Meet the Santeros

Photo Gallery

The Smithsonian Center for Materials Research and Education (SCMRE) invites the public to meet Victor Goler, Krissa Maria López, and Félix A. López at the Smithsonian Institution’s Arts and Industries Building on Saturday, January 6, 2001, from 2-4 pm. The three santeros will have samples of their artwork on display, will be demonstrating their art, and will be available to answer questions. Mr. Goler, a New Mexican santero, is one of nine renowned living artists whose work is featured along with many historical santos dating from the 17th century to the present in the exhibit Santos: Substance & Soul, also at the Arts and Industries Building through March 31, 2001. Ms. López and Mr. López are award-winning santeros in the traditional New Mexican style, and their santos are in many museum collections.

Santeros are artists who carve and paint santos, images of saints, reflecting one of the oldest living traditions of religious devotion practiced by Hispanic Americans. Carving santos is an enduring Latino tradition from Central and South America, the American Southwest, the Caribbean, the Philippines, and Spain.

Victor Goler was raised in Santa Fe among a family of art conservators and restorers. His early years were spent apprenticing in his family’s studios, where he was taught to carve, becoming the gateway to his interest in saints. In 1986, after graduating from college, he opened his own conservation studio specializing in New Mexican santos and began creating his own bultos and retablos. "The research behind the lives of saints constantly keeps me in touch with the spiritual aspect of my work... Exploring the art of saint-makers throughout the centuries and meeting and studying my contemporary artists... is a wonderful way to immerse myself deeper in my own work."

Victor’s work is considered to be progressive as it changes in its intricacies of design and complexities of theme. His increasing knowledge of iconography and religious themes as well as his growing ability to manipulate his medium have made him a popular sculptor. His skills as a wood carver have made him an award-winning artist and his work can be found in numerous publications, museums and churches across the country.

Félix López is part of the older generation that helped preserve the tradition of the santero during the turbulent years of the 1960s and 1970s. He is one of the most accomplished artists of his generation, a teacher and inspiration to the generations that have followed him. According to López, he lost touch with an important part of his Hispanic roots while in college - the saints that stood by him during his youth. He rediscovered them at the funeral of his father in 1975. Félix López became a santero, and, through his work, López has been an instrumental leader and teacher, helping to restore the prestige of a profession that had all but been abandoned by the late 1970s. López has long been a member of an informal group of woodcarvers, known as La Escuelita, which encourages members to work at traditional Spanish Colonial arts. But López believes in a "living tradition, including innovation" that will attract the youth of today while at the same time demonstrating respect for the generations that came before. His colors are vibrant, subtle, and, while for the most part traditional, may differ somewhat from the mixtures used by the santeros in Spanish Colonial times.

Krissa Maria López, the daughter of Félix López, is a shining star among the next generation of santeras working "to keep the faith alive." López is also a hardworking santera devoted to her religion and her craft. Félix López made sure his daughter was well-grounded in her culture. "The saints and angels have always been around me," she states. "They are at my grandmother’s house, they are in my dreams, and so it is only natural for me to paint them." At present, López is painting retablos with elegantly carved and painted frames. López’s style is contemporary in feeling, but it is based on tradition; her colors are more modern than those of her father - brighter and livelier. She also experiments with new materials; for example, she adds mica to her paint to give it sparkle and outlines with gold dust to make figures come alive.

Biographical information obtained from "The Saint Makers: Contemporary Santeras y Santeros," Chuck & Jan Rosenak, Northland Publishing, 1998.

Tour Schedule of Exhibit:

  • Smithsonian Institution, Arts and Industries Building, Washington, DC, September 17, 2000 - March 31, 2001
  • National Hispanic Cultural Center, Albuquerque, NM, June 22, 2001 - November 4, 2001
  • Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico, San Juan, PR, December 14, 2001 - June 9, 2002

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