Skip to Content

Visiting Santa Fe

Native American Arts

When you buy an elegant turquoise and silver bracelet, a delicately painted ceramic pot or an intricately woven basket or blanket from a Native American artist in Santa Fe, you'll take home a piece of art rooted in an ancient, awesome history.

Nomadic pre-historic Indians first inhabited the region some 12,000 to 30,000 years ago. Their descendants, the Pueblo Indians, began to establish villages between 1200 and 1500 B.C. The Pueblo people's early ancestors wove blankets, baskets, sandals and more using yucca and other fibers and then cotton. They transformed clay collected from the earth into pots and pitchers--utilitarian vessels for cooking and storing food. And they adorned their bodies with turquoise, feathers, and shells traded from coastal tribes.

When the Spanish explorers arrived in the 16th century, followed by the Spanish settlers in the early 17th century, the Pueblo people struggled to maintain their independence. Despite the Pueblo revolt in 1680, followed by the Spanish reconquest in 1692, contact with another culture led Pueblo artists in new directions. They combined, for instance, the turquoise they considered sacred with silver to create their now famous jewelry after the Spanish introduced silver mining to the Southwest.

Portal VendorsThe railroad arrived in Santa Fe in 1880, bringing with it a steady stream of tourists seeking Native American art. Pueblo artists responded, creating unique items intended for the tourist market. A group at Tesuque Pueblo, for example, invented Rain Gods, whimsical clay figures that railroad passengers eagerly bought as souvenirs. In 1964, Helen Cordero of Cochiti Pueblo produced another popular clay figure, the Storyteller, inspiring hundreds of potters from other pueblos to work with the image, too. But no Pueblo artist of the 20th century has achieved more fame than Maria Martinez, the San Ildefonso potter who pioneered the now famous black-on-black pottery in the early 1920s with her husband, Julian. Her pieces remain highly coveted.

Santa Fe's reputation as a center for Native American art expanded yet again when the Institute of American Indian Arts opened its doors in 1962. Today, it serves native students from across the U.S. representing as many as 112 different tribes.

Many Pueblo artists continue to work with the same traditions and tools as their ancestors, producing prized pieces exhibited in Santa Fe museums and sold in Santa Fe galleries and at the annual Santa Fe Indian Market. Others embrace a contemporary approach, blending time-honored techniques with cutting-edge media, perhaps, or infusing old traditions with new vision. However they're made, each piece reflects the vibrant history and innate talents of New Mexico's Native American artists.

To learn more, visit our sections on Indian Pueblos and Native American culture.

Please wait...
yield optimizer