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One of the most far-reaching exhibits of New Mexico animal wood carvings, “Wooden Menagerie: Made in New Mexico,” debuts at the Museum of International Folk Art on April 6 with 107 artworks made by such masters as Felipe Archuleta, Patrociñio Barela, and José Dolores López. The exhibition runs through Feb. 15, 2015.
The artworks range from narrative-to-abstracted in style, and include birds, reptiles, fish, cattle, an alligator that is almost smiling and a whimsical blue deer. These mixed-media carvings were created from elm and cottonwood along with glass marbles, leftover yellow paint from painting highway lines (utilized by Archuleta for a cheetah), broom bristles, dog hair (it is said that Archuleta would befriend stray dogs if he needed hair for, perhaps, a bear carving), rope, metal, leather, nails, sawdust and wood shavings.
Animal woodcarving is a Hispano tradition going back to the 1700s in New Mexico.
The exhibit is divided into several sections. The early-to-mid 1900s “Heritage” focuses on the works of Celso Gallegos, Jóse Dolores López, and famed modernist Patrociñio Barela. According to MOIFA guest curator Andrew John Cecil, who has been working on the show for almost a year, “Barela was the first Hispano woodcarver lionized by the contemporary art world.”
The section “A Miracle from God: Felipe Archuleta,” is the central segment of the exhibition, with 48 pieces from Archuleta and his workshop, including pieces worked on by his son, Leroy Archuleta and his grandson Ron Archuleta Rodríguez, who began working at the workshop when he was 8 years old. Beginning with sheep, burros, oxen and pigs observed from daily life, Archuleta’s animal carvings drew on his rural New Mexican heritage to communicate a sense of how humanity connects with animals.
As global media arose in the 20th century, Archuleta gained a larger worldview through television, magazines and children’s books. He began portraying more exotic animals such as giraffes, elephants and tigers. Contemporary woodworkers who will be spotlighted in the show include Gloria López Córdova, Ron Archuleta Rodríguez, Arthur López and Luis Tapia.
“There is a sense of personification and the animism is really powerful in these works. The contemporary art world is always looking for pure expression. These artworks not only use animal imagery but are transforming it into new, innovative forms,” Cecil said.
There will be a free to the public opening reception from 1-4 p.m. April 6 with artists Rodríguez, Davila and Tapia in attendance. Public programs include a mask-making workshop, an artists’ panel with contemporary carvers, and a panel of national figures discussing the importance of New Mexican animal woodcarvings.
Artworks featured in the show were obtained from the MOIFA collection, Spanish Colonial Art Museum collection, Albuquerque Museum, Roswell Museum and Art Center and private collectors including Santa Fe Style author Christine Mather.