am contemplating a book about the artists and writers who came to Santa Fe in the early 20th  century and the effect they had on the city’s art and architecture. To that end, I am writing a few essays on topics of interest. The following article, which appeared in the Fall 2022 issue of El Boletin, the Old Santa Fe Association’s newsletter, is the first of these essays.

Whose Fiesta Is It?

Most members of the Old Santa Fe Associationknow that the organization was formed by the city’s artists and writers in response to a planned Chautauqua, or seasonal cultural colony. A group of Texas clubwomen, estimated at 3,000 in number, planned to acquire land in Santa Fe and build summer cottages to live in while they attended lectures and concerts. The OSFA was formed in April 1926 to protest the Chautauqua, and by July of that year, the Texas clubwomenhad dropped their plan to come to Santa Fe.

It is not well known, however, that the Old Santa Fe Association played a significant role in another controversyimmediately after the Chautauqua affair. In this case, the disagreement was about the Santa Fe Fiesta, and the OSFA once again protested an attempt to market the city to outsiders.

Fiesta, which has its roots in a 1712 celebration of the 1692 reconquista by Don Diego de Vargas, was revived in 1912. The School of American Research took responsibility for it in the late teens, and in 1920, SAR director Edgar Lee Hewett took personal charge of the program.

For the next few years, Fiesta was heavy on “cultural” education, with Indian dances, lectures, and staged musical reviews. Hewett meant to draw paying tourists — the Plaza was blocked off, and spectators had to pay admission to watch the program.

Santa Fe’s artists and writers disliked Hewett’s formal Fiesta. They were particularly bothered because, although it was supposed to be a community celebration, most of the city’s Hispanic residents could not afford to attend. In 1924 and 1925, poet Witter Bynner and Dolly Sloan, wife of artist John Sloan, created a free community celebration that took place in conjunction with Fiesta’s formal program. They called it El Pasatiempo de la Gente, “Past-time of the People.” Pasatiempo included a Hysterical Parade to offset Hewett’s serious Historical Pageant and street dancing in the evening. Unlike the formal Fiesta, Pasatiempo was free and included the city’s Hispanic residents.

Pasatiempo did not take place in the 1926 Fiesta. It was initially on the schedule but was dropped from the program before Fiesta began. The Archbishop of Santa Fe had complained that certain aspects of previous Hysterical Parades were “bawdy,” and Hewett tried to censor parts of the 1926 parade. It seems that Bynner and Sloan withdrew rather than comply with his demands.

Pasatiempo aside, Hewett had big plans for his 1926 Fiesta. He created an “Indian Amphitheater” in a natural bowl just east of the original Cross of the Martyrs. It was an ambitious undertaking — he had a stage built at the bottom of the bowl, had bulldozers create terraced seating areas, installed electric lights, and surrounded the bowl with barbed wire to keep out non-paying spectators. The Indian Amphitheater would be the primary venue for the 1926 Fiesta.

As in previous years, Hewett’s Fiesta program took itself seriously. A wedding ceremony between a Pueblo man and woman was celebrated as “probably the only time such an event has been seen outside a Pueblo.” The main attractions were two “Indian” operas by an Anglo composer named Charles Wakefield Cadman. Cadman was nationally known, and his operas had recently played in Denver and Los Angeles.

The performers were all professional singers. They included a tenor from the Metropolitan Opera, a Mohawk singer named Oskenonta, and two Anglo vocalists “of national reputation.” The lead roles went to a Native woman named Tsianina Redfeather. Born Florence Tsianina Evans to Cherokee parents, she took her Indian name years before when she began touring with Charles Wakefield Cadman. Cadman wore formal attire as he played the piano. Tsianina wore her usual beaded buckskin dress, and the other performers, including the Anglos, were also dressed in Indian costumes.

The 1926 Fiesta did not go well. Opening night started an hour late because of confusion about tickets and parking, and the next day’s activities started an hour and a half late for reasons that are not clear. Worse still, the opera performance was interrupted by a rainstorm. Audience members ran for their cars as Hewett tried to convince them to stay.

It was apparent to everyone that the 1926 Fiesta was a bust, but local criticism was muted. Bronson Cutting, owner of The Santa Fe New Mexican, disliked Hewett intensely, but the paper remained quiet. Fiesta was a big part of Santa Fe’s cultural scene, and the hometown paper was reluctant to criticize it.

A correspondent for the Daily Oklahoman, the Oklahoma City paper, was less circumspect. He wrote a scathing review of the “Fiasco,” as he referred to it. He wrote:

Money was the thing this year. The decorative ceremonies of the Pueblo Indians were at a minimum; Spanish folksongs and dances were conspicuous by their comparative absence. The artists were nowhere to be seen. The piece de resistance was a pseudo-Indian opera … with the principal roles being sung by outsiders. The Plaza, the heart of the ancient city and heretofore the center of Fiesta, was this year occupied by a sort of second-rate auto show. Where once wit, satire, and hilarity had flourished, there was now dead seriousness about history, with no carnival spirit to relieve it. When Witter Bynner ran Pasatiempo, the plaza was gay with bunting and the sad-faced tourist laughed aloud.

Ten days after the failed Fiesta, the newly formed Old Santa Fe Association announced that it was putting on a separate Pasatiempo celebration. It was scheduled for early September, one month after the Fiesta. All events were to be free and prizes were to be awarded to the participants. Over the next two-plus weeks, OSFA members contributed their time and money to the planned celebration.

The 1926 Pasatiempo was a great success. The New Mexican called it “the most brilliant and picturesque carnival Santa Fe has seen” and noted that it was ”sponsored by the Old Santa Fe Association as an opportunity for the Spanish speaking people of Santa Fe and the nearby plazas to hold their own fiesta.”

The same correspondent for the Daily Oklahoman who panned Hewett’s Fiesta praised the alternative event. He headlined his article: “Pasatiempo is One Great and Screaming Farce.“ He called it “a free community rejoicing, a folk-carnival, just as the expensive Fiesta was “For Visitors Only.””

Will Shuster, with help from Gustave Baumann, created the first public Zozobra, which was burned to dispel gloom. The Hysterical Parade included Shuster driving his Model T “covered wagon” with a mechanical horse pulling it and Witter Bynner dressed as Little Lord Fauntleroy. There was also a wedding between two burros, undoubtedly a parody of the formal Fiesta’s Pueblo wedding.

In February 1927, five months after the Pasatiempo and six months after Hewett’s Fiesta, The Santa Fe New Mexican finally addressed the issue. Its editorial noted that the paper had been quiet about the failure of Fiesta, but now felt compelled to comment because Hewett and his allies were resisting giving up control. The editorial noted that Fiesta belonged to the people of Santa Fe, not the School of American Research, and that it was absurd to think otherwise. Hewett and his allies objected but were ultimately relieved of responsibility for Fiesta.

In both the Chautauqua and Fiesta controversies, the Old Santa Fe Association successfully resisted efforts to sell the city to tourists. Thanks to the OSFA’s founding members, Santa Fe for decades after retained its reputation as a haven for artists, writers, and other refugees from mainstream Americ