Object: Figurine

E/2004/7/5
Spanish: Carved figurine
North America, New Mexico
Materials: Wood

Spanish colonial influence on New Mexican religious ideals were passed on through wood carvings called Santos.  A Santos is a wood carving of a saint or a religious figure such as Mary or Jesus, and was used to pass on the catholic faith to the people of New Mexico during the 1700’s.  Originally Franciscan monks created these Santos but after continued hardship and conflict with local Indian tribes, the Spanish withdrew their missionaries (the original craftspeople of the Santos).  Local artisans began to craft these wooden figures and perfected the skill over the centuries.  The saints represented humans who walked the earth and lived exemplary lives.  To these saints, people could pray and put forth their concerns and earthly worries to a figure who could understand the trials of humanity.  In an inhospitable environment, the Santos were to whom the worries of one’s continued existence and prosperity could be placed.  Eventually Santos came to represent not only saints but religious ideals as well.

In the town of Cordova, New Mexico, a lineage of Santeros passed their craft from generation to generation.  The Lopez family became synonymous as master craftspeople of this art.  George Lopez, the crafter of the featured Santos, tree of life, and shown in the above picture, was a seventh generation Santero.  He learned from his father, Jose Dolores Lopez, an accomplished and revered Santero, the tradition of woodcarving.  George did not immediately take on the family craft, rather, he found his way working the railroads.  Eventually he quit all other occupations and made woodcarving his primary source of income.  A novel profession, santeros were part time carvers, requiring other work to support their families.  George committed himself to becoming as good a Santero as his father.  He succeeded in not only matching his father’s skill but obtaining a level of fame and interest into the art of Santos carving that paved the way for new a generation of Santeros.

[Stephanie Adams]

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