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Art Categories

The Spanish Colonial period in New Mexico stretched from 1598, when Don Juan de Oñate and a small group of settlers, soldiers and friars established the capital of the province of “Nueva México” at San Juan de los Caballeros (in the area of Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo), to 1821, when Mexico won independence from Spain claiming as well the province of New Mexico and opening the Santa Fe Trail to trade.

During this 223-year colonial era, numerous art forms developed in New Mexico, created with local materials. There were no academically-trained artists on the far northern frontier, but there were imaginative and skilled self-taught artists—often working together in informal workshops—creating masterful works of art whose designs and techniques were drawn from myriad sources. While Spain and Spanish art may have exerted the greatest influence on these works—particularly in the area of religious iconography—trade items from Asia, Europe and the rest of the Americas as well as the art of the nearby Pueblos also wielded great influence, creating a uniquely Hispanic New Mexican aesthetic.

With the opening of the Santa Fe Trail in 1821 enabling trade with the Eastern US, and the arrival of the railroad in 1880, new designs, styles, influences and materials were incorporated into the arts. But many of the basic forms and techniques remained the same. It was not until the late 19th century that the traditional art forms truly began to decline, owing in part to a dwindling market. In the early 20th century, the Spanish Colonial Arts Society stepped in to help provide a market for these traditional arts, with the aim of preserving them for future generations.

Today many talented Hispanic artists create extraordinary work using traditional methods and materials. The Spanish Colonial Arts Society supports their work through education, promotion and of course through the Annual Traditional Spanish Market, a rare opportunity to meet with the artists and see a cross-section of some of the finest contemporary Spanish Colonial artisan’s works being produced in the world.

Below is a list of the art categories into which an artist may be juried for the Traditional Spanish Market.

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Colcha is a type of embroidery that utilizes a long stitch and an angled cross-stitch on flat woven textile backings in linear patterns or overall designs.

The Spanish word colcha means coverlet or counterpane; however, New Mexicans typically call any bed covering a colcha. Textile enthusiasts use the word colcha to identify an embroidery stitch or a finished piece of embroidery in which the colcha stitch is extensively, if not exclusively, employed….The colcha stitch is similar to the basma stitch, an embroidery stitch used by Jewish women making fine silk altar cloths, and to the bokhara stitch, an embroidery stitch used in Turkey prior to the Muslim conquest. Roland F. Dickey [in New Mexico Village Arts] describes the colcha stitch as “…a long, coarse stitch in wool yarn, caught in the middle by a short, horizontal (or diagonal) stitch. The needle is pushed through from the underside of the fabric, passed across the top of the design, and pulled through, leaving a long straight line. Then the needle is brought to the middle of the stitch and passed over it at right angles in a short “step-over” [tie-down stitch] to hold the long stitch flat. Sometimes more than one “step-over” is used to fasten very long stitches.”

There are many theories as to how colcha embroidery evolved. The colonists may have been inspired by the flowers and leaves they saw on East Indian chintz, or indianilla….It is also possible that the Oriental silk shawls imported to isolated outposts of Spain’s new kingdom inspired the settlers to imitate the pretty floral shapes using available, albeit coarser, materials. Many of the designs used in New Mexican colchas, including the double-headed Hapsburg eagle, are found in Spanish and Mexican embroideries. In design and function, the linen and silk embroidery of Spain and Mexico is closely related to the colcha embroidery found in the American Southwest.

--Teresa Archuleta-Sagel, “Textiles,” in Spanish New Mexico: The Spanish Colonial Arts Society Collection (Santa Fe: 1996, pp. 152-154).

Prints made from engraved copper plates using burins or engravers.

Furniture and furnishings are constructed wooden items that are functional and/or decorative. Furniture is generally large functional items such as tables, chairs, beds, and trasteros. Furnishings are generally smaller decorative items such as boxes, picture frames, crosses, and shelves.

