doubles as a gallery housing artists’ work from all over the world and she has the personal story of each artisan who carved each intricate detail into each stunningly beautiful piece of wood, or put the horsehair into each tribal fly whip. The thought pierced into my mind – I’m embarrassed to call myself an artist. And that was before I left the house.
One hour after my arrival we were walking up the road to Museum Hill; part of the original Santa Fe Trail and now home to several museums. Both Sherry and her husband Adel volunteer for the festival so are intimately familiar with many of the stories of the people representing the countries. Art representatives travel the world in search of native people who have continued the craft of their countries and then these artist are invited to come to the festival; some of which have never left their homeland. One man comes from a small island off of New Zealand and there is a woman from our newest country, South Sudan.
What I found inside the tents of the festival was magical, intimidating and inspiring. I have called myself an artist for many years in one field or another but now question whether I have a right to that title. The people standing at these booths in the garments of their homelands, and the demeanor of kind and open people have been continuing the crafts passed on to them generation after generation and the precision in their work makes it almost impossible to believe it could have been done with the use of just their hands.
Here in the states with the street fairs and the importing of foreign, massed produced art we have lost the tradition of teaching our children what we ourselves learned from our mothers. The beadwork and wire wrapping that I saw being produced was done with an ease and competence that comes only from learning something at your mother’s knee.
I stood for a very long time with a man from Morocco as he spoke to me about the daggers that lay on his table. The work was perfection. He told me that there are several men that do the work and each has his own personal style. Each dagger takes two to three days to complete depending on the intricacy.
Famjoy Sehli, a Yao Mien woman is an embroiderer. This is embroidery like we have never seen. She works from the backside of the fabric and makes intricate designs that cover the entire piece of fabric that is then used to build garments. At the table were handbags that had been done by her daughter and the interpreter laughed as she told me that you can tell the daughter’s work because she loves purple and there are small traces of that purple in all her work.
Moussa Albaka, a Tuareg tribesman from Niger in West Africa had silver work that he and his brothers have made under the instruction of his father and his uncles. At the same booth were intensely colored leather goods that his sisters have made along side their mother and aunts.
I am thankful for all the hours that I spent at a quilting stand with my grandmother and all the hours that I spent at the sewing machine with my mother standing over my shoulder and I mourn the loss of that tutelage for all our children that now find their creativity on the screen of a computer that someone else has programmed.
Can I find the detail in my work and the precision in my craft to call myself an artist on the level of the work that I have just seen? I don’t know if I have enough time left on this planet to achieve that, but maybe being an artist is also about striving for the perfection of our craft. Striving to be a student of those that have mastered their craft. Striving to find the place in our own minds that allows what is inside and untapped, a safe place to exist and be discovered.
I started my journey into jewelry making in 2005 while I was working in the Berkshires in Massachusetts, an area inundated with amazing artisans. I started with glass, which led to silver, which led to inlay, which led to joy.