San Jose
ca 1830
17 5/8" x 13" x 3/4"
Retablos, Wood, gesso, natural pigments

About the Artist
There has been considerable speculation about José Aragón's identity and place of residence. According to historian Elizabeth Boyd, José Aragón was a Spaniard who immigrated to northern New Mexico from Spain and resided in the area for 15 years. A group of dated and signed retablos bear inscriptions indicating that they were completed at various places in Northern New Mexico beginning in 1821. Several are dated in 1825; one group of six panels is dated July 21 and 22nd, 1830 and is inscribed with the town Chamisal. It is not known whether the santero was living in Chamisal in New Mexico at the time, or if the village referred to may be the one near El Paso.

Boyd connects José Aragón to the Fountain family through a painted wooden cross belonging to a Fountain descendant who says it was made by Aragón. It is through this cross that Boyd created the genealogy she believed to be that of the Santero. In a later interview of Teresita Fountain, she said her grandfather’s name was Rafael Vermonvil and her grandmother was Refugio Aragón. She had a great-grandfather José Aragón, who was a santo maker and she owns a crucifix that he made. This particular crucifix he gave to his wife, who later gave it to her daughter, who gave it to Mrs. Fountain. Refugio Aragón was born around 1840.

In a recent search of archival sources from the period, several people with the name José Aragón turned up in various areas of Northern New Mexico. Considering this santero’s assumed working dates, of particular interest is one José Antonio Aragón, whose name also simply appears as José Aragón in various references throughout a 15 year period. According to the Taos baptism records, José Antonio Aragón was baptized on February 16, 1800. The 1850 census gave his age as 54, indicating that he would have been born in 1796. His patents were Antonio Aragón, who died in 1823, and Maria Francesca Vigil.

He married Maria Nicolasa Quintana and they and they had one son, José Mariano Aragón, born in San Francisco del Rancho and baptized on September 4, 1827. On January 18, 1829, then a widower, he married Maria Dolores Fernandes at San Geronimo de Taos and they had eight more children, including Refugio.

In 1835 they still resided in El Rancho but by 1850 he had evidently moved his family to the Belen area, south of Albuquerque. Whatever his actual identity, this santero was clearly a literate man, as shown by the inscriptions on his painted panels.

For the most part, Aragón painted the usual santero subject matter, but he also sometimes depicted the less common. He painted both small devotional images and larger, more ornate retablos, many of which feature colorful borders. The only examples of his larger works that still exist in the churches are the two altar screens on the left wall at the Santuario de Chimayó. Because the Arroyo Hondo Santero’s style is similar to Aragón’s, the anonymous painter may have been an apprentice to the older more experienced Aragón for a short time.

Aragón was also a carver. Several of his carvings are documented in a 1987 survey, but were so completely over painted has to defy certain attribution. Apparently he seldom carved large images until later in his career; most of his carvings were small and delicate renderings.

Aragón appears to have been quite prolific during the brief period of time he worked in northern New Mexico, as many of his workers are in museums and private collections.

Source: Marie Romero Cash, Santos: Enduring Images of Northern New Mexican Village Churches, University of Colorado Press, 1999