Throughout the Spanish world, the construction and form of furniture remained relatively constant through several centuries, with only decorative motifs reflecting changing fashions. The construction and form of New Mexican furniture during the colonial period were based on sixteenth-century Spanish prototypes, adapted to local materials. New Mexican furniture of the colonial period was typically built of ponderosa pine, shaped with an adz, joined with either mortise-and-tenon or dovetail joinery, and decorated with chip-carved and painted designs. Most pieces of New Mexican furniture, like those elsewhere in the Spanish world, were constructed according to a formula based on multiples of the vara, the standard Spanish unit of measure equaling thirty-three inches.

Boxes and chests were the most common items of furniture and served multiple purposes, such as safeguarding valuables, storing food and clothing, supporting boards for dining or sleeping, and providing a surface for writing or sitting. Other items listed in colonial inventories include benches, armchairs, side chairs, tables, cupboards, and hanging shelves or repisas. Styles followed those popular in Spain and Mexico and incorporated Asian and Native American influences as well. Few carpenters are mentioned by name in colonial documents, but both Spanish colonists and Pueblo Indians practiced the trade. The introduction of neoclassical styles to northern Mexico and New Mexico is often credited to Anglo-American merchants traveling from the East over the Santa Fe Trail, but the pervasive presence of the neoclassical style in Mexico from the late eighteenth century on must be acknowledged as the main source of this influence.

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Traders from the eastern United States introduced new tools and materials to New Mexican craftsmen and paved the way for carpenters from the East who immigrated to New Mexico at the same time. When the United States Army of the American West occupied New Mexico in 1846, Anglo-American influence increased. The establishment of the first sawmill in New Mexico made milled lumber available for the first time. New Mexican furniture of the mid-nineteenth century often combines traditional colonial construction elements with decorative techniques made possible by newly available milled lumber and tools, especially jigsaws and molding planes. By the late nineteenth century, decorative elements borrowed from other styles, including Victorian as well as Renaissance, Romanesque, and Gothic revivals, were grafted onto traditional Spanish furniture forms by New Mexican craftsmen, creating a lively and varied new style with an unmistakable character all its own.

Adapted from Donna Pierce, "Furniture," in Spanish New Mexico: the Spanish Colonial Arts Society Collection (Santa Fe: Museum of New Mexico Press, 1996, pp. 61-79).

Gesso reliefs are wooden panels that are built up with gesso to create relief.

In colonial New Mexico, pine was the material most readily available from which to create a flat board. As pine is a brittle wood that splits easily along the grain, it is very difficult to carve an image in relief. Therefore gesso was used to build up relief elements instead of carving.

Paintings on tanned elk, deer and buffalo hide are some of the earliest documented European-style images painted in New Mexico. The Franciscan friars, who usually had a number of missions to oversee, needed easily transportable religious imagery for use in teaching the catechism: paintings on hide were the perfect solution. They were not gessoed, so paint soaked into the hide and would not easily flake off; they were economical, as the material, unlike canvas, was locally available and tanned with a technique perfected by the Plains Indians; and they could be rolled for easy transport. Both textiles and hide paintings were exported to Mexico from New Mexico as early as the 1630s. Although hundreds of painted hides are listed in the documents, fewer than 100 are extant, most of them fragmentary.

Based on religious prints and broadsheets distributed throughout the Americas by the Catholic church, the styles of the paintings generally followed the prevailing Renaissance and Baroque styles of Europe and Mexico. Some images, however, possibly painted by Native artists, include motifs and design elements more common to local indigenous art forms. Those of the early 19th century are painted in the hybrid New Mexico style found predominantly in retablo painting.

A new category, Innovations Within Tradition, allows the artist to “push the envelope” of the artistic traditions and iconography inherent to the cultural heritage of New Mexico. This new category speaks to what is happening today while taking pride in the rich traditions that have been passed down for over 400 years. This new category opens avenues for Market artists who have been participating for two or more years to create and sell hand-made works of art that remain grounded in the artistic expressions of the past, yet are updated and reinterpreted for modern sensibilities.

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"Hand-forged iron is iron that has its cross-section changed by heating to a bright heat and using hammer and anvil, as well as other hand tools, to achieve the desired shape or form. Using punches and stamping tools to decorate or embellish the iron without the use of heat is also forging."

