Written by Zak Hansen
Photography by Julian Nuñez
Experience 400+ years of New Mexico’s art and cultural history at the Traditional Spanish Market.
The annual Las Cruces Spanish Market, hosted by the Spanish Colonial Arts Society, will return to Las Cruces Saturday and Sunday, Feb. 17-18, at Hotel Encanto. More than 30 artisans working in forms that date back centuries will have work for display and sale. Several of those artists will, throughout the weekend, give demonstrations of their crafts. The Las Cruces Spanish Market will also feature live music and dance performances in classical Spanish colonial styles, a lecture series, food, and more.
From the 1600s to mid-1800s, El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro—the “Royal Road of the Interior Land”—linking Mexico City with San Juan Pueblo, was a vital trade route for Spanish colonialists and settlers. Along its 1,600 miles traveled, not only goods and raw materials (especially the silver upon which the Spanish crown built its influence) but new cultures, new ideas, and new artistic forms.
These incoming Spanish cultural influences, in time, began to merge with those of the indigenous peoples of the area who predated European settles by many centuries. Thus did traditional Native American and Spanish artistic styles begin to shape one another in the region, becoming a distinct style all its own and unique to this area.
Those peoples scattered along this “Royal Road” would seize upon this influx of raw materials—and raw culture—evident in the carving, hide-painting, straw work, jewelry, weaving, filigree, pottery, colcha (embroidered wool blankets), retablos and bultos, iron and tinwork, and more that defines the Spanish Colonial style.
An example of this is the straw work traditions of New Mexico, which transformed strips of straw (coated in pine sap to create a golden hue known as “poor man’s gold”) into stunning crucifixes, boxes, and other utilitarian objects.
The similarly renowned tinwork of New Mexico—dubbed “poor man’s silver”—utilized scraps of tin discarded by wagon trains moving northward along the trail, creating beautiful retablos and other devotional items out of the refuse.
The Las Cruces Spanish Market is just one of the ways in which the Spanish Colonial Arts Society fulfills its mission of keeping alive the artistic forms of New Mexico and beyond. The society dates back all the way to 1913, as the Society for the Revival of Spanish Arts, which merged with the Society for the Restoration and Preservation of Spanish Mission Churches of New Mexico in 1929, becoming the Spanish Colonial Arts Society.
The society’s first market was held in 1926, and hasn’t taken a year off. Since 1965, the market has been held during summers on the Santa Fe Plaza and features more than 250 artists. The society also holds a yearly Traditional Winter Spanish Market in Albuquerque. In 2002, the society opened the Museum of Spanish Colonial Art in Santa Fe, the only museum in the world dedicated to Spanish Colonial art, with a special focus on the unique art styles developed in New Mexico.
They will be bringing the show to Las Cruces for the fourth time in 2018. Don’t miss the chance to experience over 400 years of Hispanic culture.