The City of Gallup

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Gallup, New Mexico

The city of Gallup, New Mexico has been around since 1881, but it is often overlooked despite being a unique destination for Native American arts and culture. Gallup is located 30 miles from the Arizona border on both Interstate 40 and historic Route 66. This cozy small town has a lot to offer in a little place because of its geography and cultural proximity. Gallup is a “border town” to the Navajo Nation and is only about 45 minutes south from Window Rock, the capital of the Navajo Nation, or north 45 minutes from the Zuni Pueblo, the largest of the 19 pueblos in New Mexico. 

This unique proximity positions Gallup as the epicenter of Native American Arts in the Southwest. The Navajo and Zuni are the largest silversmithing tribes in the United States and produce a significant portion of the fine Native American jewelry made in the nation. It is estimated that more than 70% of Native American jewelry is sold (wholesale and retail) from the Gallup area. These artists are the backbone of Native Arts industries in much larger cities such as Santa Fe, New Mexico and Phoenix, Arizona.

Gallup offers a plethora of opportunities for groups to interact with Native American artists and the trader industry. Groups can explore how the stunning jewelry is made and find art that suits everyone’s individual tastes and budgets. 

Navajo jewelry is typically known for its stunning silver work, which is complimented by natural gem-quality turquoise or other beautiful stones. (The Navajo were the first tribe in the United States to learn silversmithing, an art learned from the Spanish). There are two techniques that are overwhelmingly Navajo: stamp work and tufa casting. Tufa casting is the art of carving tufa stone, a type of compressed volcanic ash, into a mold that the silver is poured into to create one-of-a-kind pieces. The Navajo began tufa casting around the 1870s and followed it quickly with stamping silver with unique designs in the 1880s. These traditions are alive and well today and are taking on new lives with contemporary art influences.

The artists of the Zuni Pueblo are known for intricate stone inlay in their silverwork. The Zuni are considered the second tribe to learn silversmithing, and they refined cluster work – a technique where a group of shaped stones is in a bezel setting. The art evolved into petit point and needlepoint style clusters of beautiful turquoise and other stones. The stone inlay of the Zuni Pueblo often involves animal shapes, use of bold color and small intricate pieces that take hours to craft. The artists of the Zuni Pueblo have recently fostered new programs in the pueblo that are incredibly accessible for guests such as the Zuni Art Walk, where guests can visit artists in their home studios, and the newly opened Ancestral Rich Treasures of the Zuni Cooperative (ARTZ). 

Due to its central geography, Gallup has two kinds of businesses that are excellent for any kind of group or individual guest to experience the incredible work of the Navajo and Zuni (not to mention the Hopi and other pueblos of the region who do business here). The traders are the first recommended stop for groups. Many of the traders fostered relationships with the local tribes dating back to the late 19th century. The relationships began as an exchange of more than money. Sheep, canned goods, grains, cattle and more were bartered for unique Native American arts and crafts. Today the trader relationship with artists is to support both older and newer artists by offsetting the costs of materials and commissioning work. In addition, traders now serve as ambassadors for the arts. Winfield Traders and Tanners Indian Arts are examples of this. These traders assist the Smithsonian and Met Museums with cultivating their collections and with the art sold in support of those collections. 

Groups can easily access traders and the trading experience. Almost all Gallup traders have ample parking for any size vehicle. Traders in the Gallup community gladly set up artist demonstrations with an appointment, they will give tours of their pawn vaults (pawn in Gallup is not what most expect; it is like safety deposit boxes for the Native community) and give tutorials on how to shop for various styles of Native American arts. In addition, many of the traders offer groups hands-on tutorials on the different types of turquoise used in Native American jewelry, as well as information on synthetic stones and metals.

Individuals and groups can also spend time with the artists themselves. The City of Gallup works closely with the Gallup Native Arts Market organization and puts on the Gallup Native Arts Market every August. This market has more than 100 Native American artists from more than 6 tribes demonstrating and retailing to consumers in the heart of downtown. This market coincides with the oldest celebration of Native American arts and culture in America: the Gallup Inter-tribal Indian Ceremonial. Guests at this event get to experience exhibit halls full of some of the best Native arts and crafts from the Southwest as well as 20 plus dance groups from tribes around the nation. 

Gallup is often an overlooked stop along I-40 for tour groups and individuals alike, but passing by Gallup is like deciding to pass by on more than 100 years of history in Native American arts and culture. Individuals and groups alike can find an immersive, culture-rich arts experience in Gallup, New Mexico.  

For more information about Gallup’s arts and cultural offerings or a listing of traders visit gallupnm.gov or e-mail Jennifer, the Tourism and Marketing Manager, at jlazarz@gallupnm.gov.

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