Religious Folk Art of Northern NM

This Adventures in Anthropology spring event featured Dr. Charles M. Carrillo; scholar, storyteller, anthropologist, teacher, and artist.

“Charlie” is the author of numerous books and articles on the history of New Mexican folk art, and he is the recipient of a National Endowment of the Arts National Heritage Fellowship Award.

For this event Charlie told stories about the saints on the retables and alter screens that he paints and studies.  Charlie is one of the driving forces behind the annual Spanish Market in Santa Fe, and is responsible for the revival of the northern New Mexico santero.


Charlie Carrillo Retablos

“Retablos” – the tradition of painting and carving devotional images

His current projects include designing the sets and costumes for the Santa Fe Opera’s Youth Program production of Benjamin Britten’s Noah’s Flood, which opened in December 2013.  Although most of his work is deeply traditional, Charlie has begun painting “Saints on Wheels,” playful images of familiar saints and biblical characters driving antique cars and trucks.

santos2Santos of New Mexico

Charles Carrillo has blended craft, conservation, and innovation throughout his career as a santero, a carver and a painter of images of saints.  The depiction of saints for religious purposes dates to the 18th century in Hispanic New Mexican communities.  Carrillo started his creative journey in 1978 when he began researching the techniques, materials, and subject matter of the early santeros.  Today he is recognized not only as the primary authority on this subject but also as the most accomplished artist practicing in this regional tradition.


Testimony to his skills are his many awards, including the Museum of International Folk Art’s Hispanic Heritage Award, as well as numerous First Place, Best of Show, and Grand Prize entries in the Annual Traditional Spanish Market in Santa Fe.  In 2006 he received the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Spanish Market and the prestigious NEA National Heritage Fellowship.

Carrillo earned a Doctorate in Anthropology/Archaeology from the University of New Mexico, but his true commitment to tradition has led him to work within the religious community of northern New Mexico as an artist and an advocate.  A generous mentor, Charlie has inspired numerous artists to pursue the native techniques, values, and devotional spirit of the santeros.

For more information about Charlie and his art, please visit his website at:

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