Santa Fe Community College’s Visual Arts Gallery Presents Las Familias Barela y Salazar: Traditions in Taos Woodcarving Opening Reception: Thursday, February 8, 2018

SANTA FE, NM – Santa Fe Community College’s Visual Arts Gallery presents Las Familias Barela y Salazar: Traditions in Taos Woodcarving, a group exhibition of work by descendants and artistic heirs of notable Taos woodcarver Patrociño Barela. Carlos Barela, brother Luis, his son Daniel, daughters Antonia and Jessica, Pat Barela Rael and husband Dan all carve and continue in the family tradition. Also included are works from the family of Leo G. Salazar, another well-known Taos carver who knew and was inspired by Patrociño’s carvings. His sons Leonardo and Ernesto and his sons Jacob and Jason all carve and continue the tradition. A small selection of work by Leo G. Salazar and Patrociño Barela will be in the exhibition. The opening reception is from 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 8 in the gallery. The exhibit runs through April 11.

This exhibit includes these special events:
• February 8: Opening Reception. 5 to 7 p.m., at the Visual Arts Gallery, SFCC campus
• February 15: Artist’s Talk in the Visual Arts Gallery from 1 to 2:30 p.m.

Carlos Barela, as the older grandson, regularly witnessed Patrociño (who died in 1964) working in his shop and can provide insightful recollections. Carlos began his artistic career in earnest after encouragement from an acquaintance. His approach is to work with the natural form, seeking to keep the integrity of the wood intact. He states, “As a woodcarver, I form a partnership with nature. The wood speaks to me through its form, shape and grain. I release what’s in the piece of wood. I don’t dictate, but rather manipulate its nature to achieve the spirit within.” He operates a studio in Talpa. His work has been widely shown and is represented in the collection of the Harwood Museum of Art in Taos. His son Roberto is also an accomplished carver, who has been recognized by the Spanish Colonial Arts Society.
Luis Barela continued the woodcarving tradition of his grandfather after encountering an extensive exhibition of Patrociño Barela carvings in 1980 at the Santuario de Guadalupe. “The sight of so many of my grandfather’s pieces pushed me to the point that I was no longer free not to carve,” he said. Luis currently maintains a studio in Talpa, where he specializes in icons similar to santos. In various forms and combinations, he extols the family structure of father, mother and child. He also carves images of shepherds and prophets, availing himself to the unusual forms and shapes of cedar wood to create hands, hair and beards. He is adept at utilizing the light and dark contrast of the grain to create the illusion of figures emerging from the confines of the wood. Three of Luis’s children, Daniel, Jessica and Antonia are woodcarvers, as well.

Patricia Barela Rael is the granddaughter of Patrociño Barela and the first woman in the Barela family to participate in the family tradition of woodcarving. She began in 1999 after acting as liaison for the Millicent Rogers Museum Barela traveling exhibition “Recordando un Artista del Pueblo.”

She said she felt “a connection to my grandfather and decided to try carving myself.”
Dan Rael became part of the woodcarving tradition of Taos in 1977, when he married Patricia Barela. Descendant of many generations of New Mexicans and a former U.S. Forest Service employee, Rael said he appreciates the beauty of the wood found in natural settings. “The cedar I carve is a beautiful wood, shaped by wind, ice, snow and the passing of time,” Dan said. “I love to take a gnarled piece of cedar and give it new life as an object of beauty and devotion.”
Leonardo Salazar, who has been carving for 46 years said, “My father Leo G. Salazar taught me to carve in 1972.” His santos are carved from the cedar wood selected from the forests of Northern New Mexico. As Salazar selects each piece of wood, he visualizes the figure to be carved. After collecting pieces of cedar, he lives with them awhile, taking the time to recognize the figure eventually revealing in them. The twisted pieces of wood offer the most challenge as they allow him to go beyond traditional notions of form and emphasize more the essence of the figure, as well as his own thoughts and emotions. Since Leo G. Salazar’s death, Leonardo had found himself returning more and more to his father’s style. Being more of an instinctive reaction to his father’s death rather than any conscious decision, it has made him more aware of the continuity of an indigenous family tradition. All of Leonardo’s work focuses in some respect on spiritual concepts. Each one appears to interpret in a slightly different manner man’s relationship to the Divine. For Leonardo, the true test of an artist is being able to communicate his interpretations, not only to art collectors, but also to everyone who views his art. As a woodcarver, he believes he best fulfills this role by simply remaining faithful to the form of the wood.

