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  • Writer's pictureZibby Wilder

Mother of the Santa Fe Indian Market

Updated: Jan 11, 2021

Maria Chabot on the cover of El Palacio Magazine, July/August 1994

The world-renown Santa Fe Indian Market is this weekend, August 19-20 -- It is the oldest and largest juried Native American art showcase in the world: 80,000-100,000 people popping in to our little town for a looksie. I have a smidge of the crowd-phobia so don't know if I can tackle this one but I'm sure I'm not the only person in that boat...I'll hold your hand if you'll hold mine!

The roots of the Santa Fe Indian Market go back to 1922. Its current incarnation is attributed to Maria Chabot who, while working for the New Mexico Association for Indian Affairs in 1933, suggested changes based on her experience with the successful artisan markets in Mexico. Her insight and action brought about what became the current market; bringing an estimated $100 million to the Santa Fe area and shining the spotlight on the boundless talent displayed in native fine art, arts and crafts.

All this came of a trip simply intended to allow a teenage girl to find her independence!

Maria left her home in San Antonio, Texas, in 1930, at 17 years old, on the Sunshine Express to Mexico City to... explore, to learn, to create.

The last 30-something hours of research library time I have had were spent on these long months in Mexico. Where 17/18 year-old Maria walked early mornings to the markets, buying everything from fat, 5-cent mangoes and cascading bouquets of neon flowers to brilliantly dyed wools and bolts of cloth for New York clothier friends. She thought nothing of paying 40 cents to rent a donkey for a 9-hour trek over the mountains to escape the tourists to the true Mexico -- a land of art, music, and markets.

On this trip she met Dorothy Stewart. Her senior by more than 20 years, Dorothy was a well-respected Santa Fe artist and universal social glue. Everyone, from Santa Fe to Mexico City, Philadelphia to Paris, loved Dorothy. And so did Maria -- for many years. Dorothy was Maria's first real, adult love. And perhaps her greatest (save the unrequited stuff). Their love story is beautiful and tragic and fascinating and frustrating...and one for another time...

Dorothy focused and cultivated Maria's interest in, and eye for, native arts and crafts. She gifted young Maria with an education unlike any other and it was Dorothy's guidance that, I think, opened Maria's eyes to seeing not only the creation of art but the process, the education and the vision behind it.

When Dorothy returned to Santa Fe, Maria soon followed and the rest, well, its history is out there for the world to see -- every third weekend in August.

Maria Chabot 1935, by Dorothy Stewart, courtesy Maria Chabot Archive, Georgia O'Keeffe Museum Research Center

In 1994, Maria was named a "Living Treasure of Santa Fe" for her work reorganizing the Santa Fe Indian Market, among many other accomplishments, and I am -- surely one of many -- excited to immerse myself in the spoils of this treasure.

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