Ben Nighthorse Campbell Goes To Market
how things have changed
When I was elected to Congress, the rules prevented me from getting outside income. so I had to give up my position in the Indian market. but before that, I showed regularly. I think the first time I got into it was in the mid-’70s, and I’ve done it in probably 15 different markets. There have been a couple of major changes since the years I showed. the growth has been incredible. in the old days, it was 100 artists per square. now there are something like 1,150 performers and booths filling every hotel ballroom, every side street, the convention center, the railyard, the canyon road. the number of people coming to santa fe for the indian market has also expanded.
the other big change
now give new emerging artists more opportunities to explore and design. now you can use computer generation – there is something good to say and maybe something bad. there is also the use of new materials: stainless steel and all kinds of different materials. in the old days, it was gold or silver. I can remember a day when gold would disqualify you. Or the diamonds would. I once got disqualified once for wearing diamonds. john christiansen was calculating santo domingo. They told him that it was not Santo Domingo and that he could not do that, and he was disqualified. strict rules determined how Indian jewelry should be.
the sprawling scene
the expanded opportunities for new artists are great. I really like the expansion into clothing design. it gives young designers and new models a chance to start modeling. the crowd likes it too. the fashion show is one of the most popular events in the entire market.
comradeship in the old days
One of the things I liked about the old days was that there were only about 100 of us in the square. now there are over a thousand, and it is everywhere. in those days, we knew each other well. if one person had a good show and another didn’t and couldn’t make it home, we’d take up a collection to take them home and figure they’d pay us back when they could. we knew each other and did things like that for each other.
There was a foursome of us. …many of them are gone now. Delmar Adams, Oregon Paiute; gibson nez, navajo and apache. Harvey Begay, Navajo, is gone too. They are now in the spirit world, but I remember them with great admiration, respect and love.
one year, no one remembered to make reservations. The first night the four of us ended up sleeping in a VW right in the square. I have never forgotten to make a reservation ever since. hotels now have minimum stays and are expensive.
There was a real variety in the background of the artists. Jesse Monongya, Navajo, Hopi, is a good example of the variety of backgrounds artists often had. he was a marine, a vietnam veteran. Harvey Begay was a United States Navy pilot before he returned to his jewelry. I was in the air force. another artist, stevie darden, was at flagstaff town hall.
the meaning of “made in india”
imitations and plagiarism are a problem, especially in china and arab countries. Indian art is protected to some extent by the First Amendment and the Indian Arts Act, but it is difficult to monitor and prosecute. for example, what does “done” mean? the law does not differentiate between handmade and assembled, so what is designed by hand and what can be designed by cabcam (if an Indian pressed a button). made in india versus handmade in india. I helped draft an earlier version of the law. as long as the client knows what he is getting. there are ways to protect yourself.
some things you can’t protect. I remember once a man approached me. He showed me a pendant, asked my opinion, and I told him it was poorly designed. he said, “well, you did it.” he turned it over and it was supposedly marked by me, but I hadn’t. you should know the person who did it and who represents them. you need to deal with people who will support the work.
You meet so many people at the Indian market and you never know who you’re going to see. One time [Navajo jeweler] Ray Tracey and I were standing side by side in the plaza. a guy comes down and asks us to pick up some jewelry and go up to this hotel to show some people there. he said that people were too well known to go public shopping. First we told him that we couldn’t get out of our booths, but we ended up going to the fonda. Do you want to know who was there? Ann Margaret, Burt Reynolds, Lonnie Anderson, and Don Meredith. It was a big surprise for us.
wonderful wes studi
The Indian market is a great opportunity to see old friends. famous people and celebrities appear. wes studi is a good friend of our daughter [shanan campbell, owner of sorrel sky gallery]. when she’s not filming on location, she hangs out on her gallery and meets and greets. even though he’s famous on screen, he’s really nice to deal with in person.
you meet interesting people in the Indian market. before i was in politics and i was actually doing indian market, i remember i was at my booth and here comes john connolly, the governor of texas. he was a very tall and very recognizable guy, and he was coming up with big strides. He said, “I want to see a bracelet.” he looked and said, “let me look at that one”. so i took it out and put it on the glass. then, “let me see that one.” I took it out and put it on the glass. and then another and another. he finally he said, “oh, hell, I’ll take them all.” go ahead, governor!”
read more insider information on the Indian market:
shanan campbell steve and linda blasphemer wolf schneider rocki gorman
See the work of ben nighthorse campbell at sorrel sky gallery in santa fe and online at sorrelsky.com.