About the Artist
(1796 - 1862)José Rafael Aragón is believed to have been born in Santa Cruz, New Mexico in 1796. Aragón is considered by many to the premier santero of his time, because of his lengthy working period (40 years or longer) and his versatility.
Aragón is mentioned in the 1823 census of Santa Fe as a rancher, 27 years old and married to Maria Josefa Lucero, age 30. Aragón was able to read and write clearly, as evidenced by the various inscriptions he placed on his works. One can assume that he received his early education in Santa Fe, which was the capital and cultural center of the area. Such an education would not have been available to those living in more isolated areas.
Although as many as ten santeros provided carved and painted images for the various churches beginning in the last quarter of the 18th century, most of the santos that remain in the churches today were executed by only two santeros; Molleno (because of the number of large altar screens) and José Rafael Aragón.
Aragón’s working period spanned more than four decades, beginning some time before 1820. He produced not only large altar screens and carvings for churches but also hundreds of works for private clients. He was extremely versatile as an artist, proficient both in painting panels and carving images, and he probably established a workshop to meet the great demand for his work.
Aragón produced miniature carvings, massive altar screens for area churches, and retablos depicting the popular saints of the era; all were strongly and sensitively rendered, with careful attention to detail. His works embody a more individual style than those of other santeros, who were often heavily influenced by orthodox religious iconography.
One of his first commissions, between 1820 and 1826, was the altar screen in the church of San Lorenzo at Picurís Pueblo. Around 1835, he moved to a new home in the village of Quemado, later named Córdova, New Mexico. There he carved and painted the main altar of the Church of San Antonio, and this became one of many projects that built his reputation throughout the Santa Cruz Valley. He did work in most of the churches in the area including Santa Cruz, El Valle, Truchas, Chimayó, Hernández, and Pojoaque. He also worked in the Taos area.
José Rafael Aragón’s style has been defined by the style of his few signed pieces. His sculptural figures are noted for his creative decorative motifs, color contrasts, elongated and graceful proportions, delicate features and a distinctive bump on the nose.