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Atypical Santa Fe Flea Market Becomes Popular Tourist Destination - 2003-09-02

Santa Fe, New Mexico has long been a favorite destination for artists and art enthusiasts. Nestled in the foothills of the southern Rocky Mountains, at an elevation of 2,100 meters, Santa Fe's brilliant hues of sky and rich red earth tones have made the region one of the most frequently represented in paintings, pottery and other visual arts.

Every summer the capital city of 65,000 grows by another 100,000 people during the peak tourist season. One of the most popular attractions is the Tesuque Pueblo Flea Market.

The Tesuque Pueblo Flea Market isn't a flea market in the traditional sense of the word - the kind where one has to search through lots of junk before maybe finding a treasure for just a few dollars. No, this world-renowned market, spread over several hectares a few kilometers north of the city of Santa Fe, features over 500 vendors from around the region and the world - selling everything from Persian carpets, to precious gems, religious artifacts and folk art.

"The Flea" as it has come to be known, has been described as the closest thing to a Moroccan bazaar you are likely to find in North America.

Brian, who sells masks from Mexico and beadwork from the Czech Republic, is one of the vendors who spends every weekend selling wares from a booth at the Tesuque Pueblo Flea Market.

When asked what is unique about working in this flea market, he replies, "Oh, I would say, the views from my office."

The view from the Flea Market is spectacular, set high on a plateau surrounded by mountains and seemingly endless sky. With an emphasis on southwestern art, jewelry and home products, the market is operated by the Teseque Pueblo Indians whose history in the region goes back 800 years. It is run much like any other business, only with certain regulations particular to the Indian tribe. For example, no cameras, sketching, video camera or picture-taking of any kind is permitted, out of respect for the Indians' belief in the sacred image.

Rocky Gorman has been selling silver and turquoise jewelry made by Indian artisans at her booth she calls "Happy Trails" for over a decade. She talks about the appeal of turquoise that has made it popular for so many years.

"The first popular stage was back in the 1970s. It became very popular with hip-hugger pants and denims and that look," she said. "Then we had another brief experience in the early '90s. Then again, last year. Designers decided turquoise was big, everybody flocked to New Mexico to buy turquoise."

And, who is making this jewelry? "We sell Navaho and we sell Zuni," said Rocky. "Hopi is very difficult to get right now. They decided they were strictly selling through a coop on their own. So we carry a lot of the top Navajo names, a lot of the top Zuni names and collectors know where to come for it. They know where to go."

Jeweler Rocky Gorman explains why turquoise and silver so specific to Indian culture. "Well, I think, first of all, to the Native American it is very spiritual. It's the sky. That's what it represents, father sky," she said. "And it also represents mother earth in terms of the blues of the water. I think when people come out here they're captivated by the lore of turquoise. In Native American lore, it's a protection stone. They always make sure their babies have turquoise. Coral is for beauty and if it's a young girl she has coral and turquoise mixed it means to walk in beauty in the Navajo lore. So I think there's a certain magic out here, there's a certain spirit. And if it touches you, you just come back for more and more."

Walking through the booths and stalls, one customer, carrying a kind of wooden picture frame was very pleased with her purchase.

"I bought something and I have no idea if it was made for the market," she said. "I'm going to put a mirror behind it and put it into a window for decoration. It's like a window sill."

Back at the Happy Trails jewelry booth, Fran Gorman, father of turquoise dealer Rocky Gorman, talks about the popularity of the Tesuque Pueblo Flea market, which has been ranked number three of the most popular markets in the U.S.

"People from all over the world come in here specifically for this market," he said. "And it's unfortunate that they think it's a flea market. Because hanging up there, that rug there probably goes for $15,000. And flea markets are used to quarters, dimes, and dollars. But here you have artists who come from all over, every type of person you'd want to see in this place." The customers are from all over the world. "We have them from South Africa, we have them from Australia, New Zealand, France, you name it," Fran Gorman said. "Because they heard of it. When they come to Santa Fe, they're used to seeing all of Santa Fe with the stores and [art district] Canyon Road and they get wind of this market and once you come here you're hooked."

As for Mr. Gorman's daughter, Rocky, she says working in an atmosphere influenced by Pueblo Indian traditions is what has had the most profound effect on her.

"They're very religious people to the spirits. They don't worship a single god, it's 'mother earth,'" she said. "All these rocks that are on the ground, have a personality, they have spirit to them and they respect everything. Everything has respect. And I think that shows. And it shows with the people who live here. We have a lot of respect for each other."

Happy Trails turquoise dealer Rocky Gorman says more than anything else, Indian culture has taught her to "slow down." Originally form the east coast, she says it took a while to adjust to a slower pace. But she says working at the Tesuque Pueblo Flea Market has heightened her appreciation of a slower, calmer and more spiritual lifestyle, something that has come to be known as "Indian Time."