ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Land is important. In fact, there have many wars over it.
But the preservation of it is the ultimate goal.
This is why hours are spent by many cultivating and caring for it.
Enter San Ysidro Labrador – or St. Isidore – an important religious figure in Spain and New Mexico.
He is the patron saint of farmers, farm laborers and gardeners.
And he is also the inspiration behind the National Hispanic Cultural Center’s latest exhibit “Outstanding in His Field – Patron Saint of Farmers.” The exhibit opens on Friday, April 21 with a reception from 6-8 p.m. Admission is free.
Curator Tey Marianna Nunn is excited about the more than 65 artists who are participating in the show.
“We’re working with new artists that have never shown before,” she says. “Each one of the artists has a distinct perspective of him. ”
Nunn worked with interns Norma Lira-Pérez and Kyon Benally on the exhibit. It was the duo’s first time working on a project like this.
Benally enjoyed being behind the scenes, while Lira-Pérez liked the different styles.
“There are different ways that artists did their research,” she says. “Seeing the different styles opened my eyes to what we could accomplish with the exhibit.”
Tey says each spring in New Mexico, and throughout the world, sculptures and images of San Ysidro/Isidro are taken outside to the farms, acequias, and rivers.
On May 15, his feast day, San Ysidro blesses the fields and waterways to encourage a healthy growing season for local crops such as chile, beans, corn, and squash.
His divine intercession is invoked for rain and against drought.
“New Mexican artists revere San Ysidro,” she says. “Not only is he significant to agriculture, he is important to cultural and visual practice.”
Nunn says artists who embrace traditional styles and media have depicted him for centuries.
The exhibition examines these images, along with their contemporary counterparts, to reveal great social commentary, cultural complexities, an affinity for the earth and nature, and a sense of place.
With land so integral to New Mexican culture, some artists play with traditional renditions of the saint and position San Ysidro in contemporary times, where he deals with drought, water issues, and golf courses.
“San Ysidro has a big connection to New Mexicans,” Nunn says. “He is one of the most important saints in the area.”
San Ysidro served as a laborer for Juan de Vargas, an affluent Spanish landowner.
In 1693, Governor Diego de Vargas, a direct descendant of San Ysidro’s former employer, returned to occupy Santa Fe after the Pueblo Revolt of 1680.
The 17th century de Vargas had grown up on the same land that the 11th and 12th century Ysidro de Merlo y Quintana, later San Ysidro Labrador, had worked.
“The villages of Agua Fría to the south of Santa Fe, Tesuque to the north of Santa Fe, and Corrales near Albuquerque each have churches devoted to the patron saint of farmers,” Nunn says. “They, along with numerous communities throughout New Mexico, still celebrate his feast day with the blessing of the fields and the acequias.”