José Rafael Aragón
Active 1820-1862

A prolific and popular artist of the early nineteenth-century, the work of José Rafael Aragón is considered the pinnacle of the art of the santero in northern New Mexico. Evidence shows that he was active for nearly fifty years, from 1820 to 1862 and was listed as a resident of the barrio de San Francisco in 1821 and 1823, which was, the woodworkers' district of Santa Fe and a block to the east of Saint Francis Cathedral.

Rafael Aragón was responsible for numerous monumental altar screens and carved images throughout northern New Mexico, many of which suggest the help of other hands. It is probable that he worked with family members and other artists, as in a taller or informal guild.

One of his first commissions, between 1820 and 1826, was the altar screen in the church of San Lorenzo at Picurís Pueblo. Around 1835, he moved to a new home in the village of Quemado, later named Córdova, New Mexico. There he carved and painted the main altar of the Church of San Antonio, and this became one of many projects that built his reputation throughout the Santa Cruz Valley. He did work in most of the churches in the area including Santa Cruz, El Valle, Truchas, Chimayó, Hernández, and Pojoaque. He also worked in the Taos area.

José Rafael Aragón’s style has been defined by the style of his few signed pieces. His sculptural figures are noted for his creative decorative motifs, color contrasts, elongated and graceful proportions, delicate features and a distinctive bump on the nose.