Meet the Artists

 [artist pic] Antonio Avilés Burgos (left)

Antonio Avilés Burgos, who was born in 1951, learned to carve santos from his father, the renowned artisan Don Celestino Avilés. He gained interest in carving santos after seeing the work of Norberto Cedeño at an artisans' fair in the 1960s. In 1978, Antonio Avilés was named Artisan of the Year by the governor of Puerto Rico. In 1983 he carved a representation of Our Lady of Providence, patroness of Puerto Rico, which is now on display in the Cathedral of Brooklyn in New York where it is a symbol of the Puerto Rican people. A smaller copy is also in the collection of the Vatican in Rome. In the 1980s he and his family opened the Museo Orocoveño Familia Avilés in their hometown of Orocovis where artworks are exhibited and classes are taught to promote and preserve the culture of Puerto Rico. See the Picture Gallery for Antonio Avilés' Our Lady of Charity (2001). top

Celestino Avilés Meléndez (above right)

Celestino Avilés Meléndez, born in 1925, is a descendant of Francisco Rivera Avilés, an important carver of santos in the nineteenth century. Don Celestino first sold rings carved from corozo, the nut of a palm tree. He first gained an interest in carving santos through his friendships with santeros Juan Cartagena (died around 1933) and Norberto Cedeño Calderón (1897-1984). Don Celestino has been carving saints for over sixty years and is best known for his unpainted works and for representing figures with closed eyes, what he calls, “a position of absolute religious solemnity.” He received the National Endowment for the Arts' National Heritage Award in 2001 in recognition of his work as a carver of santos and his contributions to the preservation of Puerto Rican history and culture. In 1983, Don Celestino organized the first Encuentro Nacional de Santeros held annually in his hometown of Orocovis. His son, Antonio Avilés Burgos is also a carver and is featured in this exhibition. See the Picture Gallery for Don Celestino's Virgin of the Kings (1999). top

 [artist pic] Ceferino Calderón Albaladejo

Since childhood, Ceferino Calderón Albaladejo (born in 1911) has been working with his hands, making dollhouses, toys and walking sticks. He attended military school in his youth and then worked as a carpenter and as a farmer growing tobacco, plantains and guineas (a local variety of banana). He began carving santos about thirty years ago when, following an accident, he sought an outlet. The first theme he carved was Our Lady of Providence, patroness of Puerto Rico, which he placed on his home altar. Still living in his hometown of Morovis, Don Ceferino carves in a rustic style using only a knife. See the Picture Gallery for Don Ceferino's Our Lady of Mount Carmel (around 1982). top

 [artist pic] Juan Cruz Avilés

Juan Cruz Avilés, also known as Don Nito, was born in Lares in 1919. He began carving santos in 1933 at the age of fourteen to raise money for the purchase of his eighth grade graduation robe. A woman appeared to him in a dream and told him that there was money to be made from repairing broken and damaged santos. Don Nito has worked as Special Assistant to the Attorney of the municipality of Las Marías and as Municipal Secretary in the Office of the Attorney of Lares. He continues to carve santos today with the help of his wife, Doña María. See the Picture Gallery for Don Nito's The Three Kings on Horseback (2000). top

Portalatín Fontanez Nieves

Born in Comerío in 1955, Portalatín Fontanez Nieves moved to Orocovis as a baby. He first became interested in carving santos in 1978 and soon learned to carve from fellow santero Antonio Avilés Burgos. Following a decade in New Jersey where he worked as a mechanic, Fontanez returned to Puerto Rico and began dedicating more time to carving santos. His carvings have won numerous prizes. He has taught his son to carve and his wife, María Santiago Burgos, is also a carver of santos. See the Picture Gallery for Fontanez's Saint Michael Archangel (2000). top

 [artist pic] Israel Gerena Olán

Israel Gerena Olán was born in New York in 1958 and lived in Chicago until the age of fourteen when he moved with his family to Quebradillas. A serious auto accident in 1985 left Gerena in a wheelchair. He states that only with the help of God was he able to regain movement and use of his hands and arms. It was at this moment that he began carving santos. Since then, he has taught the tradition to his daughter Jessica who has gained special recognition for her carvings in miniature of the Three Kings. Gerena's greatest pride is knowing that his santos are admired in the homes of his clients. See the Picture Gallery for Gerena's Carlos Manuel Rodríguez (2002). top

