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Old meets new at Spanish Market

Deborah Labontee of Santa Fe inspects various retablos during the Traditional Spanish Market on Saturday. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

SANTA FE, N.M. — When the Spanish colonized New Mexico beginning in the late 16th century, they brought with them the artistic influences of their homeland.

They had to improvise, though, when it came to materials: using tin instead of silver, straw instead of gold leaf.

Today in New Mexico, there is much greater access to those more valued materials, but some continue working in the traditional media and methods of centuries ago.

The work of these artists is featured each year at Santa Fe’s Traditional Spanish Market, now in its 67th year.

The Traditional Spanish Market in Santa Fe draws in about 70,000 people each year. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

Art forms like straw appliqué, weaving, furniture making, the retablo (painted pieces, generally of Catholic figures) and tinworking are among those represented at the two-day event.

Josef Diaz, director of the Museum of Spanish Colonial Arts in Santa Fe, said the market typically draws around 70,000 people.

“What’s nice about this market, unlike Indian Market, is that these are all local artists from throughout the state. The money stays here,” he said. “So it really does boost our economy in New Mexico.”

A few artists at the market do hail from southern Colorado.

Much of the work has Catholic and Christian influences, but straw appliqué artist Bernadette Rodriguez said its aesthetics can be enjoyed by all.

“It may be a religious thing to you, it may not be,” she said. “Sometimes you buy art just because you love the beauty of the product.”

For Rodriguez, a practicing Catholic, her faith helps her create the work itself.

“I almost feel like when I sit down to do my art, my hands are taken over. I’m not really this artistic,” she said, laughing.

The traditional techniques used have often been passed down from generation to generation.

Joaquin Rodriguez, 17, learned to create retablos from his grandfather, Jacobo Rodriguez.

Joaquin Rodriguez shows off his retablos to a customer at the Traditional Spanish Market on Saturday. Rodriguez won first place for creativity in the youth category. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

Using that skill, he’s been participating in the youth category at the market since he was 5 years old.

A few years ago, he changed things up a bit.

“I’m a little bit avant-garde,” he said.

Rodriguez’s retablos depict the typical saints, such as Francis, Cecilia and Raphael, but they’re illustrated in a distinctly comic book style.

“I introduced that into my Spanish Market art and it actually started looking better,” he said.

Marketgoer Margie Maestas of Corrales, who purchased several pieces throughout the day Saturday and has “a house full of art,” said she always makes an effort to buy from the youngsters, as they are the ones who will continue the traditions.

“I love the opportunity to showcase (Hispanics), their talent, their devotion and their commitment to carry on traditional art,” she said. “It makes me feel very proud.”

The event continues from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. today. The Contemporary Hispanic Market, an unaffiliated event, is running concurrently on Lincoln Avenue off the Plaza.

Nicole Haberstich of Los Alamos touches the hand of a woodcarving during the Traditional Spanish Market on Saturday in Santa Fe. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)