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Native Folk Art: Water Décor

Susette has a lifelong interest and practice with good physical and mental health, including the environment that sustains us all.

Demonstration of Mexican hand weaving.

Demonstration of Mexican hand weaving.

Demonstration of Peruvian gourd burning. Note the burning charcoal in her right hand.

Demonstration of Peruvian gourd burning. Note the burning charcoal in her right hand.

Drumming by Ghanaian drummers and anyone else who wants to.

Drumming by Ghanaian drummers and anyone else who wants to.

Attendees share an outdoor tent, while eating meals bought at ethnic food booths.

Attendees share an outdoor tent, while eating meals bought at ethnic food booths.

Last July a friend invited my companion and me to the International Folk Art Market held annually in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Since water is the main topic I write about, I decided to see in what ways and how often water was depicted as a theme in indigenous folk art.

Among other things, I wanted to know if artisans most often represented what they knew best, or created images of what they would like more of (working with the Law of Attraction, so to speak). What I found didn't really surprise me - people craft what they know best, seldom what they need or want more of. What is this market and why do people show there?

Santa Fe International Folk Art Market

The three day Santa Fe International Folk Art Market is the largest folk art market in the world (over 120,000 potential buyers attended the market in 2012). Pre-approved village artisans from around the world display and sell specially handcrafted wares to the U.S. public. The ambience includes native music, dance, food, and other attractions.

Each year, artisans can make more in one weekend of selling crafts at the market than they can in a year at home. They see each other's crafts and compare notes with each other - giving and receiving tips, and gathering ideas for new themes they can craft in their own, traditional way.

Fair Trade for Indigenous Crafts

Most of the 150 artisans who sold at the International Folk Art Market in 2012 were from small villages in remote parts of the world. They came to take advantage of the market's Fair Trade practices - to benefit their families and communities by showing their crafts in a place where they are not only appreciated, but also fairly compensated. All of the artwork sold was handcrafted, following native traditions and themes of the country.

Because artisans at the market take home 90% of what they sell, more than 150 communities in 54 countries were supported by U.S. buyers in 2012. Of all artisans displaying, 38 represented local cooperatives, which meant their sales alone uplifted the lives of over 200,000 extended family members in their home countries.

Artisans are initially found working in their villages by travelers (such as Peace Corps volunteers) who often end up as marketing consultants - coaching the artisans in business practices, and helping them to make the connections they need to sell their art in other countries. Each year participation grows - more than 40% of the artisans in 2012 were brand new, most coming from villages that had never participated before. To enable them to take part, fair promoters assist artisans with coaching and/or with transportation costs.

By buying their wares, Folk Art Market attendees support and extend continuation of the best of indigenous crafts worldwide, helping to increase the economic well being of other countries, and extending peace throughout the world in a much more efficient way than waging war. They also learn something about the cultures of the artisans they buy from, not just the details of the craft, but also a bit about how villagers live and what craftmaking means to that particular village.

Water Themed Indigenous Artwork

I was curious to see how many artisans chose water as a theme in their craft work. I also wanted to see whether or not the prevalence of water art reflected the amount of water existing in the country of origin. Here are some of the craft works I found that had water as a theme, arranged alphabetically by country:

There were a total of 133 table displays from 54 countries. Those with the largest number of booths were: Mexico (23), India (13), Uzbekistan (14), Peru (10).

Our hostess bought a fish-themed candle holder made in Haiti from recycled steel drums.

Our hostess bought a fish-themed candle holder made in Haiti from recycled steel drums.

Water Countries with Art Displays

There were only three countries at the market that depicted water as a major theme in their works: Mexico, Cuba, and Haiti. Haiti and Cuba are islands surrounded by ocean; Mexico is a large country with two large coastlines east and west, both of which generate a fair amount of income from tourism.

All three countries could be considered water rich, when compared to most of the other countries represented at the market. Their artwork showed not just a rich history with water, but also an almost cultural identification with water, as though without it they would not be the same country or people. Haitian art included music with sea creatures, Cuban art included the water goddess and her creatures, and Mexico depicted the importance of water using many different art materials and styles.

Art and the Law of Attraction

Most of the 54 countries represented at the folk art market have some kind of water body in their country, yet most are considered by others (and sometimes themselves) to be water poor. The Law of Attraction states that bringing attention to what you appreciate can help bring more of it. It seems to me that if crafters were to use their artwork to build on the beauty of whatever water they do have, they could help their countrypeople start seeing possibilities for new ways of creating or redistributing the water supply, so all could share.

For example, Zimbabwe is considered a water poor country. But Victoria Falls, the deepest waterfall in the world and one of the three widest, lies on its western border, while the Zambezi River that flows from it forms the northern border. There are rivers running all through Zimbabwe, just not enough for agricultural production, western style.

If Zimbabwean artisans were to start showing or symbolizing the beauty and abundance of their country's rivers and falls in their art, could that change the perceptions of their government and people enough to attract greater (availability of) supply, even to the point of enhancing the hydrologic cycle there? Could this be an additional way, then, that artisans could bring benefit to their home countries?

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