Luis González

Born in 1938 in Arecibo, Luis González lives in the town of Toa Alta. For many years he worked in a metal workshop manufacturing jewelry and picture frames. After the business closed in the 1970s, he earned a living restoring furniture and restoring and carving santos. His favorite themes to carve are Saint Rosa of Lima, the All Powerful Hand of God and Our Lady of Providence, patroness of Puerto Rico. When asked what the santos tradition means to him, González explains that it is a part of his soul, it flows through his blood. Today, González teaches courses on the carving of santos at the University of Puerto Rico in Río Piedras. See the Picture Gallery for Luis González's All-Powerful Hand of God (2001). top

Evaristo González

Born in 1931, Evaristo González is from Lares. Several of his works were featured in the first biennial exhibition of contemporary santos organized by the Museo de Arte de Ponce (1994). See the Picture Gallery for Evaristo González's Saint Anthony (1996). top

 [artist pic] Eduardo González Hernández

Born in Camuy in 1931, Eduardo González Hernández, also known as Don Tato, has worked as a farmer, carpenter, mason and auto mechanic. He remembers seeing home altars decorated with candles, flowers and prayer cards as a child. Today, he has a small altar in his living room that includes a Three Kings by a member of the prominent Cabán family of santeros as well as an image of Our Lady of Montserrat, the first santo he ever carved. Don Tato started carving santos about ten years ago following an illness that left him unable to work. He taught himself to carve by studying the works of Florencio Cabán Hernández (1876–1952) in his family's possession. In 1996 his carving Our Lady of Mount Carmel (included in this exhibition) was awarded first prize in the traditional category at the Museo de Arte de Ponce's second biennial exhibition of contemporary santos. See the Picture Gallery for Don Tato's The Three Kings and the Three Marys (2002). top

 [artist pic] Gloria López Estrella

Born in 1961, Gloria López Estrella graduated from Inter-American University in San Germán with a bachelor's degree in painting and graphic arts. In addition to carving santos, López has worked with photography, painting, book illustration, calligraphy and furniture restoration. In her small workshop in Camuy, Gloria López carves many themes but among her favorites are the Three Kings and images of the Virgin and Child. See the Picture Gallery for Gloria López's Our Lady of Solitude (1997). top

 [artist pic] Héctor Moya Montero

Héctor Moya Montero was born in Utuado in 1930 and currently lives and works in San Germán. He received a bachelor's degree in education from the University of Puerto Rico (1955) and a master's degree in anthropology from Universidad Autónoma de Mexico (1969). A self-taught carver, Moya began carving in 1991 at the age of sixty. In 1994, his carving Our Lady of Montserrat (included in this exhibition) won first prize in the traditional category at the Museo de Arte de Ponce's first biennial exhibition of contemporary santos. See the Picture Gallery for Montero's Our Lady of Montserrat (around 1993). top

 [artist pic] José Luis Negrón

José Luis Negrón was born in Corozal in 1928 to a farming family. Looking for a better life, the family moved to Brooklyn in 1946. Following his marriage and the birth of his son Neftalí, Negrón and his family returned to Corozal in 1962. In New York and Puerto Rico, Negrón made his living sewing carpets. It was his son Neftalí who introduced Negrón to the art of carving santos and would prepare blocks of wood by drawing the silhouettes of figures for his father to carve. His santos have won many prizes and are part of the collections of the Museo de Arte de Ponce and the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture in San Juan. He is currently teaching his nephew and two grand nieces how to carve. See the Picture Gallery for Negrón's Saint Katharine Drexel (2001). top

 [artist pic] Domingo Orta Pérez

Domingo Orta Pérez was born in Yagüecas de Adjuntas in 1929, but has lived in Ponce most of his life. He became interested in santos in 1942, when at the age of thirteen, he watched another santero from the town of Yauco repair his mother's carving of Our Lady of Montserrat. Following an illness that made it impossible for him to work as a laborer in a factory, Orta dedicated himself to carving santos and found that he could make a living at it. He is the patriarch of a large family of carvers that includes his sons Domingo Orta, Jr. and José Antonio Orta (both represented in this exhibition) and his son-in-law, Adrián Rodríguez. Today, Domingo Orta operates a very popular artisan's studio where his entire family, including his children's spouses, contribute to the family endeavor. Orta has received many awards for his santos and was named Artisan of the Year in 1982. His santos are represented in the collections of the Vatican in Rome, the Museo Santiago de Compostela in Spain, the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Compostela in Spain, and the Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C. See the Picture Gallery for Orta's Our Lady of Montserrat, Miracle of Hormigueros (2000). top

