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By JANETH VILARIÑO
June 29, 2002
Ponce Museum of Art invites the public to enjoy the glorious Saints 2002 exhibition, which celebrates the art of saint carving. This marks the fifth and final presentation in the series of the Biennial of Contemporary Saints competition, first celebrated in 1994.
The idea for the biennial emerged after the successful and very popular presentation of the exhibit, "Santos de Palo," celebrated in the museum in the summer of 1993. This display featured a collection of historical saints created by Alan Moss Reverón, Zoilo Cajigas, and other master saint carvers. This initial exhibit, which re-ignited interest in this ancient art form, was received with such great enthusiasm that, in response to it and to a proposition put forth by Ponce-born "santero" Pedro Pablo Rinaldi Jovet, the museum established a wood saint carving competition the following year.
Since then, the competition not only has grown in popularity, but in participation as well--with only 62 artisans participating in 1994 to well over 100 in 2000.
Participation from women also has grown rapidly, thanks to carving associations and such families as the Ortas from Ponce and the Avilés from Orocovis, whose women are involved in the tradition.
In the past, carving wood saints was the job of santeros devoted to their Catholic religion, who were believed to possess super-spiritual strength. Now, carvers and people with carving skills from all social and educational backgrounds create wood saints. This art has surpassed the test of time, kept alive by such master artisans as Luis Raúl "Pichilo" Nieves Román, teaching pupils the mysteries of saint carving.
Wood saints have come a long way from being traditional religious objects; they also are considered decorative items as well as symbols of nationalism.
The number of admirers of wooden saints has exploded, with enthusiasts appreciating the beauty as well as artistic abilities and manual skills required to create the figurines.
The importance Ponce Museum of Art bestows on saint carving has served as an educational catalyst for numerous catalogues and guest panels for millions of people regarding the history of the tradition and the iconography that identifies each saint.
The fifth and final edition of the Biennial of Contemporary Saints will be different from the past. Rather than a panel of judges selecting the winners, the 2002 edition will exhibit a selection of carvings by 45 artists who received awards or mentions in previous competitions in '94, '96, '98, and '00. The curator selected these pieces according to the specialization of each carver and / or region.
Additionally, there will be an exhibition by maestro saint carvers don Celestino Avilés, don Domingo Orta, and Prof. Luis González.
Since this is the final Biennial of Contemporary Saints, it will be dedicated to Luis Raúl Nieves Román, better know as "Pichilo," and will feature eight works by this grand saint carver. In 1994, Pichilo received first prize in the Free Expression category and, since then, his pieces have been the most anticipated by the jury and visitors. As in every edition, the number of his disciples taking part in the competition increases, peaking at 25 in the previous biennial. His skills as a professor have led him to teach seminars at Washington, D.C.'s Smithsonian.
The fifth edition of the Biennial of Contemporary Saints opens July 14 and will be on display until Oct. 27. Ponce Museum of Art is open daily 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and is at 2325 Ave. Las Américas. For more information, call (787) 848-0505.