Storytelling school

The festival showcases tribal family heritages, the power of art and storytelling

BERNALILLO — Native American artists from across the region showcased their art and more over the weekend at Bernalillo.

Nitanis Duncan, 9, of Gilbert, Arizona, performs a Native American hoop dance with her family during the fifth annual Bernalillo Indian Arts Festival Saturday, May 14, 2022 at Loretto Park. (Photos by Matt Hollinshead/Observer)

In some cases, artifacts on display at the fifth annual Bernalillo Indian Arts Festival on Saturday and Sunday showcased participating artists’ backgrounds or family heirlooms. In other cases, the festival allowed people to express themselves through storytelling, music and dance.

“I’m really impressed with everything I’ve seen so far,” said Gabriel Ayala, classical guitarist and visual artist from Tuscon, Arizona.

In 2017, the inaugural year, there were 68 vendors. This year, more than 150 artists came to Loretto Park, eager to share their work.

“The quality is 150% better than last year… There seems to be a lot of Navajo jewelry and Hopi jewelry this year,” said Sara Chadwick, the festival’s founder. “It’s the first spring market, and they’re coming out of a long winter. They need sales and they need to build inventory right now. It’s a necessary market, and it’s really going to grow.

Ayala performs original music in a flamenco and jazz fusion style called “JazzMexico”. He also made register paintings, an art form that came from the northern plains in the mid-1800s. Ayala’s paintings were indigenized versions of historical figures and moments, from paintings by Vincent van Gogh to the cover of The Beatles’ Abbey Road album.

Another of his paintings features the history of Native American residential schools in hopes of creating awareness through the direct perspective of Indigenous people rather than a third party.

Darius Charley, who has his own art studio in Albuquerque, has occupied his festival booth three of the past four years.

“Oh man, that’s wonderful. We don’t get a lot of opportunities to go out…The festival is awesome. Every year there’s always a big turnout,” Charley said.

Charley, a native of Rock Point, Arizona, learned how to make cribs from his father, Wayne.

Navajo carpenter and cradleboard artist Darius Charley looks on from his booth during the Bernalillo Indian Arts Festival Saturday, May 14, 2022 at Loretto Park.

“I’m definitely influenced by Navajo rugs, so I like to incorporate that into my crib work,” said Charley, a cabinet maker and crib artist.

Rueben Richards, a painter from Dennehotso, Arizona, does traditional Yeii Navajo artwork, as well as paintings of horses.

“I grew up around horses,” Richards said.

In addition to members of the Navajo and Hopi tribes, the festival attracts Pueblos, Cherokees, and the Eastern Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma, as well as tribes from Alaska and Canada.

“I think we’re established now”

Chadwick said some families had younger members trying to get their foot in the door, but it had been difficult for them to do so. The festival makes a bigger effort to give young artists exposure on how to market their wares.

The Zuni Youth Artists made their debut this year, as part of that larger effort.

“I think we’re established now, and we’re only going to get better,” Chadwick said.

Here are some paintings done by artist Michael McCullough during the Bernalillo Indian Arts Festival on Saturday, May 14, 2022, at Loretto Park.