Introduction: Uniquely New Mexican Treasures

Separated from the Viceroyalty in Mexico City by distance, geography, and climate, New Mexico's settlers and their descendents produced a unique culture combining traditions of the Old and the New World. No better example of this tradition can be found than santos (saints), New Mexican images of religious devotion. Derived from broad traditions of Christian images, New Mexican santeros (saint-makers) "translated" Old World images into a distinctive New Mexican santo style.

Beginning in the seventeenth century, Spanish Franciscan friars in New Mexico imported Baroque religious oil paintings, popular prints, and a limited number of sculptures from Europe and Mexico to adorn the newly built missions. Early New Mexican santos reflected the same subjects and iconography as their Spanish origins and Mexican colonial counterparts, fulfilling the need for personal devotional objects and ecclesiastical (church) décor.

By the late eighteenth century, New Mexican santeros created a local version of the baroque style. These mostly self-taught artists used the same pine, aspen, and cottonwood roots that Native Americans used. Pigments for painting combined mineral and plant materials used by Pueblo Indians. Santeros also adopted the native practice of using tanned buckskin as a painting surface to create images of saints on hide. The result of this fusion was thoroughly original in style, and the works of New Mexican santeros were placed alongside imported religious objects in churches, chapels and private homes.

Three types of santos are generally found: bultos - three-dimensional figures carved of wood, coated with yeso (white gypsum), and painted with water-soluble paint; retablos - paintings on yeso-coated pine panels; and paintings on animal skins with water-soluble paint.


Curator's Introduction Video
Curator's Introduction

Collector's Interview Video
Collector's Interview

Gallery Tour Video
Gallery Tour