Patrocinio Barela Works of Art

National Hispanic Cultural Center

A survey of the artist Time Magazine called the “discovery of the year.”


Patrocinio Barela was born around 1900 in Bisbee, Arizona and moved to Taos with his father and brother around 1908. He earned a living as an itinerant laborer throughout the Southwest and returned to Cañon, near Taos, in 1930.

At this time, Barela began carving his organic unpainted sculptures from local wood. The administrators of the Works Progress Administration’s Federal Art Project (WPA/FAP) took notice and encouraged his art.

Barela’s works, which often defy categorization, were featured in a pivotal national exhibition, New Horizons of American Art at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City in 1936.

This exposure gained him immense recognition and he was hailed as a “true primitive,” and a “naïve genius” as a modern artist. At that time, Time Magazine called him “discovery of the year.”

While other Nuevomexicanos worked within a strong santero tradition, Barela infused his craft with distinctive personal and imaginary elements, to become one of the area’s most beloved artists.

He created over 1,400 works during his career and his artistic legacy has inspired generations of Nuevomexicano/a artists, writers and scholars. Patrocinio Barela died in his Taos studio in 1964.

Today, many of his grandchildren and great grandchildren follow in his artistic footsteps.

Selected Artwork

The man and his seat are formed from a natural branching in the wood.

In 1956, a Taos newspaper photo featured this piece as a work-in-progress. Juniper. Anonymous gift in honor of Virginia and Edward Lujan.

The carreta de la muerte is one traditional icon used by the religious brotherhood, the Penitentes, as part of their Good Friday procession. Death carts commonly include a skeleton, called Doña Sebastiana, who wields a bow and arrow. Barela created four death carts during his life. Here, a serpent-like creature and a wine cask represent death.

Knots in the trees became integral elements in many of Barela’s figures.

Barela was keenly aware of the use of negative space in his compositions. Juniper. Anonymous gift in honor of Virginia and Edward Lujan.

Barela may have gotten his idea for this articulated Christ from the Cristo Entierro figures which are displayed in coffins and carried in Good Friday processions. Barela’s Cristo incorporates an upright, more vigorous, interpretation.

Barela created a number of sexually explicit figures. In this depiction, his wry humor is unmistakable. These two characters refer to an incident in which a local judge was said to have passed judgment on one of Barela’s friends. If you look at the sculpture of the judge from one angle, he is simply a man smoking a big cigar. From another angle, the view is somewhat erotic.

When Barela was a young man, he traveled throughout the Southwest as a laborer. During one difficult incident he was aided by a black family which may have inspired this depiction, as well as several others which portray black men. Note the chisel marks used as a design element here.

Barela was particularly fond of rendering images of parents and their children, and particularly the Holy Family. One of these depictions includes a dove, an icon that represents the Holy Spirit. Another simply includes St. Joseph and Jesus.

Although this piece is small in scale, it conveys deep emotional expression. The mushroom-like form could represent thoughts or even worries.

Here, Barela paid particular attention to the grain of the wood when forming the folds of San Antonio’s robe.

One of Barela’s ongoing themes concerned various “stages of man.” Here, the artist depicts images of both birth and death with the image of an infant surrounded by a snake.

Barela’s work often features figures with a single raised hand. Here this curious character holds what could be a money bag.

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