Sculptures by Barela will be on exhibit at the Snite

by Michael O. Garvey

More detailed information on the Barela and other exhibitions at the Snite Museum may be obtained by calling Gina Costa, curator of education at the Snite, at (219) 631-4720.
p. p. Sculptures by the New Mexican artist Patrociño Barela will be on exhibit June 8-Sept. 14 in the O’Shaughnessy Gallery of the University of Notre Dame’s Snite Museum of Art.
p. “Spirit Ascendant: The Art and Life of Patrociño Barela” will feature some 40 of the artist’s wood carvings. The exhibition will open with a public reception June 8 from 2-5 p.m. in the Snite.
p. Born in 1908, Barela lived and worked in Cañon, N.M., a small village near Taos. He was trained from his earliest years as a traditional Hispanic santero, or artisan of sacred images, but, burdened by poverty, alcoholism, and an unhappy marriage, he spent much of his life as a manual laborer on the farms and ranches of his native region.p. Critics have said that Barela’s carvings, which decidedly emerge from his native Hispanic American culture, also call to mind aspects of Romanesque and Modern art. His imagery ranges from the erotic to the tragic to the religious. Among the most striking pieces in the “Spirit Ascendant” exhibition is a traditional “carreta de la muerte” carving in which a sinister figure representing death is ensonced in a wagon.p. Barela became the first Mexican-American artist to gain national fame when eight of his juniper wood carvings were featured in a 1936 exhibition of Federal Art Project artists at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Announced by the museum as the “most dramatic discovery made in American art for the past several years” and hailed by Time magazine as the “discovery of the year,” Barela impressed a critic in the New York Times with the “crude, honest, personal expression in [his] small carvings.” The poet William Carlos Williams wrote of the santero that “for wholehearted depth of purpose his figures have a comment to make on the age which is like a breath of fresh air.” Ironically, Barela died in a fire which also destroyed the workshop where he had carved his most celebrated works.

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