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Patrocinio Barela

Patrocinio Barela

American, 1902 - 1964

Born in Bisbee, Arizona and based in Taos, Patrocinio Barela was a self-taught sculptor who earned a national reputation carving wood sculptures with religious themes. His work was supported by the New Deal Works Progress Administration and later the Public Works of Art Project in New Mexico. He gained national recognition when he was one of the few sculptors included in the Museum of Modern Art’s 1936 exhibition New Horizons in American Art.
One of the distinctive characteristics of the Depression-era arts programs in New Mexico was the prevalence of regional art forms that had not made their way into mainstream American art, including regional religious art like santos. Like many Hispanic artists in Depression-era New Mexico, Barela carved santos, Catholic religious figures. What set Barela apart from the majority of twentieth-century santeros was that, instead of looking to traditional Spanish colonial sculpture for compositional inspiration, he took the modern approach of letting his material guide his hand, using the natural forms, curves, and bumps of the wood to inform the shape of his finished sculpture. In the catalogue for New Horizons in American Art, Holger Cahill, National Director of the Federal Art Project of the Works Progress Administration, observes “there is, in general, an honest and unpretentious approach, and an acceptance of the essentially sculptural idea that this art involves a collaboration between the artist and his material.” It is easy to see how Barela’s methods fit in well with Cahill’s reflection on the state of Depression-era sculpture in the United States. (Waguespack, 2018).