Iron was not mined in the Americas before the arrival of the Spaniards. Gold, silver, copper, and tin were worked by Native Americans into decorative objects and jewelry. A limited number of small bronze tools was produced by Peruvian Incas. Tools of the Pueblo Indians of New Mexico were fashioned from stone. Throughout the colonial period all types of metal objects were important trade items among Spaniards and Pueblo and Plains Indians.

The earliest Spanish explorers, including Cortés, were aware of iron ore deposits in the New World. Ironworking was the first craft to be regulated in New Spain when in 1524 price controls were legislated, but iron was not produced in quantity until after Mexico’s independence in 1821. This was partially the result of the Spanish Crown’s restriction against the production of iron in New Spain, enacted in an effort to protect its own iron industry, and partially the result of the preference in Mexico for extracting valuable silver ore. Consequently, iron and steel were imported from Spain either in bulk form as sheets or in bars or as worked pieces.

Several Spanish settlers who came to New Mexico with the Oñate expedition were trained blacksmiths. Other settlers were capable of making minor items and repairs as well...The friars, however, set up workshops at the missions where the Pueblo Indians were instructed in various trades, particularly blacksmithing and carpentry. Most of the items produced were essential to everyday life--hammers, awls, chisels, stirrups, bits, brands, and kitchen utensils.

--adapted from Donna Pierce, "Utilitarian Implements," in Spanish New Mexico: The Spanish Colonial Arts Society Collection (Santa Fe: Museum of New Mexico Press, 1996, pp. 124-142).

"Painted bultos are three-dimensional, painted wooden sculptures that represent images of Christian iconography."

In New Mexico, images of saints (santos) were known as bultos (sculptures) and retablos (paintings on wood). Local woods–aspen and cottonwood root for bultos and pine for retablos–were used; water-based paints were made from local and imported vegetal and mineral pigments.Religious images were brought to New Mexico by the first settlers in 1598 and were imported throughout the seventeenth century.

Period documents describe the presence of sculptures, paintings on canvas and copper, engravings, gilded tabernacles, and gilded altar screens from Mexico. During the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, most Christian imagery was destroyed.

In the late 1700s increasing numbers of religious images made in New Mexico took their place alongside imported pieces in churches and homes. Grounded in the Spanish Catholic tradition and evolving art styles of Europe, a unique local aesthetic peculiar to New Mexico developed on the northern frontier of New Spain. At least a dozen santeros, or saint-makers, were active in New Mexico by the 1820s and had developed a style that is distinctly New Mexican in character.

--adapted from Donna Pierce, "Saints in New Mexico," in Spanish New Mexico: the Spanish Colonial Arts Society Collection (Santa Fe: Museum of New Mexico Press, 1996, pp. 29-59).

"Painted reliefs are a form of retablos or wooden panels that are painted on one side with images of Christian iconography. Rather than being flat, the panels are carved to create relief."

Pottery consists of utilitarian vessels, primarily used for food storage, preparation and consumption, and other items with more purely decorative value."

Of the 2,500 types of Southwestern pottery identified by archaeologists virtually all are Native American. It is also clear that the development of pottery in Hispanic villages of New Mexico has been prevalent for centuries and that cross cultural borrowing took place with the indigenous population. Utilitarian micaceous pottery was first exhibited at Spanish Market in 1992. This pottery is hand formed by the coil method using material gathered from ancient micaceous clay pits in northern New Mexico.

After thorough drying, the vessels are buffed with sandstone, painstakingly burnished with a smooth stone, then fired outdoors over wood. Gray or black “fireclouds” are produced when burning embers fall against the pottery. This ware can be used for cooking and serving food or purely for decoration.

Retablo is the word used to refer to paintings on wood in New Mexico. This term seems to have become popular in the early 20th century; historically, paintings on wood were listed in colonial documents as pinturas sobre madera (paintings on wood), or something similar. Retablos were typically pine boards that were sawn, adzed, and sanded into shape. They were then covered with a layer of gesso and painted with water-based pigments, most of which were made locally. The retablo tradition in New Mexico began about 1750 and continues to the present day. Historically, virtually all retablos made in New Mexico were religious in subject matter, the images based on traditional Catholic iconography painted in a local style.