Ernesto Salazar and his two sons Jacob and Jason also continue in the Salazar family tradition. Collectively their work is represented in numerous museums in the United States and Europe in addition to churches and public buildings throughout the country.

Clark Baughan, SFCC Director of Galleries observes, “I became familiar with Patrocino Barela’s work and the Taos woodcarving tradition in 1993 while on a three-month residency at the Wurlitzer Foundation in Taos. Both the Wurlitzer Foundation and Director Henry Sauerwein owned several work by Patrociño. Dr. Sauerwein was very proud of them and took great pleasure in describing his encounters with the artist and the importance and renown of Patrociño’s work. The Harwood Foundation possesses an extensive collection of Patrociño’s work where he is included in their Contemporary Collection, which I think is marvelously accurate. It’s a great pleasure to present this exhibition of work by his family and the Salazar family to the SFCC community”.

Leo G. Salazar was renowned worldwide and his work is found in churches throughout New Mexico and in the collection of the Vatican in Rome, the Smithsonian Institution, the Berlin Museum of International Folk Art and private collections throughout the world. Leo G. Salazar began carving cedar wood Santos at the age of 33 in 1965. He quickly became committed to his artistic practice, devoting eight to ten hours a day to his art. He credited his practice and inspiration to Patrociño Barela, stating “I learned by just watching the great master Pat Barela of Taos,” whom he watched first hand developing his own carvings from the natural forms within the wood.

Leo developed his own abstract style. There was no spacious studio with north light in summer so he sat on an old car seat beneath a pickup camper shell propped up on pieces of plywood in his backyard. In winter, he moved into a tin storage shed and fed chips and branches into an old wood stove for heat.
He continued his direct and traditional techniques of woodcarving even when he became well known and his work was in high demand, insisting on doing all the work by hand while the piece was cradled in his lap. He carved wood because he loved the feel of it in his hands, stating, “You must be close to the wood to do good work.” He only carved santos, saying “It is my faith.”

His family has continued in the tradition with his sons Leonardo and Ernesto and his sons Jason and Jacob all becoming accomplished woodcarvers, receiving prestigious awards and represented in numerous collections.

Patrociño Barela was born sometime around the beginning of the twentieth century in Bisbee, Arizona to parents from Northern Mexico. Through travel and itinerant jobs, he settled in Taos where he focused on his carving and led a life supporting it. Eight carvings were selected for New Horizons in American Art, a 1936 WPA exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, NY. He was hailed as ‘the discovery of the year’ and his work was exhibited in the company of now recognized modern master’s such as Stuart Davis, Arshile Gorkey, Marsden Hartley, William de Kooning, Jack Levine and Rufino Tamayo. Afterwards he returned to Taos to continue the life familiar to him. Though he struggled to earn fair value for his work, he continued carving in his shop, dying in a studio fire in 1964. In his lifetime, recognition proved to be difficult within his own community, but his native talent and genius has survived and thrived over the years with new artists and admirers discovering his unique contributions to the modernist tradition. Patrocino’s familiarity with the human condition and subsequent motivations enabled him to wryly comment on the nature of man in both the secular domain and the divine. The majority of his works depict group figurative arrangements that are often composed ‘in the round’, requiring a viewer to rotate the piece to read its compositional narrative. Carlos Barela, his oldest grandson, remembers and describes that the workshop had large carvings in process that were lost to the fire, providing testimony to Barela’s vision and continued ambition to the end.

Patrociño Barela’s art is represented in the public collections of: The Museum of International Folk Art (Santa Fe), The Albuquerque Museum, The Harwood Museum of Art (Taos); Millicent Rogers Museum (Taos), New Mexico Museum of Fine Arts (Santa Fe), Museum of Modern Art (New York, New York), Museum of Modern Art (San Francisco, California), National Hispanic Cultural Center (Albuquerque), Smithsonian American Art Museum (Washington DC), University of Arizona Museum of Art (Tucson, Arizona).

SFCC’s Visual Arts Gallery is open to the public, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Mondays through Fridays. Admission is free. For information, contact Clark Baughan at or 505-428-1501 or visit the Visual Arts Gallery. Images available.

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