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by Sunamita Lim

Countless others have been as similarly smitten as Lawrence by Santa Fe’s allure (Fig. 1). Moved by the beauty and clear light of this so-called "City Different,"2 painters, photographers, writers, and sculptors have responded to its mystique, returning to rejuvenate their spirits whenever possible.

In addition to its beauty, Santa Fe is rich in museums, antiques shops, galleries, and antiques shows, several of which celebrate their silver and golden anniversaries this year.

Fig. 1 (above left): El Rancho de las Golondrinas, Santa Fe, New Mexico. Courtesy of Santa Fe Convention & Visitors Bureau. Fig. 3 (above right): MOIFA original sign from its opening date of September 5, 1953. Courtesy of Museum of International Folk Art; museum archives.

The moment I saw the brilliant, proud morning shine over the deserts of Santa Fe, something stood still in my soul.1

-- D. H. Lawrence

The Museum of International Folk Art (MOIFA) turns 50 this September. The world's first and largest museum of international folk art,3 MOIFA was founded by Chicago philanthropist Florence Dibell Bartlett (1881-1954),4 who believed that folk art is a language "easily understood and important to preserve and to practice."5 Bartlett spent five decades traveling both in the U.S. and abroad, absorbing the history of other cultures and collecting decorative art objects (Fig. 2). During her excursions, she visited and fell in love with New Mexico and decided it was where she wanted to establish a museum (Fig. 3 ), bequeathing her collection of over 3,500 objects as its foundation.6

Bartlett envisioned her folk art museum as one that would continue to grow. In 1978, Santa Fe residents, the internationally known designer Alexander Girard and his wife, Susan, donated their collection of over 100,000 objects with its emphasis on Latin American folk art. In 1998, Lloyd Cotsen, founder of Neutrogena Corporation, also donated his sizeable cache to MOIFA. Echoing Bartlett’s philosophy, Cotsen is quoted in Folk Art Journey as saying, "People often ask me how I could amass such a collection [over 35 years] and then give it away. I do not think I am giving it away--instead I feel I am sharing it with more people."7

Fig. 2: Bride’s crown, Norway, ca. 1900. Courtesy of Museum of International Folk Art; photography by Blair Clark.
This devotion to the arts in Santa Fe is evident in the concentrated number of antiques shops and galleries that line the streets amidst cafés and restaurants. With over 230 such galleries, this community of 62,000 ranks as the third largest art market in the country8 and the leading center for Native American art.

The galleries and dealers specializing in ancient to contemporary Native American art--including Zaplin-Lambert, Sherwood's Spirit of America, Gerald Peters, Cline Fine Art, Owings Dewey, Nedra Matteucci, and William Siegal (Fig. 4)--are among the most sought out by collectors.

Some galleries have had a presence in Santa Fe for decades. TAI Gallery, specializing in textiles and contemporary Japanese bamboo baskets, celebrates its 25th anniversary this October. Others are more recent additions. Recognizing that Santa Fe "is at the heart of the American Indian art and antiques business," Mike Kokin, owner of Sherwood's Spirit of America, moved his Beverly Hills Indian art and antiques gallery here in 1998.

Gerald Peters, Zaplin-Lambert, and Nedra Matteucci extend their gallery grounds with gardens in which they offer spectacular sculpture. The latter dealer’s presence in town began with the opening of Nedra Matteucci Fine Art in 1986. In 1988, she purchased her second gallery, and last year as an extension of her collecting interests, Matteucci purchased Morning Star Gallery, known as being in the forefront of Native American artifacts since its opening in 1984.

Significant anniversaries also surround a trio of summer antiques shows run by show promoters Sherry Maxwell and Nikki Rivera of Whitehawk Associates: the 12th Annual Antique Old West and Country Show (August 12-13), the 20th Annual Antique Ethnographic Art Show (August 15-17), and the 25th Annual Invitational Antique Indian Art Show (August 18-20). The shows had their genesis twenty-five years ago when dealers held a trunk show out of their cars and hotel rooms while attending the Indian Market (August 22-23), the eighty-two-year-old annual arts and crafts fair also held in Santa Fe.

Fig. 4 (left): Teotihuacan culture dignitary mask, Mexico, 250–600 AD. Courtesy of William Siegal Galleries, Santa Fe, New Mexico. Fig. 5 (right): Whitehawk show-goers rub shoulders with the likes of Ralph Lauren and Donna Karan. Actress Ali MacGraw has been helping vendor Federico Jimenez at his booth since 1994. "Whitehawk thrills me for the friendship and education I get," she exults. Photography by Sherry Maxwell, Whitehawk co-owner and co-producer.

"Santa Fe is at the heart of the American Indian art and antiques business."

-- Mike Kokin, owner of Sherwood's Spirit of America

Last year some of the 150 dealers at the Invitational Antique Indian Art Show reported their best sales ever. Contributing to the sales is increased interest in Native American objects, and, as Maxwell and Rivera point out, "Here people can see museum-quality material and have a chance to buy it."9 It's for such reasons that Whitehawk Associate’s shows have garnered quite a following among collectors (Fig. 5).

With all of the excitement in store this summer, little wonder the City Different is a major arts destination.

For more information on MOIFA's 50th Anniversary celebration, which culminates on September 5-7, visit www.moifa.org or call 800.249.7737. To learn more about the Whitehawk antiques shows visit www.pueblopottery.com/whawk.htm or call 505.992.8929.

Sunamita Lim is a freelance journalist/writer (www.sunamitaspen.com) and editor of Santa Fe Trend (www.santafetrend.com).

  1. Douglas Kent Hall, New Mexico: Voices in An Ancient Landscape (New York: Henry Holt, 1995), 24.

  2. This moniker was adopted in the early 1900s. It refers to the unique blending of cultures and traditions, and to the scenic beauty that make the city different from any other.

  3. Laurel Seth and Ree Mobley, Folk Art Journey: Florence D. Bartlett and the Museum of International Folk Art (Santa Fe: Museum of New Mexico Press, 2003), 18.

  4. Bartlett's sister and brother-in-law, Maie Bartlett Heard and Dwight Heard, were also philanthropists, founding the Heard Museum, the leading private American Indian art museum in Phoenix, Arizona.

  5. Seth and Mobley, 111.

  6. MOIFA is now under the umbrella of the Museum of New Mexico, which was founded in 1910, two years prior to the congressional decree of statehood. Other Santa Fe museums that are part of the Museum of New Mexico: The Palace of Governors (built in 1610 and the oldest American public building in continual use), Museum of Fine Art, Museum of Indian Arts and Culture, plus five state monuments.

  7. Seth and Mobley, 110.

  8. AmericanStyle (Summer 2003): 47.

  9. Quoted in Pasatiempo, The New Mexican's (Santa Fe's daily newspaper) weekly arts and entertainment magazine; Aug. 4-10, 2000; 40.

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