Artists since the Spanish Colonial period have created images of saints to help them survive and prosper. In the past century, several organizations and museums formed to help this unique and beautiful art form to not only survive, but also to flourish.
Albuquerque santeros Ray de Aragon and his wife, Rosa Maria Calles, say the images had a specific purpose in Spanish Colonial days for both Spanish colonists and Native American converts to Christianity.
“They were to remind people to come closer to God,” de Aragon says.
Reminders come today in the preservation and exhibition of Spanish Colonial art collections, in part by the Spanish Colonial Arts Society, founded in Santa Fe in 1925 by writer Mary Austin and artist and writer Frank G. Applegate.
Opened in 2002, the Museum of Spanish Colonial Art in Santa Fe has a collection of more than 3,000 objects, including santos (sculpted and painted images of saints), tin, silver and gold work, ceramics, textiles and more, reflecting influences as far away as Spain, Latin America and even Asia.
The Spanish Colonial Arts Society doesn’t stop there — twice a year it produces the world-renowned Spanish Market in July and December in Santa Fe, showcasing the works of Hispanic artists today.
Go to Ranchos de las Golondrinas just south of Santa Fe, and you can find yourself walking in the past. Visitors can witness artwork being created at the living museum, “The Ranch of the Swallows,” replicating a ranch from the early 1700s when it was an important stop along the Camino Real, the Royal Road from Mexico City to Santa Fe.
Meanwhile, demonstrating that Spanish art is not only richly rooted but also dynamic and still evolving, the annual Contemporary Hispanic Market, the largest Hispanic art event in the country, held in conjunction with the summer Traditional Spanish Market, features innovative work by more than 100 artists who draw from their own heritage and traditions.
Look for vestiges of the santero art tradition today and you will find it in New Mexico’s myriad Spanish Colonial churches or in the murals and frescoes gracing public walls all over the state, including in Santa Fe, Albuquerque and Taos.
Hispanic folk art and drama continues to thrive, aided by the legacy of artists like Patrocinio Barela, a wood sculptor who died in Taos in 1964. George Lopez was another preeminent santero, carrying on the tradition of the Lopez family who live in Cordova.