Tree Notes is about trees -- especially native trees, trees for wildlife, and trees in history.

Friday, January 18, 2008

What are "santos bultos"?

Santos bultos: Wooden religious statues


SantoSanto bulto and image of the Dolorosa
in the church, Trampos, New Mexico, 1943
Image source: Library of Congress


In the southwestern U.S. where a strong Hispanic influence is part of the history and culture, you might see a santo bulto in a special niche in a home or church. A santo bulto is a three-dimensional folk-art religious statue or carving. It may depict Christ, the Virgin, one of the saints, or perhaps a Biblical event, such as the Resurrection.

In the image above, the santo bulto stands in the background at left. Traditionally, the statue might be dressed in new clothing when a special petition was made or a special occasion in the church year was celebrated.

The history of these figurines is interwoven with the Catholic practice of using articles of devotion. Due to the isolation of the Spanish colonies in the Southwest, many religious artworks were produced locally rather than imported.

The woodcarvers used the wood they had at hand -- typically, cottonwood, aspen, or pine. As with the Hopi kachina dolls, the figurines were often carved from cottonwood root.

Cottonwood root was preferred because it was light in weight, lacked a center core, didn't split easily when dry, and was easy to carve. The preferred method was to carve the object from a single block, rather than joining several pieces.

The style of the carvings was loosely based upon religious art objects in local churches, but each santero developed his own style. Most of the works were unsigned, in respect and reverence for the Great Creator, so the identity of many santeros is unknown.

Whatever native wood was used, the completed santo bulto was sealed with gesso, a mixture of native gypsum and glue. Then it was painted as the santero desired.

The Northern New Mexico Virtual Archive contains a very interesting and informative history of the santos bultos and their carvers.

An interesting story about an elderly lady who took care of the santos bultos at a little village church can be read in the American Life Histories section of the Library of Congress.

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Enrich your life with the study of trees.

"The power to recognize trees at a glance without examining their leaves or flowers or fruit as they are seen, for example, from the car-window during a railroad journey, can only be acquired by studying them as they grow under all possible conditions over wide areas of territory. Such an attainment may not have much practical value, but once acquired it gives to the possessor a good deal of pleasure which is denied to less fortunate travelers."

Charles Sprague Sargent (1841-1927)

Print references I frequently consult

Benvie, Sam. Encyclopedia of North American Trees. Buffalo, NY: Firefly, 2000.

Brockman, C. Frank. Trees of North America: A Guide to Field Identification. Ed. Herbert S. Zim. New York: Golden, 1986.

Cliburn, Jerry, and Ginny Clomps. A Key to Missouri Trees in Winter: An Identification Guide. Conservation Commission of the State of Missouri, 1980.

Collingwood, G. H., Warren David Brush, and Devereux Butcher. Knowing Your Trees. Washington: American Forestry Association, 1978.

Dirr, Michael. Dirr's Hardy Trees and Shrubs: an Illustrated Encyclopedia. Portland, Or.: Timber, 1997.

Elias, Thomas S. The Complete Trees of North America; Field Guide and Natural History. New York: Book Division, Times Mirror Magazines, 1980.

Grimm, William Carey. The Book of Trees;. Harrisburg, PA: Stackpole, 1962.

Hightshoe, Gary L. Native Trees, Shrubs, and Vines for Urban and Rural America: a Planting Design Manual for Environmental Designers. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1988.

Little, Elbert L. National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Trees. New York: Chanticleer, 1996.

Martin, Alexander C., Herbert S. Zim, and Arnold L. Nelson. American Wildlife and Plants. New York: McGraw Hill, 1951.

Mitchell, Alan F., and David More. The Trees of North America. New York, NY: Facts On File Publications, 1987.

Randall, Charles E. Enjoying Our Trees. Washington: American Forestry Association, 1969.

Settergren, Carl D., and R. E. McDermott. Trees of Missouri. Columbia: University Extension, 1995.

Sternberg, Guy, and James W. Wilson. Native Trees for North American Landscapes: from the Atlantic to the Rockies. Portland: Timber, 2004.

Wharton, Mary E., and Roger W. Barbour. Trees and Shrubs of Kentucky. Lexington: University of Kentucky, 1973.

Wyman, Donald. Trees for American Gardens. New York: Macmillan, 1965.

Photos and text copyright © 2006-2010 by Genevieve L. Netz. All rights reserved. Do not republish without written permission. My e-mail address is gnetz51@gmail.com