The highlight of my first SWAIA Indian Market was meeting many of the Wyld Gallery artists who I’ve been fortunate to profile here on See Great Art over the past two years. Moreso than the art, Santa Fe Indian Market is about the people. The weekend felt like an enormous family reunion, especially after COVID, with the cancellation of 2020’s in-person event and last year’s Market dramatically reduced in scale.
This is an update on what the Wyld Gallery artists who attended Indian Market have been up to.
How can I not begin with Nocona Burgess? Burgess had artwork featured in the title sequences for the smash hit “Prey” movie released on Hulu this summer. In that movie, a Comanche girl fights off the Predator on its first visit to earth in 1719.
Burgess is Comanche himself. After seeing a pre-release rough-cut of the film, he selected images of the skinned buffalos to represent in the title sequences. Watch the movie to understand what I’m referencing. If you wait through the credits, you’ll see his name listed.
“Prey” represents a landmark in thoughtful Indigenous representation in popular culture in America. The movie incorporated accurate, period regalia for the Comanche characters, and was the first feature film in the U.S. ever released with a full dub in a Native American language – Comanche of course.
The movie could have easily been another abomination of Indian culture, it was just the opposite thanks to the many Indigenous consultants, actors and artists – including Burgess – who were involved in the project.
Spending time with Burgess throughout the weekend, I can see why he’s called “the mayor of Santa Fe.” There aren’t many people in the vast arts community there he doesn’t know.
I also hung out with Karma Henry (Owens Valley Paiute). Henry had big news. After completing a residency at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe in September of 2021, she and her family made the decision to move to Santa Fe from Southern California so she could more fully pursue her arts career.
Santa Fe is a hub for artists, collectors and galleries and the creative spirit around town should bolster Henry’s work and career. Her latest series of paintings, for which she received a ribbon during the Best in Class judging at Market, features Native American symbols she came across during research at IAIA overlayed on landscapes.
A cool story from meeting Bobby C. Martin (Muscogee). While we were chatting, the Principle Chief of the Muscogee Creek Nation David Hill stopped by. He was on his way out of town after attending market and wanted to give his regards one last time to Martin.
Dylan Cavin’s (Choctaw) career has continued ascending since I wrote about him. Most notably, one of his powerful ledger drawings won the Curators Choice Award at the High Desert Museum’s “Art in the West” exhibition and auction.
The most telling marker of how Jason Parrish’s (Dine) market weekend went was a nearly empty booth on Sunday morning when I visited with him. Parrish continues exhibiting his work annually in Paris.
I still remember my interview with Eric Tippeconnic (Comanche) for his profile. It remains one of the most enlightening conversations about Native American art, culture and history I’ve ever had. I did my best taking the advice he gave me about visiting SWAIA Indian Market for the first time to heart.
“If you’re a first timer and you want to take it all in, I would try to spend as much time as you can talking to people and engaging with them and trying to find out about why they’re doing what they’re doing,” he said. “Is (the artwork) a reflection of their history? Is it a reflection of their cultural practices?”
That’s just what I did and the memories I took from Indian Market of meeting so many of the artists I’ve long admired are more valuable than my art purchases.
“Native peoples are some of the most beautiful people in the world and their stories are fascinating and there’s no better way to get an education than to just go up and talk to someone,” Tippeconnic told me. “I’ve learned so much from people coming up and talking to me, ‘where are you from, what are you doing, how are you, what makes you tick?’ When we engage in these conversations, the distance between disparate groups shortens up and people learn that, ‘oh, these people laugh, they smile, they’re very engaging, they have stories just like me, they have history just like me. They’re a lot like me.’”
Remember this when you visit SWAIA or any of the Indian Markets, powwows or Indigenous festivals across the country.
In addition to stopping by Del Curfman’s (Apsáalooke) booth on Sunday – where he was visited by the legendary Tony Abeyta (Diné) for whom Curfman is a studio assistant – I visited Curfman’s studio.
After receipt of a major grant, Curfman has chosen to set aside his popular “Vanishing” series. The series was widely popular with galleries and collectors, and an image from it was commissioned by the exclusive Terrace Inn at the La Fonda Hotel in Santa Fe to appear on the curtains in the luxury suites. I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s a major feather in the cap for an artist who’s yet to turn 30-years-old.
Speaking of MAJOR, Curfman was also chosen to appear in Cara Romero’s (Chemehuevi Indian Tribe) instantly iconic photographic representation of 60 years worth of IAIA graduates. You’ll find him seated in the lower left of the picture as you look at it. There is Curfman along with legends like Romero, her husband Diego (Cochiti Pueblo), Rose B. Simpson and mother Roxanne Swentzell (Santa Clara Pueblo), Kathleen Wall (Jemez Pueblo), David Bradley (Chippewa), one of IAIA’s first grads, Linda Lomahaftewa (Hopi and Choctaw), and markers representing the memory of T.C. Cannon (Kiowa/Caddo) and Fritz Scholder (Luiseño).
I think the photograph possesses the significance of Raphael’s School of Athens for Native American Modern and contemporary art. It will live forever. Curfman’s inclusion speaks volumes about the promise of his career.
Curfman made the bold choice of shelving the “Vanishing” paintings for a new body of work after more fully considering his subjects in the series. He didn’t know these people. He wasn’t able to pay them. He’d taken inspiration from seeing them at Crow fairs, but he increasingly felt uncomfortable about using their likeness without discussing doing so with them. His newest paintings – large scale triptychs – are strikingly contemporary, incorporating contemporary Indigenous models he does know well, with whom he collaborates on the posses and dress, and is able to pay.
For an early career artist to leave behind a popular, proven, profitable series of work to strike out into uncharted artistic territory he admits will have a limited appeal with collectors and galleries tells you everything you know about Curfman’s commitment to his art practice.
I believe in Curfman’s vision as much as any young artist working today and am sure he’s on his way to museum representation.
I’ll never forget my first trip to Indian Market. Meeting the Wyld Gallery artists are the reason why.