Altarscreens

The altar screen as an art form originated in Spain in the 14th century. From there the design, construction, and iconography were brought to the Americas and eventually to New Mexico. The Spanish word for altar screen used in all historic documents is retablo. The main altar screen in a church was often referred to as the retablo mayor (main altar screen); the side or nave altar screens were retablos colaterales (collateral altar screens), sometimes shortened to colaterales. The term “reredos” which has been used in recent years to refer to these screens, is actually from late Middle English, derived from Old French meaning “behind” or “in back of.” This term seems to have been popularized by early 20th century Anglo-American writers supplying Anglo-American terminology for the artwork they found in the Hispanic Southwest. It never appears in colonial documents.

Altar screens are usually composed of multiple images, both paintings and sculptures, set in a wooden framework. The images may be of the Virgin Mary, Christ or the Saints. They may depict individual holy personages or they may combine to tell a story, such as the life of Christ or the miracles performed by a Saint. The central image was (and is) typically the Virgin Mary, Christ, or the patron Saint of the church.

Basketry

A recently recognized revival artform that uses locally found willow branches to weave utilitarian and decorative baskets.

Bonecarving

Forms such as flutes, neck slides, tool handles, finger rings (anillos), figures and tool handles carved from bones.

Leatherwork/Rawhide
Ramilletes

Paper garlands delicately cut to depict stories of faith, celebration or daily life.

strawart02-150x150

Although the historical and artistic evolution of the artform remains undocumented, straw appliqué decoration on chests, boxes, and crosses in New Mexico appears to be a variation of European marquetry work.Marquetry is a method used to decorate a surface with small, thin pieces of variously colored and contrasting materials, such as woods, metals, ivory, bone, tortoiseshell, and mother-of-pearl. In marquetry work two techniques of manufacture are employed.

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One technique is called inlay; the other is called veneer.In inlay, the surface of an object is slighly carved out, leaving shallow cavities in which thin decorative pieces are placed. In veneer marquetry, decorative pieces are fitted together into a thin sheet and then applied to the surface of an object. Straw work in New Mexico appears to be a simplified combination of the two techniques, with the decorative fragments covering only portions of the surface, as in inlaid marquetry work, but with the pieces inset, as in veneer like marquetry work.

Current thought holds that the art of straw appliqué died out in New Mexico in the late nineteenth century and was revived in the early twentieth century by master artist Eliseo Rodriguez. The use of straw appliqué by Jose Dolores Lopez in the late 1920s may indicate an overlap of survival and revival in this ephemeral but enduring art.

[excerpted from an article by Donna Pierce in Spanish New Mexico, The Spanish Colonial Arts Society Collection]

tinwork02

The 1821 opening of the Santa Fe Trail coincided with the worldwide acceptance and use of British tinplate and an increased popularity of tin crafts. In New Mexico, imported tinplate became more readily available. The increase in tinplate crafts and the immigration of Anglo tinsmiths to New Mexico during the period are well documented.

The 1930s also saw the revival of “poor man’s silver,” the tin art, much of it religious, that began to flourish after the United States Army occupied New Mexico in 1846. The appearance of imported tin cans coupled with Bishop tinwork01-300x300Lamy’s 1850 appointment to New Mexico in part caused certain forms of local religious art, such as retablos, to fall out of fashion while European prints framed in tin came into vogue. Until 1890, when commercial picture frames began to replace tin frames and coal and gas lighting replaced the need for candle holders, tin artists provided art made for pennies that today sells for thousands. Lane Coulter and Maurice Dixon, Jr. claim that “the New Mexican production of tinwork primarily for religious purposes is unparalleled elsewhere in American folk arts.”excerpted from an article by Donna Pierce inSpanish New Mexico, The Spanish Colonial Arts Society Collection

bultos_unpainted01

Unpainted bultos are three-dimensional, wooden sculptures that represent images of Christian iconography.

