O’Sullivan Art Gallery opens Santos show, displaying works of local artists

With depictions of iconic Catholic figures from Our Lady of Guadalupe to St. Francis, the O’Sullivan Art Gallery’s latest show will display the works of Colorado artists keeping the artistic tradition of saint-making alive. Hosted every four years, Regis University’s Santos show is among the gallery’s most popular, highlighting the continuation of an artistic custom with roots in northern New Mexico and southern Colorado.

The 2022 Santos show opens today, displaying the works of 13 local artists. An opening reception is set for 4:30 p.m. on Thursday, and a gallery talk by artist Sean Trujillo will be hosted at 7 p.m. on Nov. 3. For visitors interested in purchasing art, a Santos Market will be hosted from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Dec. 3.

Fine Arts Studio Manager Robert St. John said the artists who are showing work hold deep reverence for the tradition. 

“We're showing artists that are still working in that tradition, literally, a couple of hundred years after it started,” St. John said. “These artists are very committed to this whole tradition of making saints.”

In conjunction with the Santos show, the Regis Fine and Performing Arts Department will welcome Lorenzo Ramirez and Grupo Folklorico Labor Latino for a concert at 7:30 p.m. today. The event, which will be in the Claver Recital Hall, is free and open to the public.

The show will feature the work of artists Lena Blea, Meggan DeAnza, Teresa May Duran, Lynn Fresquez, Ronn Miera, Brigida Montes, Catherine Robles-Shaw, Carlos Santistevan, Carlos Santistevan II, Roxanne Shaw-Galindo, Sean Trujillo, Vanessa Zamora Vasquez and Frank Zamora. For some of the artists, Santos have become a family tradition, with multiple sets of families showing their pieces.

In addition to the contemporary pieces that will be on display in the gallery, St. John said the show typically sparks interest in the University’s Santos Collection, which contains nearly 1,000 depictions of holy persons and devotional objects. The collection, on display on the third floor of the Dayton Memorial Library, was started by former Regis faculty member Rev. Thomas J. Steele, S.J., who began collecting the objects in the mid-1960s and continued until his death in 2010.

The Santos tradition has roots in the 18th and 19th centuries in modern northern New Mexico and southern Colorado. St. John said settlers in what was northern Mexico at the time, especially Santa Fe, relied on supplies sent via wagons from Mexico City, the center of the Spanish colonial empire.

“In this area, the settlers were sort of cut off from a lot of things and they developed these crafts and traditions of making their own furniture, their own cookware. This included making their own religious objects,” St. John said. “One of the one of the shortages they had, besides material things, was with priests.”

People used the depictions of saints for devotionals, both at home and in religious observances, according to the Dayton Memorial Library. The objects were made with the materials that were readily available in New Mexico and Colorado, such as cottonwood and pine. St. John said the artists also created their own pigments and varnishes with piñon pine tree sap, a tradition that continues today and may be observed in the works of the artists whose works are on display in the gallery.

“These are all local artists from this area,” St. John said. “They're still using a lot of that old traditional material.”

For St. John, who will retire next week, it’s fitting that the show will close out his tenure at the gallery. When he started 17 years ago, one of his first shows featured Santos, and the pieces have been among his favorite to work with.

“It's my fifth time working with a lot of these artists, and they've been so wonderful to work with,” St. John said. “They are so proud of what they do, and so concerned about the quality of what they do, and the subject matter.”

The gallery is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday and from 2 to 8 p.m. Thursday. The gallery, which will be closed Nov. 23-25 for the Thanksgiving holiday, will display the works through Dec. 2. The events are free and open to the public. Learn more about the gallery.


Photo: Artist Sean Trujillo's San Ramón Nonato will be on display at the O'Sullivan Art Gallery's Santos show.