New Mexico Art Tells its History

The Garden of Eden

The Garden of Eden, n.d.
Patrocinio Barela (1908–64)
Gift of the Weatherhead Foundation, Cleveland and New York, 1970

Patrocinio Barela was troubled, spiritual man who had no formal art training. He was an “outsider” to the Santero carving traditions in his Taos home, and worked in his own personal style. Barela was embraced by the modernists because his unpainted carvings were simplified and somewhat abstract.

Barela carved his own versions of the Garden of Eden from large planks of wood. In response to an illustrated article in Life magazine about the Sistine Chapel, Patrocinio Barela carved his own version of Michelangelo’s frescos. A deeply spiritual, troubled man, Barela eked out a living in Taos doing odd jobs and carving his angst-ridden wooden sculptures.

Many have considered Barela to be a local folk artist, while others consider him to be a modernist. However, as a self-taught artist creating highly personal images, his work was not part of the Hispanic santero tradition associated with the Catholic Church. Similarly, it is difficult to connect his work to European modernism from the twentieth century, since he had never seen examples of the style. Barela’s work is best understood as the inventive creations of an “outsider” artist whose works appeal to broad audiences.

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