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Charles M. Carrillo has blended craft, conservation, and innovation throughout his career as a santero — a “saintmaker,” or carver and painter of images of saints. Carrillo started his creative journey in 1978 when he began researching the techniques, materials, and subject matter of the early santeros. Today he is recognized not only as the primary authority on this subject but also as the most accomplished artist practicing in this regional tradition.
Carrillo has won many awards, including the Museum of International Folk Art’s Hispanic Heritage Award, as well as numerous First Place, Best of Show, and Grand Prize entries in the Annual Traditional Spanish Market in Santa Fe, where he has been a participant for more than 20 years.
In 2006, he received the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Spanish Market and the prestigious NEA National Heritage Fellowship. His work is exhibited in many major museums including The Heard Museum, Denver Art Museum, Regis University, Albuquerque Museum, Museum of Spanish Colonial Art and the Smithsonian.
In addition to his work as an artist, Carrillo is a scholar, teacher and lecturer. He earned his doctorate in anthropology/archaeology from the University of New Mexico and works as an adjunct professor in the University of New Mexico’s Religious Studies Program. Carrillo is the author of Hispanic New Mexican Pottery (1996) and A Tapestry of Kinship (co-authored with Jose Antonio Esquibel, 2004). He has also written many articles on New Mexico art and culture. Carrillo’s commitment to tradition and native techniques and values has led him to work within the religious community of northern New Mexico as an artist, an advocate and a mentor.
The depiction of saints for religious purposes dates to the 18th century in Hispanic New Mexican communities. Much attention has been focused on the arts of 18th and 19th century New Mexico. This period, prior to statehood in 1912, is termed “colonial” and benefited from the creative and religious culture of the region. Retablos, painted panels, depicting the various saints worshipped in the churches and private homes, were an important part of this rich history.
The following is a description of his work by the artist:
“My ancestors gave my family the traditions and gift of devotion to the saints, heavenly intercessors for humans. An old dicho or saying from New Mexico states, “A cada santo se llega su function” — there is a saint for each day. Consequently, we believe there is a saint for all needs or situations. The saints I make — both retablos (panel paintings) and bultos (statues) are made in the 18th century colonial tradition.
Retablos are painted on hand adzed pine panels coated with homemade gypsum. The panels are painted with homemade water-based colors derived from plant dyes, mineral and clay pigments, and insect dyes. A homemade piñon sap varnish seals the colors. A final coat of natural beeswax seals the finished painting. The same procedure is executed for the carved wooden statues known as “bultos.” These bultos are typically carved from cottonwood root. I prefer “jelutung” an Indonesian wood that is stable. My retablos reflect the traditions of the great master santeros (saintmakers) of colonial New Mexico, including Bernardo Miera y Pacheco, the Laguna Santero, Molleno, Jose Aragon, Jose Rafael Aragon, Jose Manuel Benavides. For the past four years, I have made “Saints on Wheels” — contemporary expressions of saints depicted in classic cars and vintage trucks. I can tell the stories of the saints in a fun way!”
To see more of his work, visit charlesmcarrillo.com.
The work of the artist will be on view through May 2 during regular library hours.
Mesa Public Library is also pleased to welcome Charles Carrillo to this season’s Quotes: Series. He will be appearing on Thursday, April 24 for the evening Authors Speak event.
Quotes: The Authors Speak Series is a monthly event featuring New Mexico’s authors speaking about their writing on a variety of subjects such as local and state history, travel, outdoor activities, New Mexico fiction, arts and culture, poetry and more. The series is funded by the Friends of Los Alamos County Libraries. The talks are free and begin at 7 p.m., followed by the opportunity to meet the authors and refreshments are served.