The tradition lives on
By Mardella Abeyta
It is an unusual experience when an artist and a buyer or admirer of art can interact. This unique experience was made possible at the recent Indian-Spanish Fine Arts Market. Nearly one hundred Southwestern artists displayed their exquisite work and discussed the creative process that goes into making it. The market recreates an almost lost tradition of buying-n-selling and, to some extent, bartering. The market provides a designated time and space for people to socialize and make human contact through conversation. In our mass-producing society, the customer is far removed from how items he/she consumes are made, and even farther removed from how they are imagined--the human dimension of creativity has become non-existent in today's supercenters. Thus by being able to discuss with an
artist how he made a particular art piece, even if it's only once a year, the tradition of the market is kept alive.
Besides continuing a tradition and introducing artists to the public, the dynamics of the IndianSpanish market offered much more. From each art piece displayed, like a hyper-text, one could learn about the culture, history, religion, belief systems, natural environment, and technical skills that each piece embodies--each piece has its own story to tell. In three days there wasn't enough time to learn all the stories. However, there was one story that one could not miss, the story of Patrocinio Barela. Barela is recognized as the most important Mexican-American artist from northern New Mexico. He was born in Bisbee, Arizona around 1900 but in 1908 he moved with his father to Taos. Working as an itinerant laborer during the Great Depression, he spent sometime in Monte Vista.
His career as a carver began in 193 1. He was the first santero (carver of saints) to carve santos (saints) in cedro (cedar). His work has been compared to Pablo Picasso. Barela blurred the distinction between folk art and fine art. In 1936 his work was exhibited in places--where artist aspire to exhibit their work--such as the Museum of Modem Art in New York City and the National Museum in Washington, D.C. Barela's style has inspired three new generations that continue the cedro santero tradition in Taos, New Mexico.
Witnessing the exhibition of the continuation of tradition all in one given space is a once in a live time experience. Among the works of Patrocinio were those of his grandsons, Luis and Carlos Barela, and their sons. In addition, there were Daniel Rael's work who is married to Pat Barela, the granddaughter of Patrocinio, and works of Patrocinio's proteges. Pat is also beginning to take up woodcarving. To personalize the legacy of the famous artist, Pat gave a presentation on the life of her famous grandfather and shared quotes of her grandfather talking about how he viewed his own work. Although the contemporary Barela carvers continue their grandfather's style, each has their own distinctive style. It might be in the form, the image itself, or in aspects of the form such as how they
utilize the grain and colors of the cedar. Nevertheless, the medium--cedar wood and a sense of place, the Taos area- -remains the binding constant among the Barela family. A special guest at the exhibit was Vicente M. Martínez , also from Taos. Martínez is the Barela project director and curator of the first Chicano organized exhibition of Barela's work.
The Barela exhibit was a visual and verbal testimony to the meaning of tradition. Similar experiences could be found with each art piece displayed at the market, if one engaged the story being told through the image. For example the stories told through the sandpainting of Rosie Yellowhair from Fruitland, New Mexico. Each grain of sand placed intricately in relationship to other grains of sand creating colorful images that tell traditional Navajo ceremonial stories. Engaging in the stories whether through the art or with the artist, captures the special meaning of the market and the object and/or memories one chooses to make their own.