At Santa Fe International Folk Art Market, “A Smile Is Like Extra Breath”
The Santa Fe International Folk Art Market (which takes place this year on July 11, 12 and 13) has been a boon to international artists since it formed as a small exhibition showing “folk art” in 2003. On the Market’s 10th anniversary last year, the artists exhibiting sold $2.7 million in goods. The sales benefited over 19,320 artists worldwide, generating positive economic impacts on the lives of nearly 200,000 extended global family and community members.
This, however, is a personal story about the possibility of human connection that the Market sparked. Shelly Batt, Gary Mayta Lizarraga and Lider Rivera Matos have developed business relationships, struggled with understanding each other and have formed friendships that endure. This photo-essay tells their story. All images © Dianne Stromberg
A smile is like extra breath, was how Gary Mayta Lizarraga described some of his experiences on his first trip to the Market in 2013. Gary, sponsored by Shelly Batt, came to represent the work of Lider Rivera Matos, a Peruvian horn artist who was jailed in Peru as a political prisoner for his participation in the Sendero Luminoso.
In 2014, the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market (July 11, 12 and 13) will bring 150 folk artists from 60 countries to Santa Fe. The Market started in 2003 as a small exhibition and has since grown into the largest international folk art market stage in the world. Last summer’s event drew almost 21,000 people to Santa Fe.
Shelly wasn’t fluent in Spanish when she first went to Peru more than five years ago to find and work with craftspeople. She had some names for artists through contacts from friends in Santa Fe and church groups. More importantly, she had a vision.
Shelly describes how she encountered Lider’s horn work: ” I received an email about a political prisoner who works with horn and I love horn. I was shown his work. There is something about his work that is special and you could see that even in its most rustic form. ”
Here, Shelly and Gary peruse the shipment at the Market 2013.
Shelly traveled into the Highlands and stopped in Huancayo. There was a bookstore around the corner from her hotel. Thinking she could trade books in English for Spanish books, she went in. Gary was working in the store and that meeting began their friendship.
Gary begins to unpack Lider’s horn artwork for the Market 2013.
When Gary was let go from his job at the bookstore in Huancayo, Shelly asked Gary what he would like to do with his future and advised him to be very thoughtful with his answer. Gary told Shelly he wanted to go to Lima (then a completely unknown place and culture to him from his home of the Highlands) and that he wanted to work in a bookstore there. Shelly offered him money for a stay in Lima and told him to pay her back when he got a job.
Gary found a job managing a bookstore in Lima, and as Shelly visited with Gary during her subsequent trips, they also learned of their strong interests in common — including Gary’s interest in horn art. Gary knew of Lider and had admired his art. He sought Lider out in Lima and subsequently became his apprentice.
Coming to the Market evoked many memories for Gary. He said, “I totally forgot what I used to do as a child. Coming to the Market makes me remember that I used to make things with my hands. Here it is different than in Peru and there’s no reason to compare. It’s just different.”
During five years of trips to Lima, Shelly repeatedly visited Lider in prison. The first time, she remembered, “His son dropped me off. You had to wear a skirt based on the idea you could hide something in pants. They have booths outside the prison where they sell candy, toilet paper and rent skirts for 20 cents. I’d wait in line with all the other women – mothers, wives, prostitutes.” Here, Shelly with Gary at Market 2013’s opening night.
“People here told me to enjoy myself. I misunderstood that phrase. I understand when people say be kind to yourself. But I misunderstood enjoy.”
Shelly and Gary had practiced in Lima for his interview for a visa to come to the United States. (“Smile, look people in the eye, say something in English and don’t stop talking.”) In Santa Fe he found a world different from his home country. He also experienced the universal: “The effect of any smile on people here is that they smile too and that makes me feel good. It’s like extra breath and I feel good.”