Featuring works by Marie Romero Cash, Paula Rodriguez, Ramón José Lopez and others
Peyton Wright Gallery is pleased to present a number of works from the Boeckman collection by modern New Mexican artists working within the state’s historic artistic legacies, currently featured in the gallery this month.
These artists exemplify a modern inspiration of traditional craftsmanship from over the past 200 years in a wide array of techniques and genres, from furniture making to works by modern santeros or santeras.
The santero (or “saint-maker”) tradition in New Mexico dates back to the mid 1700s, when Spanish missionaries (usually Franciscan priests or friars) worked with local artisans to create religious imagery for worship, religious education, and church decoration.
The santeros made retablos (painted images on hand-adzed pine panels) and bultos (carved three-dimensional figures), both of which were then gessoed and painted with native pigments. They also created altar screens for churches.
The art continues into the present day, evolving to incorporate other techniques and media such as tinwork, straw appliqué or colcha embroidery.
The tradition has also reached a greater gender parity among its creators than in the past. As renowned santera Marie Romero Cash writes:
Although researchers have no evidence that women participated in the creation of this art during the colonial period, it certainly became a reality in the 1970s in Santa Fe. During that decade, several women became santeras, including my late sister Anita Romero Jones, Monica Halford, and Gloria Lopez Cordova….Today there is an impressive number of female artists who are honored to carry that title.
These works are currently on exhibit at Peyton Wright Gallery.
About the Artists
The daughter of prominent traditional tinwork artists, the late Senaida and Emilio Romero, Marie has created art for a number of churches in the United States and in Mexico, including Stations of the Cross for the Basilica of St. Francis in Santa Fe. She has participated in the annual Spanish Market in Santa Fe for over 45 years, having won many awards for both traditional and contemporary works.
As a writer, her early works focused on research-based books about the culture and churches of Northern New Mexico, along with a memoir about growing up in Santa Fe in the 1950s.
A number of years ago she began to write a mystery series based around Santa Fe featuring Jemimah Hodge, a forensic psychologist. A romantic novel about the Pueblo Revolt began as a screenplay over ten years ago when she was a student at Lesley College in Boston. Her most recent book is a novel rather than a mystery, "The Word Thief.” She is currently working on another memoir and a new screenplay.
Her works are in the following collections: the Museum of International Folk Art; the Albuquerque Museum; the Museum of Spanish Colonial Art; the Smithsonian Institute; the Vatican; the Archdiocese of Santa Fe; the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center; and many private collections.
The first of seven children of tinsmith Emilio Romero and colcha artist Senaida Romero (and the eldest sister of artist Marie Romero Cash), Jones steered clear of artistic endeavors as a young woman. Instead, she married in 1956 and raised four children while accompanying her husband to homes in California, Florida and Idaho.
After returning to Santa Fe in the early ‘70s, when she was in her 40s, she began to investigate art. Jones tried tinwork, retablo painting, colcha embroidery and hide painting before she discovered the art of carving wooden saints when the curator of the Spanish Colonial Arts Society showed her the collection of bultos in the basement of the Museum of International Folk Art. Jones once noted that because she had grown up with plaster-of-Paris saints, she “went crazy” when she first saw the Museum’s bulto collection.
Wanting to try her hand at carving, Jones brought home a piece of firewood, probably piñon or cedar, to carve. Her husband knew that would be difficult to carve, so he found her a piece of aspen. Soon, she was creating versions of St. Francis (patron saint of Santa Fe and animals), St. Agnes (patron saint of children, engaged couples and gardeners), St. Pasqual (patron saint of cooks and kitchens), St. Cayetano (patron saint of gamblers) and her favorite, the Virgin of Guadalupe. She began exhibiting at Spanish Market in 1974.
A popular and well-known “santera”, Jones participated in Spanish Market each summer from 1974 until her retirement in 2003. Creative and innovative, she was the recipient of many major awards throughout her career. She was best known for her original concept of combining tin altar screens with painted and hand carved figures and creating highly detailed and colorful wooden retablos. Her works have been featured in many books and magazines, including Arte del Espirito; Across Frontiers; The Saint Makers, and Chicana Traditions: Continuity and Change.
In 2000 she was honored by the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC, at their exhibit, “Santos: Substance and Soul.” Her works are in major museum and private collections, including the Museum of International Folk Art, Museum of Spanish Colonial Art, Millicent Rogers Museum, the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, Albuquerque Museum and others.
