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Ramón José López

Oct. 23, 1951

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Ramón José López of Santa Fe, New Mexico, works in wood, creating carved saints and other sacred images. He also makes objects of silver, such as this processional cross for St. Francis Cathedral. 1992, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
'Cama de Suenos' (Bed of Dreams) by Ramón José López, large, hand-carved, painted with natural pigments and vegetable dyes. Queen-size bed with six images of *santos* painted on hand-carved foot and head board. Buffalo rawhide box spring with two hand-made mattresses of muslin stuffed with the wool from eighteen buffalos. Courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
Ramón José López, Spanish Market, photograph by Mari Lyn Salvador, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
'Santa Maria y Jesus Christo', altar screen by Ramón José López, hand-adzed pine, gesso, polychrome (traditional technique using watercolor pigments of plant and mineral origin), 1987, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts Screen: 8' x 9' x 12' Base: 4" x 12'  x 12"
'Santo Entierro' (The Entombed Christ) by Ramón José López, hand-adzed and carved aspen, gesso, egg tempera and buckskin arms and head of Christo articulated; head on center pivot sepulcher is tendon and mortise, dovetail joints. 1985, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts. Christo: life-size,  8" diameter at head, 6' tall. Sepulcher: 3' x 8' x 3.' Sepulcher stand: 3' x 8' x 3 1/2'
'San Ramon Nonato' (Patron Saint of Midwives and Childbirth) by Ramón José López, hand-adzed and carved aspen, gesso, polychrome, 1986, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
'San Miguel', *bulto* (three-dimensional object) with base by Ramón José López. Hand-carved aspen, gesso, polychrome hand-wrought silver wings, sword and scales. Wings are hinged so they move *bulto* and base. 20" x 6" x 5", 1986, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
'Nuestra Señora del Camino', *escudo* (reliquary) by  Ramón José López. Box and frame: hand-fabricated sterling silver, riveted and soldered. Miniature *retablo*: hand-adzed pine panel, gesso, polychrome. Sheet mica glazing fits in the frame to cover the *retablo*, 6" x 3 1/2" x 1" courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
'San Camilo de Lelis', Patron Saint of Physicians, *escudo* (reliquary) by  Ramón José López. Box and frame: hand-fabricated sterling silver, riveted and soldered. Miniature *retablo*: hand-adzed pine panel, gesso, polychrome. Sheet mica glazing fits in the frame to cover the *retablo*. 6' high x 3 1/2' wide x 1' deep, 1988, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
Silver and gold chalice by Ramón José López, hand-raised from 16 gauge silver with 24K gold plating paten, 1988, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts. Chalice: 10" x 6" diameter at base x 4" diameter at top. Paten: 1/4" x 6"
Large sterling cross (back of 'Ascension' — large sterling cross with mica glazing) by Ramón José López, 20' wide x 32' high x 2' tall, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
'La Familia Sagrada' (The Holy Family) by Ramón José López, in wood encased in sterling silver with mica glazing, 10" x 12"  courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
*Trastero* (side view) by  Ramón José López, designed to hold chalices, vestments, cruets, priest robes, monstrance — pine, tenon mortise joints, hand-adzed timbers, gesso and painted with home-made paints of natural pigments and vegetable dyes. 4 1/2' wide x 89 1/2' high x 55 1/2' wide x 23 3/4' deep, 1993, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
'San Jose y Santo Niño' (St. Joseph and the Christ Child), lithograph by Ramón José López, featured in the exhibit entitled 'Seis Santeros,' at the Tamarind Institute in New Mexico, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts
Ramón José López, courtesy National Endowment for the Arts

Ramón José López of Santa Fe, New Mexico, sees his direct link to tradition in his santero grandfather, who died two years before López was born. He continues to use many of his grandfather's carving tools. Like his grandfather, he is inspired by his deep religious faith and is committed to perpetuating the santero tradition, carving three-dimensional sculptural representations of Catholic saints.

In the 1970s, López, then a carpenter, began making jewelry. By 1981, his mastery of Spanish colonial metalworking methods had spurred a revival of that craft. He expanded his repertoire to include silver hollowware candlesticks, ecclesiastic vessels such as chalices, and domestic utensils. After studying the works of the nineteenth-century master santeros, he began to carve and paint using traditional hand-adzing and polychrome techniques to create retablos (two-dimensional portrayals of saints and other sacred images, usually on wood panels), bultos (three-dimensional images), and reredos (large carved and painted altar screens). He coats local aspen or piñon pine with gesso made from gypsum and rabbit-skin glue and works directly on the wood with paint he makes from natural pigments and dyes. His metalwork, carving and painting skills are now also employed in the creation of diminutive relicarios, metal-framed images painted on wood, often with a hidden drawer at the bottom to hold a rosary. In addition, he has taken up the rare colonial art of hide painting.

In all that he does, López credits his cultural heritage and the earlier generations of masters that set the standards toward which he strives: "My traditional work lets me see how influenced I really was by my heritage, my history. It showed me my roots in this area — opened my eyes. It's all inspired by my upbringing here, my Catholic religion and my interest in the churches of New Mexico, with all their beautiful altar screens. I want to achieve the level of quality of those old masters — what they captured on wood, emotions so powerful, so moving."

López has passed his skills on to his four children and has served as a master artist in the New Mexico Arts Division's state folk arts apprenticeship program. He has won Santa Fe's Spanish Colonial Market's grand prize and first prize on many occasions and has exhibited widely in dozens of venues, including the Albuquerque Museum, the Taylor Museum in Colorado Springs, the New Mexico State Capitol and the Smithsonian Institution.

Bibliography
Brown, Patricia Leigh. "A Renaissance of Hispanic Artistry." New York Times (July 15, 1999) 148: F1.
Conover, Kirsten A. "National Endowment for the Arts Honors American Folk Artists." Christian Science Monitor (June 30, 1997) 89, 150: 15.
Fleming, Jeanie Puleston. "Crafting a New Mexico Tradition." Sunset (November 2000) 205, 5: 52.
Harris, Patricia, and David Lyons. "Memory's Persistence." Americas (November/December 1993) 45, 6: 26.

Watch

Ramón José López interviewed by Nicholas R. Spitzer, 1997 National Heritage Fellowship Concert, Washington, D.C., courtesy National Endowment for the Arts

Listen

Ramón José López, audio biography, produced and recorded by Alan Govenar, edited by Andrew Dean, narrated by Bob Ray Sanders