Traditional Spanish Market celebrates familia By ArinMcKenna
F amilia (family) is one of the strongest threads woven into Traditional Spanish Market. New Mexico’s Hispanic heritage is one element of that family. Exhibitors must be at least one-quarter Spanish and be born or raised in Northern New Mexico or southern Colorado. Many artists trace their lineage to Spanish families who colonized these areas in the 16th and 17th centuries.
Preserving Spanish colonial art traditions is also a family matter, with techniques passed down through as many as seven generations. Knowledge is also conveyed through extended family ties, such as the market mentorship program. All youth artists must be mentored by a Spanish Market artist, who may or may not be a family member. To help preserve these uniquely Northern New Mexican traditions, artists may also mentor adults. “Giving back to the community is a valued ideal and one of the criteria for nomination as a master artist,” says Catherine Owens, Spanish Market’s new director.
Artists see the annual market as a family reunion, where they reconnect with their artistic brothers and sisters, many of whom exhibit in Contemporary Hispanic Market. That warmth extends to thousands of marketgoers, to both patrons who visit their booths every year and newcomers unversed in their artistic disciplines. “They are the most humble, thoughtful, devotional artists I’ve ever met. Very passionate about what they create and in their beliefs, and very open and willing to share that knowledge with anyone who is interested,” Owens says.
Owens has chosen “family” as the 67th annual market’s theme, a nod to this year’s poster piece, Frank Zamora’s La Familia Sagrada (The Holy Family). She includes an even broader community in that family: the city of Santa Fe, board members, donors and sponsors, Plaza merchants and even other events, such as Contemporary Hispanic Market, Santa Fe Indian Market, Santa Fe Fiesta and the International Folk Art Market. “Bringing everyone together and unifying them is my focus this year,” Owens says. “The Plaza is as much a part of Spanish Market as Spanish Market is a part of the Plaza.”
Owens’ approach to her new position echoes the Spanish Colonial Arts Society’s mission. “My job is to preserve, protect and promote the artists. It’s not about me. It’s about the artists and providing a good experience and sales during market. Helping to promote them throughout the year and encouraging more youth to be mentored for the next generations coming up is crucial to what I’m hoping to achieve in the future to make all those programs successful.”
Embracing past and future generations
Although some Spanish Market art forms, such as ironwork and furniture making, were prevalent throughout the Spanish Empire, Nuevo Mexico’s isolation gave others a unique character. Painted retablos use iconography common to all Spanish colonial religious art, but New Mexico’s self-taught artists developed a simpler style. Obtaining art
supplies via the 1,600-mile Camino Real de Tierra Adentro was nearly impossible, so artists found their own materials, such as piñon pitch for varnish and earthen and plant pigments for color. Straw appliqué was substituted for gold leaf.
Today’s Spanish Market artists — all juried in to ensure quality — preserve those laborious techniques and embrace the imagery dear to their ancestors. “How fortunate we are to have this tradition. I can’t think of any other state in the country that has a tradition that started in the 18th century and still continues to this day. It’s a living tradition,” says Josef Díaz, acting director and chief curator of the Museum of Spanish Colonial Arts (MoSCA).
Six years ago, the board of the Spanish Colonial Arts Society recognized the need to honor living tradition by introducing the innovation category to Spanish Market. Artists in this category are held to the same high standards for techniques and materials, but they can express their vision through contemporary imagery. However, colonial traditions remain Spanish Market’s central focus. “We will always hold those standards, absolutely, because that is the foundation of this art form,” Díaz says.
Under Díaz’s leadership, MoSCA is also embracing a forward-thinking vision. “The Museum of Spanish Colonial Art, in addition to always cultivating the traditional art of New Mexico, is now taking a broader view of the world in which this art developed — that being the milieu of cultures of the OldWorld and the Americas which influenced and still influence this art form,” Díaz says.
This summer’s MoSCA exhibit GenNext: Future So Bright features artists rooted in tradition who are expressing their heritage through contemporary themes and materials. Curator Jana Gottshalk has included traditional depictions of santos (saints) created from computer components or painted on street signs. Other artists have placed saints in contemporary settings, often reflecting on social issues such as gender, identity and immigration. Díaz compares these explorations to a jazz riff or a Bach fugue, one that “takes themes and then creates variation, adding new color to that core tune.”
Changes to the SpanishMarket family
This year brought two major changes to the Spanish Colonial Arts Society leadership. Catherine Owens took over as director of Traditional Spanish Market on March 19 after Maggie Magalnick — who had spearheaded the event for seven years — took on a new role as director of special events. Díaz was named chief curator at MoSCA when Robin Gavin retired in September 2017. He became acting director in early March after David Setford accepted a position with the Tacoma Art Museum inWashington state.
Owens has experience as a theater director, producer and production manager, including providing lighting design and stage management for numerous local companies, most recentlyWise Fool New Mexico. “I’ve also had the honor of working on a multitude of festivals, art fairs, both from the vendor side to the production side,” Owens says. “And I love festival work. I just think it’s great fun to bring many moving parts together into a synchronized whole.”
Owens feels an affinity for Mary Austin, who founded the Spanish Colonial Arts Society with Frank G. Applegate in 1925. Austin also founded the Santa Fe Little Theater (now the Santa Fe Playhouse), where Owens served as executive director for 11 years.
Fifteen years ago, Díaz was pursuing a graduate degree in art history and Spanish colonial art at the University of New Mexico and had to complete an internship for his minor in museum studies. He chose MoSCA. After a year there, he accepted a position as part-time curator at Casa San Ysidro, a historic Spanish colonial hacienda in Corrales. A year later Gavin invited him back to MoSCA as associate curator. Soon after Díaz returned to MoSCA, the New Mexico History Museum initiated a search for curator of its Spanish colonial art collection. With Gavin’s encouragement, Díaz pursued and secured the position. When Díaz was recruited as Gavin’s replacement at MoSCA, “I knew I was going to do it. Change is hard, after being at a place 10 and a half years and having a comfort level there. But I knew. I knew I’d be back at MoSCA at some point in my career.”