Page 62

by Susan Westbrook

Courtesy Andrew Montoya

Catherine Robles Shaw, San Miguel Archangel, enconchado retablo

inspired by

faith

organic simplicity gives Hispanic religious folk art its power

T

he creation and collection of Hispanic religious art in New Mexico has played a defining role in our cultural history. This folk art first emerged when New Mexico was a remote outpost in Spain’s vast empire. Colonists, isolated and faced with chronic shortages of essential imports from the rest of the world, relied upon their own creativity, resourcefulness, and faith to build their churches and make devotional art. This tradition, continued today by artists and artisans called Santeros (saint makers), is considered by many to be a quintessential manifestation of folk art in the United States. 60

S U C A S A W I N T E R 2016

to mimic the look of gold. New Mexican religious folk artists used their devout craft to adorn not only these simple but powerful churches, but also home altars, which were built to accommodate the acute shortage of priests and churches. Homes often doubled as places for baptisms, weddings, and funerals. The creation of devotional art continues today, with modern Santeros relying upon materials both traditional and contemporary to produce their coveted pieces. Religious art can take many forms, including crosses made from a variety of media; carved poignant bultos (wooden statues) depicting any number of saints and religious figures; richly

Bulto by Andrew Montoya, La Sirena de Muerte (The Mermaid of Death).

This exceptional art form was born in a remote land defined by few material possessions, in a time when contact with Europe was almost nonexistent and trade with Mexico difficult and expensive. The clerics who attempted the task of Christianizing the indigenous people used their only tool— architecture—to impress, building churches that were longer and taller than anything found in a pueblo, and holding masses just as the sun’s rays were hitting the altar to reinforce God’s glory. No ornate, oil-painted altar screens from Europe, stained glass windows, or gold Baroque crucifixes were available, so the Franciscans quickly got creative in communicating the splendor of their faith without glorious props and trained artisans. Crosses, for example, were inlaid with straw

Lisa Baughman

Courtesy Catherine Robles Shaw

Courtesy Catherine Robles Shaw

Courtesy Frank L. Garcia

Vida Buena

Su Casa North Winter 2016 | Digital Edition