'Santos: Substance & Soul'
January 15, 2002
After spending some time at Washington, D.C.'s Smithsonian Institute and Albuquerque's National Hispanic Cultural Center, the traveling exhibition "Santos: Substance & Soul" has finally made its way to Puerto Rico. Now on display at Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico, this extraordinary exhibition interprets the artistic and cultural character manifested in the creation and use of santos.
Santos represent one of the oldest living traditions of religious devotion. These woodcarvings of sacred images, generally of saints, the Virgin Mary, and other religious and biblical figures, are decorated with paint, metal, and precious stones, and commonly found in Catholic churches and private homes.
"Santos: Substance & Soul" was organized by the Smithsonian Center for Materials Research & Education and co-sponsored by the Smithsonian Center for Latino Initiatives. The exhibit features 40 pieces that hail from Puerto Rico, New Mexico, parts of Central and South America, and the Philippines. The main objective is to celebrate a vibrant cultural heritage, reflecting both traditional and contemporary trends in the making of santos.
With the use of X-ray imaging, microscopy, and other technical studies and analytical techniques, details of the santos are revealed, including paint layers, pigments, wood types, origins, composition, materials, and techniques used. This information explains the evolution of santos making in different areas of the Hispanic Americas.
The tradition in Puerto Rico dates back to the early 1500s and started in the rural areas of the island where there was little access to priests and churches. Today, the ancient tradition is kept alive by such santeros (santos makers) as José Luis Millán-Figueroa, José Luis Valentín, Antonio Avilés, and many other devoted artists whose santos are among the select 40 featured in the extraordinary exhibit.
In addition to the exhibited pieces, "Santos: Substance & Soul" will be supplemented by educational programs, workshops, and presentations and lectures on the technical and scientific techniques and equipment used in characterization and preservation. Audiences also will have the opportunity to witness the santo-making process every weekend when a santero will be present.
The exhibition will be open until May 26. The MAPR is at 299 Ave. De Diego, Parada 22, Santurce, San Juan. The museum is open Tuesday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m., with extended hours on Wednesday until 8 p.m. Admission is $5 for adults, $3 children under 12 and students with I.D. Discounts are available for people over 60 and groups of 30 or more people. For more information, call the MAPR at (787) 977-6277.