SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – It’s back to business. After more than a year, Native American vendors are back to selling their traditional artwork and jewelry outside the New Mexico History Museum in Santa Fe. The Native American Artisans Portal Program, which showcases traditional Native American work and is run by the museum, was shut down for more than a year because of the pandemic.

“This is our main source of income. You know, for a lot of us, we never thought about going online or anything. So when the pandemic hit, it was weird. A lot of us had to adjust to either going online or finding another source of income,” said Marcus Slim, a silversmith and artist who has been selling his work with the program for nearly a decade. Finally, the program is returning. Opening day was on Friday.

“Relief. A big relief,” Slim said.

“We were excited. We could feel the you know, excitement coming back. And we were anxious,” said Allen Bruce Paquin, another artist from the Jemez and Zuni Pueblos who has sold his work with the program for more than 30 years.

It’s also a welcome site for visitors like Matt McKenna, who visits Santa Fe every year. “I think I would definitely feel a void if I didn’t see them out here. I enjoy walking and talking with the jewelry makers, the artists. I think it’s definitely part of the experience here on the Plaza,” he said.

The return of the program does come with some COVID-19 precautions. There are hand sanitizing stations and signs and arrows indicating one-way foot traffic through the artists’ displays. Vendors must wear masks and get their temperatures checked every morning. They are also spaced six feet apart. Because of this, only 26 vendors fit under the portal. To accommodate more vendors, they have expanded their selling spaces along Lincoln Avenue. On opening day, there were 46 vendors compared to the usual 68. Still, those who were there say it’s like they never left.

“It feels good to see everybody. We haven’t seen each other in over a year. So it’s nice. Not only being able to come back to our main source of income but just seeing everybody and catching up is nice,” Slim said. Artists are also excited to get back to sharing the stories behind their traditional artwork.

“I’d say 99% of us – the vendors – we all still practice in our traditions. You know, so like the tourists can come out here and get the story straight from us. And it’s nice to be able to tell our story again and kind of educate the people out here,” Slim said.

“It’s not just about having Native American artists sell their work. We look at this as an educational program.,” said Billy Garrett, Executive Director of the New Mexico History Museum. “Members of the public can talk to a vendor, find out about the particular craft that they have been perpetuating…This program encourages and supports them passing on their traditions to others in their family to younger generations.”

Vendors are usually set up from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. The New Mexico History Museum is also open at 10 a.m. 5 p.m. most days and is open until 7 p.m. on Fridays.