Rug auction, dance groups draw plenty of visitors to Totah Festival & Indian Market in Farmington

Event returned for 32nd edition this year after being cancelled last year

Mike Easterling
Farmington Daily Times

FARMINGTON — The crowd may have been a little thin in the early going, but as opening day wore on, the number of visitors to the 32nd annual Totah Festival & Indian Market increased steadily on Sept. 4 at the Farmington Civic Center.

The festival, which returned after being cancelled last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, didn't offer all its usual elements because of social distancing restrictions. But two of its main attractions — dancing by indigenous groups on the Civic Center lawn and the Navajo Rug Auction — were back, and both drew plenty of onlookers.

Nearly 125 weavings were offered to the highest bidders in the Civic Center auditorium, and even those who weren't interested in buying were kept entertained by the cadence of auctioneer Calvin Storey and the occasional bidding war that popped up between buyers enamored with the same piece.

Members of the Zuni Olla Maidens dance on the lawn outside the Farmington Civic Center during the 32nd annual Totah Festival & Indian Market on Sept. 4.

One such battle erupted over a round sand painting-style rug, with two bidders one-upping each other several times until a winning price of $900 was reached.

Other rugs went for much more than that, a development that Farmington Museum director Bart Wilsey found very satisfying.

"I was extremely nervous when it first started," said Wilsey, who helped several presenters display the weavings on the stage of the Civic Center auditorium. "But I am very pleased. We sold a very high percentage of rugs — in most cases, for more than the minimum — so I am extremely happy."

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Storey kept the crowd loose throughout the auction, making the best of one moment when he had to stop his call to ask a woman in the audience to clear up some confusion.

"You biddin' or talkin'?" he asked her pointedly after she gestured to a friend during a conversation the two of them were having.

Artist Beverly Blacksheep of Salina Springs, Ariz., displays her painting "Golden Day and Silver Linings," which was the winner of the poster contest for the 32nd annual Totah Festival & Indian Market on Sept. 4 at the Farmington Civic Center.

The woman assured him it was the latter and that she hadn't been trying to bid on the object.

"You liked to bought a rug," he admonished her as the audience broke out in laughter.

Those in attendance gave a warm welcome to 7-year-old weaver Susanna Overton of Tohatchi, who displayed several of her pieces in the auction. After the last one of them went for $125, Wilsey grinned and announced, "I think Susanna's buying dinner."

Elsewhere at the Civic Center, dozens of vendors were set up indoors and outdoors to sell their paintings, jewelry, clothing and other works of art. Included in the group was artist Beverly Blacksheep of Salina Springs, Arizona, whose painting "Golden Day and Silver Linings" was chosen for the official festival poster.

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Blacksheep said it was the first time she had entered the poster competition for the Totah Festival, and she smiled as she recalled how thrilled she was to learn she had won.

"I was very honored and happy," she said.

A member of the Zuni Olla Maidens dances during the 32nd annual Totah Festival & Indian Market on Sept. 4 on the lawn outside the Farmington Civic Center.

Blacksheep described the winning painting as a reaction to climate change and the welcome emergence of much of the Four Corners region this summer from a years-long drought.

"It's also about my memories of grass growing up to my knees," she said, referring to the painting's depiction of a Native woman on horseback surrounded by black-eyed Susans and lush greenery.

On the lawn of the Civic Center, the Zuni Olla Maidens — a singing, drumming and dancing group that performs with delicate pieces of pottery balanced on their heads — was the first of several dance groups to be featured over the course of the festival's two-day run.

When they began their performance, the blank spots around the perimeter of the lawn began to fill in quickly with visitors, many of whom held up their phones to record the show. By that point, visitors were streaming into the festival by the dozens, erasing Wilsey's earlier fears about how many people would turn out for this year's event.

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"People showed up, and that was fantastic," he said, noting he was especially pleased with how the auction went. "We had some pretty big bidders show up that took home a huge stack of rugs."

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or Support local journalism with a digital subscription.