Exhibition of northern New Mexico wood carving in Santa Fe

Northern New Mexico is rich with history, culture, and artistic traditions which have been passed down from generation to generation. One of these traditions is the art of wood carving. With the Grain, the latest exhibition at New Mexico Museum of Art, explores the dialogue between New Mexico wood carving artists and their materials.

The exhibition of modern and contemporary Hispanic carvers in Northern New Mexico will be on view through September 4, 2023. 

With the Grain focuses on the story of Northern New Mexico wood carving and the deep-rooted relationship wood carvers have with the materials they use to form their art. Carvers use the materials that surround them such as ponderosa, aspen, and cottonwood to fashion saints, religious figures, trees, animals, and so much more.  

José Dolores López (1868-1937) of Cordova drew on the traditions of the early santeros (saint makers) such as José Aragón and José Rafael Aragón and began santo carving. Santos are retablos and bultos, typically depicting saints. Upon the suggestion that the market would have more interest in unpainted figures, he presented his work in its original unfinished state.  

“Their style was to work with the nature and imperfections of the wood, incorporating the twists and turns, the knots and cracks, to create unique pieces that would never be reproduced.” Christian Waguespack, curator of 20th Century Art, said. “This exhibition will offer a look at the unique ways these modern and contemporary New Mexican artist’s work in harmony with their materials and with the natural environment.” 

Patrocinio Barela (1900-1964) was a key figure in this genre and his legacy continues to inform artists’ practices today. 35 of his sculptures are included in this exhibition. What set Barela apart from the majority of 20th century santeros was how he took the modern approach and followed the grain of the wood using the natural forms, curves, and bumps to inform the shape of his pieces.   

“Although it may not have been intentional, Barela created a legacy that continues to this day,” Dr. Mark White, Executive Director, said. “‘With the Grain’ will offer audiences a testament to just how influential Barela remains and the vitality of Northern New Mexico wood carving.” 

The artistic traditions of Northern New Mexico wood carving continue as they have for generations through sons, daughters, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. The contemporary section of this exhibition will show that the art of wood carving is still thriving in New Mexico. Each generation carries with them the past, present, and future of New Mexican santeros. Contemporary elements are being added like new subject matter and new finishes, and the works have started to find new context.  

About The New Mexico Museum of Art   

The New Mexico Museum of Art is a division of the Department of Cultural Affairs. Programs and exhibits are supported by the Museum of New Mexico Foundation and its donors.

The mission of the Museum of Art is to create authentic experiences that foster a deeper understanding and enjoyment of art throughout our state.

With a collection of more than 20,000 pieces of work, the museum brings the art of the world to New Mexico and the art of New Mexico to the world.   

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