José Antonio Orta

José Antonio Orta was born in Ponce in 1954 and currently lives and works in Miramar, Florida. He learned to carve in the studio of his father, Domingo Orta Pérez, along with his brother Domingo Orta, Jr. See the Picture Gallery for José Orta's Forsaken Soul in Purgatory (2000). top

Lázaro Otero

Lázaro Otero (1905–2001) was born in Corozal and worked as a carpenter and then a retail worker in the store El Gallo de Oro. It was there that he began carving santos when his employer asked him to carve them for retail. Otero had never carved one before, but learned very quickly and continued to carve until his retirement. He always believed that his santos were an extension of his fervent religious beliefs. He continued to carve santos until his death in 2001. See the Picture Gallery for Otero's Saint Raphael Archangel (around 1985). top

 [artist pic] Pedro Pablo Rinaldi Jovet

Born in 1940, Pedro Pablo Rinaldi Jovet started carving in the early 1970s after he met Carlos Vázquez Sánchez (born in 1904), a santero from the town of Ciales. Later, Rinaldi began intensive study in the workshop of the santero Domingo Orta Pérez, alongside Orta's sons Domingo Orta, Jr. and José Antonio Orta. Now an accomplished santero in his hometown of Ponce, Rinaldi has received numerous awards and is represented in museum collections in Belgium, France, Ecuador, and Russia. Today, Rinaldi is also recognized as a leading expert on the historical and cultural background of the santos tradition. See the Picture Gallery for Rinaldi's Our Lady of the Purification (2000). top

María Santiago Burgos

María Santiago Burgos was born in 1958 in Orocovis. Her father supported his family of eleven children as a farmer and by working in the manufacture of cigars. She learned to carve from her husband Portalatín Fontanez Nieves who collaborated with her on her first santo, an image of the Three Kings. Since that time, she has carved over one hundred santos and says that images of the Virgin Mary are among her favorite subjects. In 2000, her carving of the Last Supper won first prize in the free expression category at the Museo de Arte de Ponce's fourth biennial exhibition of contemporary santos. She has also participated in the Encuentro Nacional de Talladoras, a forum for women carvers. See the Picture Gallery for María Santiago's Saint Lucy (2002). top

 [artist pic] Carmelo Soto Toledo

Carmelo Soto Toledo was born in Lares in 1906. Although he was able to make a living from carving santos, he also worked as a shoemaker and a carpenter. Don Carmelo was first inspired by a carving of the Three Kings that belonged to his aunt and eventually learned to carve by studying the work of older santeros whom he knew personally. Following Hurricane George in 1998, he rebuilt his house, originally of wood, in cement and designated a space on the first floor as a shop for his carvings. Don Carmelo is a very religious man who, in addition to carving santos, also composes aguinaldos and other religious songs for use in rosarios cantados and velorios. Now ninety-seven years old, he has been carving santos for 70 years and specializes in carving images of the Three Kings. See the Picture Gallery for Don Carmelo's Crucified Christ (2000). top

 [artist pic] Efraín Torres Camacho

Efraín Torres Camacho was born in San Germán in 1937. He has dedicated his life to the art of carving santos which he rarely paints, preferring the raw appearance of the wood. Torres began carving at the young age of nine, attempting to help his mother support his four siblings. He is renowned for his representations of the Virgin of Montserrat and for imbuing his figures with different emotions. Initially he sold his santos to his neighbors for a small price or in exchange for various products, but now his clients include doctors, engineers, lawyers and art collectors. See the Picture Gallery for Efraín Torres' Saint Wilgefortis (2002). top

Nitza Toste

Nitza Toste, born in 1949, lives in Hato Rey, a suburb of San Juan. She is a graduate of the Universidad de Puerto Rico. Nitza Toste strives for three-dimensionality in her santos, creating volumes that can be appreciated from all sides. Her work has been exhibited at the Museo de San Juan and the Museo de Arte de Ponce. In 1996, her carving representing the Three Marys was awarded first prize in the free expression category at the Museo de Arte de Ponce's second biennial exhibition of contemporary santos. She has also participated in the Encuentro Nacional de Talladoras, a forum for women carvers. See the Picture Gallery for her carving Angel (1996). top

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