This weekend, my husband and I attended an art opening for a woodcarver in New Mexico, whose grandfather is regarded as a phenomenon. Although Patrociño Barelo was illiterate and couldn’t sign his own name, he was considered either the embodiment of primitivism or a self taught modernist–depending on which art critic you ask. Barela has been compared to the best of santeros, Meso-American, South Pacific, 11th Century Romanesque, Byzantine, Renaissance or German Expressionist artists.
It wasn’t so obvious that young Patrociño would be able to express himself artistically, having grown up in poverty and raised by his father after his mother died very early in his life. In his 20s or 30s he picked up some wood and started carving religious figures. He worked for the joy of it and the meaning it gave his life. Having not been influenced by art training or other artists, the grandfather developed his own style which paralleled work being done at the same time by Henry Moore and Picasso. Instead of selling that work through galleries or an agent, Barela peddled his carvings around the town of Taos, wrapped in brown paper.
Carlos Barela, his grandson, took a similar path in his artistic life. He told us that he joined the U.S. Air Force after school, and had so much fun that he didn’t think of trying his hand at his grandfather’s craft. At age 24, he saw some of his grandfather’s work exhibited in Santa Fe and then became inspired to carve. After he broke the nose on the figure, Carlos put his carving tools away and didn’t pick them up until age 33. Then he started carving in earnest. Last year at the prestigious Spanish Market in Santa Fe, Carlos was awarded the first-ever New Directions award for taking a traditional craft into new territory.
What does this have to do with you or me? Talking with Carlos Barela, I realized that I, too, had picked up various artistic endeavors in my life, then put them down when I had a set-back. How many of us tried to be creative at a young age, only to have someone criticize or make fun of our work to which our response was to veer off the creative path? How many times have each of us stopped writing because we believe we’re not writers or “creatives?” Maybe it would just take a little practice to get us over the hump and start inventing something completely new.
Inspired by the Barela family, I’m pulling out my mother’s paints and brushes and starting again down the creative path. Even though I can’t even draw a stick figure, I’m going to try and unleash my innate artist, just for the joy of it. Do you want to join me in leaving the critic’s corner and start unleashing your inner creativity?
Photo of cedar woodcarvings by Patrociño Barela courtesy of The Collector’s Guide