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BY TERESE LOEB KREUZER | From Maine, from New Mexico, from Arizona, from Alaska, from California and Oklahoma, Native American artists converge on the National Museum of the American Indian at 1 Bowling Green each year for the December Art Market. They bring pottery, baskets, jewelry, clothing, woodcarvings and paintings to sell, all of superior craftsmanship, many, one of a kind.
The work tends to be rooted in tradition but is often individualistic and contemporary as well. Jody Naranjo, a potter from the Santa Clara Pueblo in New Mexico, says of her work, “I do everything traditionally. That’s the way I was taught.” She hand coils her pots, sands them, and fires them in an outdoor oven. But, she adds, her shapes and designs are her own.
Mark Stevens, a jeweler from the Laguna Pueblo, also in New Mexico, has an interesting way of combining the old and the new. The ground near the pueblo is strewn with ancient pottery shards painted with geometric patterns. Stevens replicates the pattern and contours of a shard in silver, and combines the fragment that he has created with semi-precious stones to make earrings, pendants and bracelets. Then he returns the shard to the place where he found it. His actions reflect a commonly encountered reverence for the ancestors who created and used the pottery.
The December Art Market is not merely a place to shop. It also provides an opportunity to talk to the artists about where they live, their backgrounds and training and the beliefs embodied in their work. It also offers the satisfaction of supporting artists who may have labored for days, or even weeks, on each piece they bring to sell, often using techniques handed down through generations. Max Sanipass Romero, for instance, whose background is Mi’kmaq/Laguna and Taos Pueblos, makes baskets, each of which can take up to a week to complete. “Everything I’ve learned is from my grandparents,” he says.
This year’s art market will be held on Saturday, Dec. 3 and Sunday, Dec. 4 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Grammy winner Joanne Shenandoah of the Oneida Nation, Wolf Clan, will perform at the market at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. each day. A ticketed preview party takes place on Friday, Dec. 2 from 4:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. with sweets and drinks and a special presentation by renowned jeweler Denise Wallace (Aleut), who will show how she makes jewelry of fossil ivory, scrimshaw and semi-precious stones. Tickets start at $35. Call (212) 514-3750 for more information or email NYRSVP@si.edu.
A few blocks away from the National Museum of the American Indian, the Museum of Jewish Heritage — A Living Memorial to the Holocaust at 36 Battery Place has a well-stocked shop with books, music, jewelry, pottery, games and ritual objects such as mezuzahs, tzedakah boxes and Kiddush cups. For Hannukah, which begins on Dec. 20, the Pickman Museum Shop carries dozens of different kinds of menorahs, ranging in price from $16 to $400 and dreidels that can cost anywhere from 50 cents for one made of wood to $120 for a dreidel of sterling silver. Dreidels made in various colors of Venetian glass are particularly lovely and cost $60.
One unusual menorah was made by an artisan in Haiti using metal from a discarded 55-gallon oil drum. The artist, whose name is Evenson, cut the metal into the shape of a tree and painted it in sprightly colors. This purchase ($128) would not only brighten the holiday at home but help people in a country that was devastated by an earthquake in 2010 and is the poorest in the Western hemisphere.
The Pickman shop is open during museum hours — Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and Thursday from 10 a.m. to 5 45 p.m.; Wednesday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., and Friday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. during the winter months. The museum is closed on Saturdays and on Jewish holidays. Museum members get a 20 percent discount on their purchases through Dec. 27 and receive free domestic ground shipping.