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The Annual Totah Festival and Indian Market: Every Labor Day Weekend in Farmington, New Mexico

Published by Devin Minister

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Farmington is the gateway to the Four Corners area of Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico — rich in Native American culture and gorgeous scenery.

Farmington: Situated Within the Native American Heritage

Farmington is a city of 40,000 or so, located at the confluence of three rivers in northwestern New Mexico: the San Juan and its tributaries, the La Plata and Animas Rivers. Long a focus of agricultural life in the high desert, this area of the San Juan Basin was settled in the late 12th century by Anasazi Indian farmers and was later home to tribes of Navajo, Ute, and Apache.

Today, Farmington is surrounded by the Navajo Indian Reservation on the west, which also envelops the Hopi Indian Reservation in Arizona, and the two Ute reservations —Ute Mountain Indian Reservation and Southern Ute Indian Reservation — in southern Colorado. Trading posts in towns and on the reservations sell Native American craft products year-round, but the Annual Totah Festival brings the best to market.

Arts and Crafts Market

1988 was the year of the first Totah Festival, established to showcase the works of new and talented Native American artists to the wider world. Since then, the festival has grown into a two-day celebration of arts and crafts and Indian dance and costume.

Held in the Farmington Civic Center, the craft market of last year hosted 102 artists whose participation was dependent on a jury including respected Native American craftsmen and women themselves. The works of the artists juried in, therefore, are guaranteed to be authentic and valuable works, as the artists must conform to the Federal Indian Arts and Crafts Act and the New Mexico Indian Arts and Crafts Sales Act.

‘Traditional’ is not the byword for arts and crafts entries. This year two new categories were added to the list of traditionals, with photography and digital art taking their place beside jewelry-making, basket-weaving, sandpainting, pottery, bead-working, wood sculpture, folk art, drawings and paintings — but no oils on velvet in sight. One of the unique offerings was shadow boxes of a small woven rug fragment with colored yarns leading out to samples of the native plants used to obtain their dyes: educational, informative, and preservative of traditional culture.

It was exciting walking among the booths and talking to the artists themselves. Many tables displayed blue, red and white ribbons for the best works in their category, and their winners were justifiably proud of their handicrafts that garnered such awards.

Auction of Navajo Rugs

A special feature of the first festival day was the auctioning of almost 250 Navajo rugs, entered for sale by their weavers. The auctioneers made a special effort to convey personal details of the weaver, their age if especially young or old, and perhaps the reason why they needed the income. One young weaver of 17 hoped to attend college on the proceeds of her rug.

Entries were accepted throughout the morning, closing at noon. Simultaneously, previews of rugs entered could be had on the auditorium stage where the auction was later held at 1pm. An informal survey revealed that most buyers were there to buy for themselves; few buyers for resale were evident, though in previous years, buyers from as far away as Germany participated in the sales.

The auction was prefaced by a short explanation of rug-weaving patterns, designs and dyes by a Navajo Master Weaver. Horizontal bands patterned by natural pigment dyes are most traditional, followed by bordered organizations of diamond and cross patterns. Analine dyes, commercially manufactured, are used for bright colors, and modern topics are often woven into picture rugs. A demonstration loom was set up outside the auditorium to illustrate the skills needed for weaving a rug.

A special bonus of the auction were the five young Navajo women dressed in a variety of traditional costumes and fashionable variations thereof. They served to show off each rug as it was sold, but it was often difficult to keep one’s eyes on the rugs. Further opportunities to gaze at the amazing transformation of traditional costumes were provided by the pow wow going on outside. The chiefly headdresses have now acquired streamers of lime-green and bright magenta ribbons.

2019 Totah Festival

In 2018 the contest pow-wow lasted over the full two days, Saturday and Sunday, of the Totah Festival, as did the arts market. The rug auction, however, was completed on the first day, Saturday. Since this festival is held every year on Labor Day Weekend, it is time to begin preparing for next year’s visit. Contact the Farmington Convention & Visitors Bureau for details (1-800-448-1240).

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