[excerpted from an article by Donna Pierce in Spanish New Mexico, The Spanish Colonial Arts Society Collection]

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The construction and form of New Mexican furniture during the colonial period were based on sixteenth-century Spanish prototypes. These models were for years copied in provincial areas of Spain and with regional variations in the New World.In New Mexico, the only woods readily available for furniture making were local pines. Unlike hardwood, pine has a tendency to split in straight lines along the grain, making it difficult to execute curved lines of baroque design. Given the soft brittle nature of pine and the coarse tools available, furniture made in New Mexico followed sturdy designs that precluded elaborate carving.

No identifiable furniture made in New Mexico survives from the early 1700s. In the later eighteenth century the forms of furniture most common in New Mexico were the same as those used in Spain and Mexico: chests, benches, armchairs, side chairs, tables, cupboards, and shelves. As in the rest of the Spanish world, chests and boxes were the most common New Mexican furniture forms during the colonial period.

The introduction of neoclassical styles to northern Mexico and New Mexico is often credited to Anglo-American merchants traveling from the East over the Santa Fe Trail, but the pervasive presence of the neoclassical style in Mexico from the late eighteenth century on must be acknowledged as the main source of this influence. In furniture, East Coast or Anglo-American interpretations of the neoclassical style are frequently referred to as American Federal or Duncan Phyfe. In New Mexico, the regional interpretation of neoclassical motifs is known as the Territorial style. As part of the neoclassical style sweeping the Western world, the small and versatile daybed became popular.

Traders from the eastern United States introduced new tools and materials to New Mexican craftsmen and paved the way for carpenters from the East who immigrated to New Mexico at the same time. When the United States Army of the American West occupied New Mexico in 1846, Anglo-American influence increased. The establishment of the first sawmill in New Mexico made milled lumber available for the first time. New Mexican furniture of the mid-nineteenth century often combines traditional colonial construction elements with decorative techniques made possible by newly available milled lumber and tools, especially jigsaws and molding planes. By the late nineteenth century, decorative elements borrowed from other styles, including Victorian as well as Renaissance, Romanesque, and Gothic revivals, were grafted onto traditional Spanish furniture forms by New Mexican craftsmen, creating a lively and varied new style with an unmistakable character all its own.

[excerpted from an article by Donna Pierce inSpanish New Mexico, The Spanish Colonial Arts Society Collection]

Seven thousand head of livestock, among them three or four thousand churro sheep accompanied the colonists lead by Juan de Oñate when they arrived at the Tewa pueblo of San Juan at the confluence of the Chama and Rio Grande rivers in 1598. Within a few months Oñate established San Gabriel. From this flock of sheep, weaving as we know it today in the southwestern United States began. Looms have changed only slightly since their initial introduction to the Americas by the Spaniards. The changes are due mainly to the availability of milled lumber and metal parts that allowed for the construction of wider and more portable looms.

Textiles woven on the horizontal four-harness, counterbalanced floor looms included four basic yardage fabrics utilized by the settlers. Sayal, of which no known remnant survives, was used for sacks, packing, tents and wagon covers. Sabanilla, a natural white wool, fine, plain or twill weave fabric that could be vegetal dyed, was used for clothing, sheeting, and mattress covers, and as a foundation cloth for embroidery. An unusual sabanilla de algodón, or sabanilla woven with native cotton, is documented as having been used for refurbishing the Albuquerque town hall in 1814. Bayeta, or bayetón, was used for clothing. It should not be confused with the finer bolts of fulled wool fabric that were imported from Manchester, England, and the eastern United States. Jerga was used for poor man’s clothing, for floor coverings, and for wrapping cargo in the trade caravans that traveled the Santa Fe, Chihuahua, and California trails. The jerga colors most often employed were a natural white-and-brown combination that gave a checkerboard effect.

When commercial dyes became available after the 1860′s, synthetic shades of red, green, pink, and orange were mixed with the more subtle, natural-colored and vegetal-dyed yarn, making the jergas most visually interesting.

--Adapted from Teresa Archuleta-Sagel, "Textiles," in Spanish New Mexico, The Spanish Colonial Arts Society Collection (Santa Fe: Museum of New Mexico Press, 1996, pp. 143-163.