FARMINGTON — The smells of fry bread and roasting corn filled the air outside of the Civic Center Saturday morning as the 2012 Totah Festival kicked off. While some patrons eagerly awaited the contest pow wow, other browsed through the beautiful art inside.

This year's Totah Festival featured fewer artists than in the past after a decision to decrease the number of booths in favor of more open space.

"We tried to open it up, so it's not so congested," said Cultural Affairs Superintendent, Shawn Lyle.

Past Totah Festivals had more artist booths, but Lyle said that trying to fit so many artists in to the Civic Center's limited space slowed the flow of patrons between the different booths. The decision to decrease the number of tables opened up more space, and seems to have improved the ease of navigating the festival. All 92 artist booths were sold out, according to Lyle.

The festival continues to provide a space where emerging artists can mingle with masters. Hopi, Jicarilla Apache and Navajo artists presented, among others.

"The Jicarilla Apache are usually known for their basket weaving and bead work, but we work with micaceous pottery as well," said Dina Velarde, a Jicarilla Apache potter and photographer from Dulce. "A lot of my work has a floral type of flow to it."

Micaceous clay is highly sought after, and produces pottery that glitters because of the little flecks of mica that permeate its structure.


Velarde developed a serious interest in pottery and photography while attending the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, and learned the art of micaceous pottery from masters such as Sheldon Nunez-Velarde.

She uses the coil method instead of a potter's wheel. She gathers the clay from various spots near Taos, and puts it through a laborious process to sift out pebbles and debris until only the clay is left.

Velarde displayed her photography alongside her pottery, making for a stunning contrast to other booths.

Her photos aim to lend a new perspective to ordinary items by focusing in on a certain area and drawing out details that would otherwise go unnoticed.

"These are everyday things," she said. "If people would only stop and look at them, they'd notice their beauty."

Not all artists showing at the Totah Festival were trained at art schools, and many learned their craft through family traditions.

Keno Zahney guided his son Dominic, 10, through some painting techniques. He squirted a little more orange paint on to the easel. Dominic worked on a landscape while curious patrons watched his brushstrokes. Keno paused to point out some areas in between the red-orange foreground and the blue background. The brushstrokes were too thick. He directed Dominic to blend in a little more orange to thin out the blue area.

"I try not to get in there and do his brushstrokes for him," Keno said.

He prefers to guide his son, while giving him the freedom to learn, experiment and make artistic mistakes.

The Totah Festival, however, did not always feature such a broad range of artwork. Francis Mitchell, a board member on the Totah Festival Foundation, recalled how it has grown over the years. In 1987, its first year, there were just 25 vendors. Drummers from Fort Defiance, Ariz. performed the following year. Six years later, the festival had grown four-fold, he said.

His vision, and that of the other board members, is to continue to help the festival grow.

For Mitchell, the festival is not only an entertaining social event, or an opportunity for commerce; it is a symbol of different cultures coming together and learning about each other. He sees the festival as an opportunity to create, "kei," the Navajo word for fellowship or relationship.

"I hope that it creates an emotion or a feeling that we should be a part of each other, and accept each other's differences," he said. "It's a place for people to learn ... That's what I like to see."

Arthur Allison, cabinet secretary at the state Indian Affairs Department said that he hopes the Totah Festival continues to grow and attract top Native American artists. The festival benefits Native American artists by providing a space to sell their wares on a competitive level, and provides the city with tax revenue.

"Everyone gets the benefit of it," he said. "We really could make it bigger. We're looking at working with the Navajo Nation and Farmington to really bring economic development (to this area)."