I'd barely taken a sip of my coffee when we stopped at the first booth. As I would see with many more booths over the next few days, this one was very sparsely populated with meticulously handmade pieces. Smooth, earthy, vessels sat on a table and stands. The colors ranged from a rich clay-earth red to a deep charcoal black, often combined onto the same piece, some with highlights of green. Everything looked beautifully natural. Polished, but not contrived. Miniature versions of the larger vessels hung from the tallest pedestal. Wall vases, I thought.
My mother and I discussed the potential use for the medium sized, earthy-redbrown vase that sat centered in the table. Seven hundred dollars, said the darling young man standing behind the table. I wondered when early-twenties became young, and how old that must make me. And, he said, most people don't use it as a vase. The vessel that we were looking at was used as a drum. The top is meant to be stretched with rawhide after the vessel itself is filled with water. The amount of water would change the pitch of the drum.
As he described the process of bringing one of his pieces to life I began to understand how incredibly justified the prices truly were. The clay that he uses comes from the earth, and not just in the sense that all clay comes from the earth. He goes and digs it himself. The pots are then coil-built, smoothed and burnished. No wheel-thrown pots. No need for electricity or contraptions - just red earthmud and two able hands. The pieces are pit-fired (similar to Raku, I believe, though I confess to not know the exact difference) before he coats them for water resistance. And prayers are said at every step along the way.
Those little, simple, pots that hung on hooks were not wall vases in the least. These small little vessels are to catch all the negative things people say about you. It hangs above the door and prevent those little bits of intrusive negativity from entering into your house. What a housewarming gift, my mother said, as we carefully examined each piece to decide which one to bring home. Strong women will have plenty of negative things said about them during their lives, as we've come to accept, and so those little pots will have their work cut out for them.
We thanked him and I asked if I could take a picture. He politely said no, but you can check out his work on his Instagram page.
I talked to a Navajo weaver later that morning tho told me that her smallest rug - the size of a kitchen rug, maybe - took two months to make. She said she was thankful for the fact that you can now by yarn at the store or it would have taken twice as long. I didn't ask the price. I am certain it was well outside my budget, and only in my wildest dreams would I have let a rug like that be walked on. The weaving was enchantingly tight, with her own signature pattern. I heard a podcast once about the uniqueness of Navajo weaving patterns. They're the signature of an otherwise unsigned piece, if you know how to read them.
I'd been thinking about quitting since spring. Like, legitimately completely stopping production of anything leather-related, declaring a midlife crisis, and doing something completely different. I had even planned on using my summer vacation time as a time to work on new art forms and new non-leather pieces. My feeling of being a factory instead of an interpreter of the inspirations and musings of the universe had become overwhelming, and quitting leather in pursuit of a new art form seemed a suitable way to depart from the factory worker duties and return to being, by my own definition, an artist again.
For thirteen years I've been immersed in a world at the intersection of art and modern craft. Not touching "fine art" galleries, my work has been in shops and small craft galleries, art and craft shows, and all over the internet. I've been exposed to more art and craft than one can imagine, to the point where so little of it actually grabs me, shakes me to my core, and changes the way I think about the world. In short, I've had artist's art and craft fatigue. Fatigue of the work of others. Fatigue of my own work. And the Santa Fe Indian Market cured me in ten minutes.
Just before lunch we walked past a table with only three things on it. The young man behind the table had dark eyes that lit from deep within when he talked about his work. This piece he had made for the opening of the market, the juried show, sparkled in the afternoon sun. He explained that the piece was made with faceted seed beads, which accounted for the sparkle, that he had ordered from the Czech Republic. The beads aren't made anymore, and he smiled as he talked about how nervous he was waiting for them to arrive. The beads made safely, and he incorporated them into a gorgeous piece for the judges to see.
The other two things on the table were a pair of gauntlet cuffs he had made that were inspired by Wonder Woman. His weren't the first beaded pieces I'd seen that day, but they were certainly the most spectacular. He had carefully selected each bead, considering how they would react to movement and light in the finished pieces. Each bead was added, one at a time, in the same way that his relatives and ancestors had done for hundreds of years, woven not simply into a beautiful work of art, but into a tale of history and tradition. These gauntlets were stunning in the quality and detail of work that went into them, but fascinating, precious, and meaningful in the history and tradition that preceded their creation.
On the plane on the way home, the woman sitting next to me asked if I had been inspired by the show. My initial reaction was to say no, not really. The forms and designs would all feel like cultural appropriation if I were to incorporate them, in any meaningful sense, into my own work. In some sense, the techniques would as well. But when I took time to pause and reflect, to really sit with the experience of two days doing nothing but looking at art, how could the answer be anything other than YES!? And it was. But the inspiration came in a way I wasn't anticipating. It snuck through an open gate in my heart, set up shop and screamed at the top of it's lungs: the difference between a factory and an artist is meaning and purpose. Slow down. Don't feel obligated to create, but take time when you feel moved, and as the inspiration flows through your fingers, let it be the guide. It knows the path.
It seems like such a simple realization, but for me it was so necessary. Creating pieces with meaning and purpose allows me to create at a slower pace, to take the time with each piece and explore the depths of its story. Last week my assistant was dyeing flowers for a bag that is currently in progress and he said "whatever you're charging for this piece, it's not enough." And only time will tell if he's right, since at present, this piece is price-less. I'm making it because the inspiration came calling, and I answered.