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‘A family reunion’: Support from artists, others enliven free market


For the Free Indian Market, safety comes first for Gregory Schaaf, the founder of the event, who wants to protect the artists, especially the elders, as well as buyers.

“We are certified by the New Mexico Department of Health as having been trained in COVID-safe practices and we are allowed to use the state logo,” he said.

Schaaf also seeks to revive the old time Indian Market spirit, “like a great family reunion,” where artists and collectors annually embrace one another in friendship.

That aspect of the Free Indian Market is especially attractive to Diné/Picuris Pueblo silversmith/jeweler Connie Tsosie Gaussoin, who comes from a long line of traditional artists and has won countless awards over almost six decades with Santa Fe Indian Market, where she also served board member and juror.

“My children and I have done Indian Market for years,” said Gaussoin. “Especially as a mother of artists, I just wanted to try something different, something new. I believe it’s good to see all sides of the art field. I know Dr. Schaaf and his wife Angie, and they are just terrific people.”

Gaussoin said she also really misses seeing all the “spectacular major artists” who are no longer at Santa Fe Indian Market.

“I’d like to keep the traditions of our ways, our culture and our art alive,” she said. “It’s good to keep that connection and I want to keep that going.”

She appreciates Free Indian Market’s emphasis on kinship and community.

“Family is so important and we can never let that die away or let anyone take that away from us,” said Gaussoin. “That’s what this Free Indian Market brings back to me, these traditional ways, the way I was brought up. We respect each other, we greet each other.”

Connie’s son Jerry Gaussoin Jr., said while he understands SWAIA’s restrictions with COVID-19, sitting on a waitlist for a booth space is just too much of a gamble for him.

“I made the conscious decision that I could not wait and I had to take this opportunity with the Free Indian Market in order to show my latest creations as a silversmith,” said Jerry.

He said he also needs to plan ahead with logistics and travel and let his collectors know where he will be exhibiting.

“Our collectors are really an extension of our family,” said Jerry. “We’re all excited, because this was an uncertain year, and we’ve felt the impact of COVID-19. You miss that personal interaction with the customer and building that relationship.”

Benefit Silent Auction

Funds to support the Free Indian Market operations come from donations from gallery owners, collectors, and artists who choose to give money or artwork to support the show’s primary fundraiser, the Benefit Silent Auction held during the market.

“It’s the benefit auction that pays the bills,” said Schaaf, who is happy to report that the Free Indian Market has raised enough money to ensure the show is “financially sound and secure.”

Most of the major local galleries contribute with amazing generosity, he said.

“Many of the art dealers are kind, compassionate, understanding and made a huge difference in the birth of the Free Indian Market,” said Schaaf. “They wanted to support the elders.”

As far as collectors, Schaaf said that they not only love the art, but the artists as well.

“The relationship between Native people and the collectors is a very special one,” he said.

This year, a special private Native American art collection has also been donated to the 2021 Silent Benefit Auction by retired Santa Fe Indian Health Service physician Marvin Palmer.

While Free Indian Market artists are not required to donate to the auction, most do so voluntarily “out of the goodness of their hearts,” said Schaaf.

‘Creating space’

Santa Fe Indian Market artists silversmith/jeweler/educator Nanibaa Beck and her father Victor Beck were also wait-listed for a booth for the in-person show and see the Free Indian Market as a new direction and a new opportunity.

“I’m looking forward to being a part of it,” said Nanibaa Beck.

She likened the Free Indian Market’s efforts to grassroots groups who were able to mobilize and provide humanitarian aid to those in need during the pandemic.

“I do love the idea of creating a space for people to understand that there is that community of support, and they’re doing it in a way that allows for safety and protection of people,” said Beck.

Unfortunately, sometimes K’é is not the focus of the larger art markets, she said, and Free Indian Market is working to fill that gap.

“We understand these gatherings as a place for us to be a place to connect with our relatives,” said Beck. “This is something we’ve been doing since time immemorial with the trading networks that were in place.”

Beck believes the Free Indian Market allows for growth and nourishment of the arts community as whole as well as cultivating new collectors.

“I love that these collectors are diversifying their resources,” she said.

About The Author

Rima Krisst

Reporter and photojournalist Rima Krisst has been with the Navajo Times since July of 2018, and covers our Arts and Culture and Government Affairs beats. Prior to joining the editorial team at the Times, Krisst worked in various capacities in the areas of communications, public relations, marketing and Indian Affairs policy on behalf of the Tribes, Nations and Pueblos of New Mexico. Among her posts, she served as Director of PR and Communications for the New Mexico Indian Affairs Department under Governor Bill Richardson, Healthcare Outreach and Education Manager for the Eight Northern Pueblos, Tribal Tourism Liaison for the City of Santa Fe, and Marketing Projects Coordinator for Santa Fe Indian Market. As a writer and photographer, she has also worked independently as a contractor on many special projects, and her work has been published in magazines. Krisst earned her B.S. in Business Administration/Finance from the University of Connecticut.


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