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‘Time Travelers’ exhibit showcases sacred imagery of bultos, retablos

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The Holy Family cruises heaven in a winged convertible.

The patron saint of gardening straddles a giant praying mantis.

Across time and geography, santos change yet remain the same.

Open at Santa Fe’s Museum of Spanish Colonial Art, “Time Travelers: And the Saints Go Marching On” showcases those changes as artists explore this enduring imagery through 85 bultos (carvings) and retablos (paintings).

Spanish priests carried images of the saints into far-flung colonies as emblems of their faith as well as teaching tools.

Recognizable throughout the Americas, these santos attained special distinction in New Mexico, partly because of the region’s remoteness. Santeros made use of the limited materials they found to create new versions, thereby crafting an instantly recognizable art form.

Made up of the baby Jesus, Mary and Joseph, “La Sagrada Familia,” or the Holy Family, celebrates the birth of the Christ child flanked by his parents.

In 2017, Colorado santero Frank Zamora painted his rendering of the trio using brightly colored pigments; the familiar dove signals the Holy Spirit. Taos artist Victor Goler added humor to the classic scene by placing the figures inside a convertible, gliding across tumbling blue clouds.

San Pasqual has evolved from the somewhat staid image of 18th century Mexico’s “San Pascual Baylon” by an unknown artist into the chubby chef we know today, curator Jana Gottshalk said.

“He was a very pious, serious saint,” she said. “He had religious visions. He wasn’t the jolly saint of New Mexico kitchens.”

Rampant in churches, candles and T-shirts, Our Lady of Guadalupe is another saint who retains her signature symbols of protruding light rays yet evolves with each interpretation, Gottshalk said.

“She really doesn’t change. Her image is very recognizable – the blue cloak with the stars and the red dress.”

Española’s Felix Lopez created her stars with straw appliqué, a distinctively New Mexican art form used to mimic European marquetry.

Although not a part of the exhibition, the museum’s recently purchased “San Fiacre y Los Patrones del Jardin” by Santa Fe’s Arthur Lopez revives an obscure Irish saint with his whimsical bulto. The santo rides a giant praying mantis through a bower of flowers. San Fiacre was the patron saint of those who grew vegetables and medicinal plants.

San Fiacre is commonly invoked to help heal people suffering from various ills, based on his reputed skill with medicinal plants.

He is also the patron saint of hemorrhoids, fistulas, cabdrivers, box makers, florists, hosiers, pewterers, tile makers, and those suffering from infertility.

His reputed aversion to women is believed to be the reason he is known as the patron saint of venereal disease sufferers.