Spanish Market: Preserving living history
Through standards and support for age-old traditions, the market encourages creation of artworks and styles harking back to the colonial era
The Spanish Colonial Arts Society (SCAS), host of SpanishMarket, strives to keep NewMexico’s cultural heritage and traditions alive through its many programs — plus a look at the outstanding exhibitions at itsMuseum of Spanish Colonial Arts (MoSCA) and a sidebar on its role in preserving the venerable Santuario de Chimayó. By ArinMcKenna
Those new to SpanishMarket may see a simple, stylized retablo (two-dimensional image on wood) for the first time and equate it to a mass-produced replica they spotted at a tourist shop. But the story behind the work of art is far more complex than they might imagine.
“Everybody who is part of this market is working in a way that their forbears 200 years ago would instantly recognize,” says David F. Setford, executive director of the annual event’s sponsor, the Spanish Colonial Arts Society (SCAS). “Two hundred years ago they didn’t have craft shops. They didn’t have lumberyards. They didn’t have tubes of paint. They didn’t have a lot of the wonderful conveniences that contemporary artists today do have. Today’s artists have to follow process and practice that are tried and true, which means that a great many of these images which embody these traditions — whether it’s a painting or whether it’s a sculpture or a bulto (a three- dimensional image) or whatever we’re talking about — takes a heck of a lot more time than anybody knows.”
The artist must first find the right type of wood, adze it into the desired shape and then apply layers of rabbit-hide gesso he or she has prepared. Although many artists mix their paints from purchased pigments, some spend hours tramping to remote locations to collect earth pigments, extracting golden hues from marigolds or chamisa blossoms, or mixing carbon soot with a viscous agent to achieve black. Their varnish is piñon sap they have gathered and rendered.
“This is very different from contemporary practice. It’s about preserving the traditions, and it’s very different from tourist stuff that people see in stores in other parts of the world,” Setford explains. “And it’s worth paying an extra hundred bucks for, because you go home with a real piece of living history.”
Setford notes that the sale of a 6-by-6-inch retablo may earn the artist only a minimumwage return once all the hours are tallied up. The SCAS wants to ensure artists can earn a living while preserving this art form.
Meeting market standards
To maintain market standards, every artist must not only jury into the event on his or her first foray but must re-jury every three years. New artists must have a market artist mentor.
The participation of young artists in the Youth Market is another means of preserving what Setford calls “some of the unique art traditions in the world.” Approximately 50 youth ranging from age 7 to 17 are mentored by market artists and must adhere to the same standards as their adult counterparts. “This is one of the principal ways we manage to preserve these traditions and make sure they’re passed down to the next generation,” Setford says. Some youth artists transition immediately into the adult market, some leave and return a few years later and others never touch art again.
“But they’ve learned something incredible in the process of being a YouthMarket artist, which is all about the traditions and Spanish colonial art and history and culture and what their connection to that is,” Setford notes.
The SCAS also sponsors arts education in classrooms in Santa Fe, Albuquerque and Las Cruces, including classes for at-risk youth at Santa Fe County’s Youth Development Program.
“While they’re teaching how you carve a bulto or how you paint a retablo or how you do tinwork, they’re talking about a lot more than just the art,” Setford says. “They’re talking
about culture; they’re talking about history; they’re talking about people’s places in the modern world.”
It all circles back to SCAS’ mission to preserve and promote, as it works to keep New Mexico’s Spanish colonial arts alive for another 250 years.
Role with Santuario de Chimayó
This year the Spanish Colonial Arts Society, the sponsor of Spanish Market, is celebrating the 200th anniversary of the Santuario de Nuestro Señor de Esquipulas — better known as the Santuario de Chimayó — and SCAS’ role in its preservation.
“If it weren’t for the Spanish Colonial Arts Society, the santuario probably wouldn’t be there now,” says SCAS executive director David F. Setford. The capilla (chapel) — built in 1816 by Don Bernardo Abeyta — has been associated with miraculous healings and pilgrimages since soon after its inception. After Abeyta’s death in 1856, the family-owned chapel began a slow decline. By 1929, Abeyta’s descendants had fallen on hard times and began to sell some of the images and furniture that adorned the santuario.
Santa Fe architect John Gaw Meem was appalled when the family offered to sell him the church’s ornately carved wooden doors. He appealed to fellow members of the Society for the Revival of Spanish Arts, who collaborated with the fledgling Society for the Restoration and Preservation of Spanish Missions of New Mexico, to raise $6,000 to purchase the entire chapel. They succeeded and immediately deeded it to the Archdiocese of Santa Fe.
The two societies combined and incorporated as the Spanish Colonial Arts Society that same year.
“What incredible foresight they (our founders) showed, and how many hundreds and thousands of people have benefitted by that one single act of generosity?” Setford asks. “I can’t think of anything else offhand with a similar impact.”
SCAS’ intervention is likely the reason this prime example of a 19th-century Spanish colonial capilla remains virtually intact. Charles M. Carrillo and Felipe Mirabal studied early inventories of the capilla’s artwork for their upcoming book, which they plan to title A Promise Fulfilled: 200 years of the Santuario de Nuestro Señor de Esquipulas when it’s published next summer, and found that the only significant pieces missing are the choir loft and a tall pulpit.
To honor the bonds between the SCAS and the santuario, the Museum of Spanish Colonial Art in Santa Fe has devoted this year’s exhibits to the chapel and the village of Chimayó.
Chimayó: A Pilgrimage Through Two Centuries relates the chapel’s story through photographs, historical objects — including the 1929 deed donating the santuario to the archdiocese — and santos (carved images of saints) by the santeros who created the santuario’s remarkable altar screens. Photos from the early 1900s show the chapel before the pitched tin roof was added, when “it was much less geometrically aligned than it is now,” Setford says. “Its lines moved like the earth, so it was much more organic.”
The fame of weavers from the village of Chimayó grew with that of the santuario. The exhibit also illustrates that history through historical and contemporary weavings.
In another gallery, artist Frank Zamora has created an artistic rendition of the santuario’s main altar screen, incorporating elements from two of the side altars. Displayed below it is the capilla’s original altar cloth, which Abeyta brought from Mexico in the early 1800s.
The Santuario and the 20th Century also features remarkable images of the chapel painted by 20th century modernists, including works by Gene Kloss, Raymond Jonson and Joseph Bakos. “A lot of people think of Georgia O’Keeffe or Paul Strand or John Marin at the Rancho de Taos church, San Francisco de Asis. But probably more artists went to Chimayó,” Setford notes.
Another gallery holds images of Santo Niño, an aspect of the Christ child beloved in Chimayó. The Santo Niño Chapel is another prominent attraction in the village. Other galleries feature contemporary weavings, carvings, tinwork and other art forms by some of Chimayó’s most prominent artists.
The Chimayó exhibits run through April 2017. The Museum of Spanish Colonial Arts (MoSCA) is on Museum Hill in Santa Fe, at 750 Camino Lejo. For further details, call 505-982-2226 or visit www.spanishcolonial.org.