Anima! The Heart and Spirit of Spanish Colonial Art
Profiles of three class winners of 2016: Patricio Chavez, Onofre Lucero and Roxanne Shaw- Galindo.
As artists prepare for Spanish Market, households and studios across the Nuevomexico homeland begin to fill with the supplies needed to create the artwork. There might be piles of cottonwood branches leaned up against a wall like ancianos waiting to tell their stories. Carving tools are being sharpened and oiled in preparation. Dried flowers and clays are reconstituted into the palette of saints. This process of making ready for use, for composing, gives New Mexico artists the anima to get to work.
If you’ve never heard that word before, anima literally translates from Spanish to English as “spirit.” In the Norte, anima is common vernacular for that ethereal force that gives us the underlying motivation to bring our faith to our daily work. You can be full of it, as in “I’m all anima’o to start painting!” It can set a mood: “Estoy con el
ánimo para tallar” (I’m with the spirit to carve). And for the artists of SpanishMarket, anima can be understood as the drive that keeps them creating beautiful devotions in the intergenerational practice of taking found materials and transforming them into works of art.
The artists featured below, each a major award winner at the 2016 event, know that Spanish colonial art is a work of the heart; it might be something that we learned from our grandparents. The faith lives on in each piece, and it is how we keep culture alive.
Onofre Lucero, Aztec, New Mexico
Large Retablos Award, Altar Screen Award and E. BoydMemorial Award Onofre Lucero was born in Albuquerque. He came from a modest household rich with creativity, tradition and faith. Some of his
earliest memories of creating art came from his parents. His mother loved to paint with oils, and when Onofre was little, he would ask to paint alongside her. And when he and his siblings pretended to be cowboys and couldn’t afford cap guns, their father would carve them small wooden guns to play with. He also taught them how to carve wooden soldiers.
What he most fondly remembers is how his mother created beautiful Christmas ornaments. She grew up on a homestead in Gobernador, near Dulce, and Lucero remembers that she would talk about how they made their paints, how they had to make do with what they had. Lucero cherishes his collection of ornaments, some that are 30, 40, even 50 years old. His primary influences come from his family, their Catholic devotions and the beauty of their everyday practices.
The artwork that he does now, he reflects, “has to come from the heart, because you are working with memories that your mom and dad gave you. And when you carve something, you put your heart — you put them — into it.” Lucero likens the work to the telling of a good story. “When you read a good story, you become part of it. That’s the way art becomes; you work and become part of that painting.” He strives to create unique and original pieces each time he sits down to carve, always attempting to do his best work in the moment.
When looking at his work, you will notice that each piece is unique; you won’t see the same rosette or design twice. He is dedicated to creating an experience for his patrons, one that draws them closer to the faith in which the artwork is founded. Lucero believes that the labor of love, the anima that he puts into his pieces, draws him closer to his beliefs and brings other people into what he sees. His hope is that whoever ends ups with his art can see their own faith as a reflection. When it is all said and done, the artist humbly asserts, “I hope I can pass something on to my family, that they will remember their Tío Onofre and they will be inspired to do something.”
Onofre Lucero can be reached at 505-836-9651.
Patricio Chávez, Chimayó, New Mexico
Unpainted Relief Panels Award and Leo Salazar Award for Unpainted Relief Carving Patricio Chávez comes from a long line of santeros. Growing up around art, he was motivated to study painting in college. But after college, he had the anima to learn his father’s craft, woodcarving. He began a deep study by apprenticing with his father, who introduced him to the late, great Luisito Lujan and other “old-time” wood carvers in the area. In this school, he learned that reverence for resources, the camaraderie of collaboration and connection to the sacred were all part of the mastery of this form.
“We collect local woods: juniper, a cousin of cedar, and the cottonwood. We go up and down the Río Grande looking for the wood. It’s funny, but you can really get into the wood.”
Chávez reflects that he’s painted santos and retablos before but that unpainted carving is a niche that he fell into. “It chose me, and I’ll keep it up. I started with a piece of cedar my dad gave me, and I could see the beauty in the wood.” Patricio’s carved version of The Last
Supper earned him entry into Spanish Market. He appreciates the nuances of wood grain and says that they influence the details that he coaxes from their form. It’s a connection that reminds him of the spiritual dimensions of carving.
He reflects, “It’s a sacred image. There’s that energy. It’s very spiritual and emotional. We put our heart and soul into it. That’s also energy. And then whoever buys it, they usually have it blessed. So it’s triply blessed.” When a piece is finished, he reflects on the hours and days that went into it. Beyond that, he reflects on the lineage of artists who came before him: “I feel like I am walking in my grandfather’s footsteps. I live in his house. My dad lives across the street. I can’t help but think of the five generations of men who did this before me.”
Patricio Chávez can be reached at 505-351-2519.
Roxanne Shaw-Galindo, Nederland, Colorado
Rafael Aragon Award in Retablos “We all have our own techniques,” Roxanne Shaw- Galindo shares about her process, “but I start with the face first. I need someone to talk to, to connect to. I want to connect.”
Shaw- Galindo grew up at Spanish Market; she started as a youth artist and has been in the market for 22 years. Preparing for the market is a season all its own in her household. It starts after Easter, when the artist feels refreshed and motivated to begin preparations. Faith is what keeps Galindo- Shaw painting the santos, because it is also a lot of time and a lot of hard work for this mom with a full-time job.
She starts by prepping all her retablo boards, often about 30. Then she pulls out the trove of paint bases she’s collected throughout the year: cochineal, walnut shells, aspen bark and earthen minerals — all dried up. She fine-grinds the materials and mixes them to create her palette. “The challenge is to make enough to last the season and to keep your paint the exact color. You don’t want to run out of paint, the rabbit-skin glue or piñon sap,” Galindo- Shaw shares.
When she is finished preparing her supplies, she gets to painting. Because of her full-time employment, she must paint in the morning before work and during the evenings and weekends. It is a labor of love. The artist calls upon her own spirituality to guide her through the process, finding continuous anima in her subjects.
“As the [santo’s] eyes come into being, their nose, their hair, I pray to them to help guide me and help me. I pray for the saints. I pray for my family and myself. I pray for the people who will buy the saints. Saints helps us all.” She is passionate for santos but has a soft spot in her heart for San José. “I have a large personal collection of other artists’ work, but I’d say that I have about 100 San Josés. He is the patron saint of my family because he is the patron saint of carpenters and workers. There’s lots of carpenters in the family, a lot of hard workers.”
Roxanne Galindo- Shaw can be reached at email@example.com.
Patricia Trujillo, PhD, is the director of equity and diversity and an associate professor of English and Chicana/o studies at Northern NewMexico College. Trujillo is a faculty adviser for the ¡Sostenga! Farm and serves on the boards of the Northern Rio Grande National Heritage Area, NMWomen.org and TewaWomen United. She is the creative writing editor of “Chicana/Latina Studies,” a national journal housed at University of Texas at San Antonio.