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International Folk Art Market, Tips & Finds

Some time around 2013, I was watching CBS Sunday Morning and was sucked into a feature on the International Folk Art Market in Santa Fe, New Mexico. By the time they went to a commercial break, Santa Fe was on my bucket list. There are many reasons to go to New Mexico, but there was something about this market that finally got me to buy a plane ticket.

What is the International Folk Art Market?

Show organizers describe it perfectly. “Imagine a place where cultures from all corners of the globe are celebrated; where folk artists, often marginalized in their own communities, are elevated. Where the humanity of the handmade isn’t just discussed, but is right in front of you as you move from stall to stall at a bustling outdoor event, taking in the shades, symbols, and smiles of nearly 60 countries gathered in one place.”

More than 150 artists from 60 different countries make their way to Santa Fe each summer to sell items celebrating the craft traditions of their homes. And for every artist in Santa Fe, they represent many other artists back home who work in their cooperatives, towns and communities.

This highly curated event celebrates a global community of makers and brings their high quality art to shoppers in the United States. Visitors walk through stalls, talking with makers from countries they may never get to visit. Sometimes, these artists inspire visitors to travel to their countries and experience their culture first hand.

When I visited, my entire trip to New Mexico revolved around the market and I knew I’d want to shop. Did I want to buy a piece from Peru woven on a backstrap loom? Maybe a Suzani from the Middle East? Over the years, I’ve established some ground rules to keep my art shopping focused and avoid paying heavy bag fees at the airport.

My tips for art shopping while traveling.

  • Decide on an art budget before you leave. Be realistic about how much money you have and want to spend. Do you want to buy one, bigger statement piece or spread your money around on smaller pieces?
  • Look around your home before you go and think about where you might put something. Have a weird spot you’ve been wanting to fill? Measure it before you go and write it down in your travel journal.
  • Buy something that feels tied to the place. Think about art that will remind you of this place and time.
  • Plan for how you’ll bring your piece home. I always pack bubble wrap and tape so nothing breaks on the journey home. I also try to limit myself to pieces I can carry home in my luggage. Thankfully, I’m a nut for small art. If you love bigger pieces plan ahead and bring a bigger suitcase with empty space or look into shipping options.
  • Consider rotating artwork. OK, this is definitely the advice of an enabler, but it’s useful! If you feel like you don’t have any more wall space, think about rotating your art periodically.
Artist Lena Tsueb, Namibia

So, what did I buy in New Mexico?

I was completely overwhelmed by the scope and breath of the show and decided to spread my budget around. Rather than go big, I focused on smaller items. First, a pair of adorable cow sculptures from a South American artist. Next, I couldn’t resist a beautiful beaded piece made by artists in Namibia. It catches the light differently throughout the day and features a root vegetable only grown in Africa.

As with many travelers who visit New Mexico, I left knowing I would return again. So inspired by the landscape and culture of New Mexico, I returned a few years later for a workshop on Navajo weaving. Have you been this market? What did you buy?

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