(Harwood Museum of Art)
In the 1970s, López, then a carpenter, began making jewelry. By 1981, his mastery of Spanish colonial metalworking methods had spurred a revival of that craft. He expanded his repertoire to include silver hollowware candlesticks, ecclesiastic vessels such as chalices, and domestic utensils. After studying the works of the nineteenth-century master santeros, he began to carve and paint using traditional hand-adzing and polychrome techniques to create retablos (two-dimensional portrayals of saints and other sacred images, usually on wood panels), bultos (three-dimensional images), and reredos (large carved and painted altar screens). He coats local aspen or piñon pine with gesso made from gypsum and rabbit-skin glue and works directly on the wood with paint he makes from natural pigments and dyes. His metalwork, carving, and painting skills are now also employed in the creation of diminutive relicarios, metal-framed images painted on wood, often with a hidden drawer at the bottom to hold a rosary. In addition, he has taken up the rare colonial art of hide painting.
In all that he does, López credits his cultural heritage and the earlier generations of masters that set the standards toward which he strives: "My traditional work lets me see how influenced I really was by my heritage, my history. It showed me my roots in this area — opened my eyes. It's all inspired by my upbringing here, my Catholic religion and my interest in the churches of New Mexico, with all their beautiful altar screens. I want to achieve the level of quality of those old masters — what they captured on wood, emotions so powerful, so moving."
López has passed his skills on to his four children and has served as a master artist in the New Mexico Arts Division's state folk arts apprenticeship program. He has won Santa Fe's Spanish Colonial Market's grand prize and first prize on many occasions and has exhibited widely in dozens of venues, including the Albuquerque Museum, the Taylor Museum in Colorado Springs, the New Mexico State Capitol and the Smithsonian Institution.
bio: National Endowment For The Arts
The craft employs the use of straw to emulate gold leaf in the decoration of crosses and retablos (religious screens) found in the churches.
No one knows exactly when straw appliqué art arrived in New Mexico. Noted folk-arts scholar E. Boyd, in her 1959 booklet Popular Arts of Colonial New Mexico, claimed that the Moors taught straw art to the Spanish, and that the Spanish then brought it to their northern colony. The claim is entirely possible, but Spain and the Moors were not the only Europeans working in the medium: both Belarus and Poland have a long history of making intricate art pieces using straw. The process also exists in the Netherlands and the Peterborough Museum in England has a collection of straw inlay art created by French prisoners during the French Revolution.
Although straw appliqué crosses are attributed to the Spanish colonists, it was the Pueblo of Santa Ana, where artists continued to make straw boxes and crosses and still practice this art form today, that likely kept this art form from completely dying out in the early twentieth century. However, credit for the revival is typically given to the WPA (Works Progress Administration) and Eliseo and Paula Rodriguez for rescuing the art form from oblivion in the 1930s.
In 1936, Eliseo was hired by the Federal Art Project, a part of the Works Progress Administration. Project director Russell Vernon Hunter asked Eliseo to revive straw appliqué, an almost extinct art form that had flourished in northern New Mexico in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. By a painstaking process of trial and error, Eliseo learned the technique, teaching it to his wife.
When the Museum of International Folk Art opened in 1953, the Rodriguezes finally got a chance to see earlier examples of the art form and learned that they had done a good job of imagining it. Nonetheless, they continued to refine their technique and to expand beyond the traditional geometric designs, integrating narrative, figurative imagery into the objects they created.
Together they researched, experimented and refined the craft and it became their creative passion, teaching their children and grandchildren the technique as well.
The couple showcased their work at the Spanish Colonial Arts Society's Spanish Market and conducted workshops in straw appliqué at the Museum of International Folk Art and at the New Mexico State Fair. In 1994, Paula was honored with a Governor's Award for Excellence in the Arts and in 2004 the couple received a National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellowship.
Both she and her husband’s work have been collected by the Smithsonian Institution, the Millicent Rogers Museum, the Museum of International Folk Art, and the Albuquerque Museum. Private collectors from the United States, Europe and Mexico have purchased their work.
Sources: askArt, Santa Fe Living Treasures, The New Mexican, Windsor Betts, U.S. Department of State, Masters of Traditional Arts.org
Her acrylic painting “ Autumn Sunset In The Land of Enchantment” was chosen as the official poster for the 2016 Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta.
Her focus in the past 20 years has been in the Spanish Colonial art forms, including retablos and tin work.
The New Deal programs administered throughout the country were especially needed in New Mexico and particularly in rural villages. Perhaps the best known of the back-to-work projects was New Mexico's various arts and crafts projects. The most ambitious of these in New Mexico was the Federal Art Project (FAP) under the direction of Russell Vernon Hunter, who also supported New Mexico artist Patrocino Barela.