by Barb Armijo
Like me, perhaps many New Mexicans think of Santa Fe’s Spanish Market as one of those “events I’ll get to someday.”
The idea of going to the City Different is appealing until you worry about having to find a parking space, battle crowds and the wait for hours at your favorite restaurants when you are done browsing the market’s vendors. Well, I have news for you. It’s not that bad – at all!
In fact, I took in my first Spanish Market this year, with all those reservations about it still fresh in my mind. I can’t promise you the parking will be easy, though my friends found a nifty spot on a Sunday behind one of their favorite bookstores, the Nicholas Potter’s Rare Books. The key to avoiding parking lot shock seems to be going early enough to find a place, and being prepared to pay $10 or more for premium parking near the plaza, where the heart and soul of the market takes place.
In its 57th year, Traditional Spanish Market was a huge success again for organizers. It offered not only the nation’s largest collection of Spanish American and Spanish Colonial art, but also showcased dancers, musicians and la cultura de Nuevo Mexico beautifully. New this year to prove that New Mexico culture is not only elegant and unique, but also chic, was a fashion show on Saturday evening that featured Exhibicion de Modas – an exhibition of clothing from colonial days that came with a history lesson about the life of New Mexico’s earliest settlers.
Entertainment was plentiful throughout the weekend. It included folklorico, salsa bands, guitarists and mariachis. All of it plays a part in the whole experience of being at the Market, but on the Sunday that I finally paid a visit to Spanish Market, my eye candy came from the hundreds of vendors and their colorful, creative and unique artwork.
It is something to behold. Everything from traditional hand-carved santos to colorful retablos, tin work, bultos, jewelry, furniture, modern art, candlesticks and clothing was on display. Truly, I can say nothing compares to the experience of not only seeing everything but having the chance to talk to the artists.
In what other place can you be admiring a handmade violin and then overhear the artist, Lalo Griego, tell someone that he was inspired to make his first violin after waking up from a dream. You heard the passion in his voice when he told the visitor to his booth that 10 years ago he awoke from the dream, began making violins and now embraces his world, which is a mixture of his love for art, music and New Mexico. My heart skipped a beat knowing that his story was like no other I would hear at the market.
His story was unique, but the stories kept coming. Every artist had inspiration.
“I was an officer with the Santa Fe Police Department,” said Ernie Lujan, an artist from Pojoaque. “God gave me my talent while I was working.”
His story unfolded one day in 1988 when he recovered some stolen property. One of the pieces, a wooden archangel, looked familiar to him. He knew it was special. He knew it had value beyond money.
“I called the Santuario de Chimayo and asked the priest if anything was missing,” Lujan said. “He told me no, that everything was fine at the Santuario. But I kept looking at this santo and I just called back after several hours and I asked the padre to just go look again and to make sure every santo was accounted for. Sure enough, he got back to me and said there had been a break-in and some pieces were missing.”
Lujan had basically recovered the santo of San Rafael and other artifacts belonging to the
Santuario three hours before they were reported stolen. And the image of San Rafael was burned into Lujan’s memory from that day forward.
“I found out that San Rafael is the patron saint to the blind,” Lujan said. “Not just to those who lost their sight, but to those who have been blind to their faith. That was me. I had lost my faith until that day, and San Rafael brought it back to me.”
Lujan began to honor his religion, his faith and his heritage. His works are stunning. Santos with such detail you can see his passion come through in each one.
The Market is special. There is an aura of spirituality in all the religious artifacts.
There’s also a playful spirit at work in some.
Meet artist Gustavo Victor Goler, whose carving of San Lorenzo made a lot of people smile. But let Goler tell you about this patron saint of chefs, and you get an idea about how much fun this artist had creating his santo.
“You might say he’s the patron saint of grilling,” Goler said. “He is said to have been burned as a martyr. But we choose to look upon him as the barbecue saint. If you want your steaks and burgers delicious, you should pray to San Lorenzo. Really.”
It was stories and people like the ones I met at the 2008 Traditional Spanish Market that had me wondering why I had waited so long to attend. I won’t make that mistake again.