A trio of archangels grace a deeply-carved table in Federico Prudencio’s Albuquerque living room.
A three-time winner of Best of Show awards who moved from furniture carving to saints, Prudencio spent the past pandemic year sculpting, sanding and painting in his garage studio.
While others struggled with depression, Prudencio basked in the solitude.
“I was loving it,” the Albuquerque carver said. “No one was calling me.”
Prudencio will be wrapping his angels in bubble wrap to prepare them for this year’s Traditional Spanish Market on Saturday, July 24, and Sunday, July 25, on the Santa Fe Plaza. The annual event was canceled last year because of COVID-19. There will be no awards or preview. Past markets have averaged 70,000 visitors. This year about two-thirds of the artists have signed up.
Prudencio began carving at the age of 9 in Taos. His older brother-in-law taught him the basics of wood working. He took a wood shop class in ninth grade; his natural affinity with a blade and a chisel landed him a wood shop job a year later.
“I was 15 years old. I was very excited,” he said.
He began researching Spanish colonial culture, reading books and carving his first chest that summer.
Today his creations overwhelm his living and dining rooms with a table and chairs, a trastero (standing chest,) a standing desk and cabinets. Crosses and retablos cover the walls.
Prudencio entered his first Traditional Spanish Market in 1991, making furniture recognizable for its rosettes, sunbursts, fans, and even carved lions dating back to the colonial era.
By the early aughts, he was learning to carve the saints from Albuquerque santero Alcario Otero.
“I had never carved a bulto,” Prudencio said. “He carved a face and I carved the other side. I picked it up right away.”
This year will mark his 30th Spanish Market.
Prudencio uses basswood for his santos and retablos, reserving sugar pine from Oregon and Washington for furniture. He uses all natural pigments mixed with water for his carefully applied color that is never overdone.
“Yellow ochre is used a lot,” he said. “You can make the red and the green out of yellow ochre. You always start painting from light to dark.”
He plans to bring about 20 works to Santa Fe.
Prudencio spent from five to six weeks creating each archangel, adding miniature accessories such as a trumpet, a scroll, a sword and a dangling fish. He’s currently working on the face of Christ for a “Veronica’s Veil” cross. Fabric drapes the head, signifying the story of the nun who wiped blood from Jesus’ face as he headed to Calvary.
Prudencio’s Santo Niño de Atocha carries a staff dangling a gourd in one hand, a basket of bread in the other.
“He would feed the prisoners bread and water in the city of Atocha,” the artist explained.
Prudencio prides himself on his attention to small-scale precision, such as the strands of curled hair on a saint or the delicate feathers on an angel’s wing.
“I spend a lot of time on the detail; see the back?” he said, pointing to the hair.
After the paint dries, he finishes the piece with piñon pitch mixed with grain alcohol. Then he waxes over the sheen.
“I don’t like shiny,” he said. “If you make it shiny, it looks like you bought it at Montgomery Ward.”
As he works, a mother-of-pearl turtle hangs from his neck.
He cited a legend where a boy on a ranch spots a turtle atop a fence post.
“The Dad says, ‘The turtle got help,’ ” Prudencio said. “That’s how I view my life. I had a lot of help to do this. I’m not rich, but I love what I do. I’m at peace.”