Santos: Substance & Soul

Workshop of Daniel Miguel Sanchez
Workshop of Daniel Miguel Sanchez
José Luis Valentín, 1996, Puerto Rico
Private Collection

Santos, painted wood carvings of saints, represent one of the oldest living traditions of religious devotion practiced by Hispanic Americans.

SANTOS: Substance & Soul is a bilingual national traveling exhibition that interprets the artistic and cultural character manifested in the creation and use of santos.

A powerful expression of Latino heritage and tradition, santo making has flourished in the United States from the 16th century to the present.  This exhibit will reflect the Smithsonian Institution's recognition of the cultural significance of devotional Latino art.

Audiences nationwide will have an opportunity to see the materials and techniques used in the creation of santos, illustrated through objects, artifacts, graphics, and photographs which provide a visual landscape of this important artistic tradition.

The exhibition will feature many bilingual elements, including an interactive educational website, a program catalog, brochures and handouts, demonstrations by master santeros, and educational programs for children.  Preliminary plans are underway for a symposium exploring issues on preservation, history, cultural and social identity, and science presented in the exhibition.

Santo: The Archangel Gabriel                           Xeroradiograph of Santo: The Archangel Gabriel
The Archangel Gabriel, Ecuador, 18th century
Stapleton Collection, National Museum of American History.  
Photograph and xeroradiograph


Exhibition Fact Sheet

Exhibition Description:

SANTOS: Substance & Soul will examine the richness and diversity inherent in the artistry of santo making in Latin America and the United States.  The Smithsonian Center for Materials Research and Education (SCMRE) will offer audiences an interpretation of these cultural icons enriched through their examination by chemical analysis, X-ray imaging, microscopy, and other technical study.  The focus of the exhibition SANTOS: Substance & Soul is the integration of scientific research into the study of cultural expression as related to the creation and use of santos.

This exhibition will center mainly on the cultural traditions of two of the largest Latino populations in the United States, from New Mexico and Puerto Rico, but will also include santos from Central and South America, and the Philippines as points of reference.  The main objective of SANTOS: Substance & Soul is to celebrate a vibrant cultural heritage, reflecting both traditional and contemporary trends in santo making.

Bilingual text panels with graphic illustrations and photographs will complement the 40 objects from the National Museum of American History, the de Saisset Museum, the Albuquerque Museum, the Museo de Arte de Ponce, the Spanish Colonial Arts Society, the Millicent Rogers Museum of Northern New Mexico, and a private collection.  In addition, interactive computer displays will allow exhibit viewers and Internet browsers to view additional information on santo materials, including paint, gold leaf, and wood, and the craft techniques of creating santos; technical and analytical research; microscopic images; historical research and context; religious and devotional meanings; and much more.

SANTOS: Substance & Soul will be augmented by educational programs, demonstrations by santo makers from Puerto Rico and New Mexico, and will feature presentations and lectures on the technical and scientific techniques used for characterization and preservation.

 Santo: Saint Anne with the Virgin and Christ Child  
Microscopic cross section from a santo   Xeroradiograph of santo: Saint Anne with the Virgin and Christ Child
Saint Anne with the Virgin and Christ Child
Puerto Rico, 17th century
Vidal Collection, National Museum of American History
Photograph, microscopic cross section, xeroradiograph

Tour Schedule:

September 17, 2000 - March 31, 2001
Smithsonian Institution
Arts and Industries Building

Washington, DC

National Hispanic Cultural Center June 22, 2001 - November 4, 2001
National Hispanic Cultural Center
Albuquerque, New Mexico


Museo de Arte de Puerto RicoDecember 14, 2001 - June 9, 2002
Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico
San Juan, Puerto Rico


 Santo: Saint Joseph     Close up of Saint Joseph     Fine tool work on gold leaf surface
Saint Joseph
Northern Mexico, 18th-19th century
de Saisset Museum, Santa Clara University
Photograph, close-up and photomicrograph illustrating fine tool work on the gold leaf surface

Information Contacts:

General information:
Ann N'Gadi, Technical Information Specialist, SCMRE
(301) 238-3700 ext. 134; e-mail
Web site:

Press information:
Elizabeth Tait, Smithsonian Institution Office of Public Affairs
(202) 357-2627 ext. 129; e-mail
Web site:

Public information:
Visitor Information and Associates' Reception Center
(202) 357-2987; e-mail
Web site:

Santo: St. Benedict of Palermo    
St. Benedict of Palermo, Brazil, 18th-19th century
Simmons Collection, National Museum of American History

Microscopic view of wood cells   
Microscopic view of wood cells provides for scientific identification of the wood species.

Bulto: The Virgin as Divine Shepherdess   
The Virgin as Divine Shepherdess
José Rafael Aragón
New Mexico, mid 19th century
National Museum of American History

Santo: Holy Child of Cebu   
Holy Child of Cebú, Philippines, 19th century
National Museum of American History