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Dropping in on New Mexico's celebrated wood carves.

Dropping in on New Mexico's celebrated wood carvers The heady scent of burning pinon and cedar is only one byproduct of northern New Mexico's aromatic woods. Carvers, pursuing a tradition brought centuries ago by the Spanish and handed down from generation to generation, make loving use of pine, aspen, cottonwood, and cedar to sculpt animals, religious representations, and decorative figures.

Working in studios tucked away in the tiny hill towns that surround Santa Fe, these artisans welcome visitors and happily take time to explain their work, materials, and subject matter. Prices range from $25 to $2,000.

Cordova, the carving capital

Several generations of woodcarvers inhabit this sleepy little village nestled in a valley just off the High Road to Taos (State Highway 76). Most prominent is 91-year-old George Lopez, the elder statesman of woodcarvers, who carves charming figures of squirrels, rabbits, birds, and other animals from unpainted cottonwood and cedar.

Now that he is almost fully retired, his niece, Sabinita Lopez Ortiz, carries on the family carving tradition. A few family members and neighbors also maintain workshops around town; these are clearly marked with signs along Cordova's main road. Sabinita Ortiz can be reached at (505) 351-4572; her shop is open 8 to 7 daily. Her uncle's shop next door keeps the same hours.

Religious figures carved by santeros

Perhaps the most recognizable of New Mexico's many folk arts, the carving of santos, or religious figures, is done by specialists known as santeros.

In Chimayo, about a mile east of State Highway 520 on State 76, are the gallery and studio of Marco Oviedo, an award-winning santero whose family has been carving since at least 1730. Although he specializes in religious figures, he accepts commissions for secular pieces. The gallery is open 1 to 7 daily (351-2280).

Contemporary carving

New styles and subjects engage contemporary carvers, who bring the traditional art form up to date in a burst of color and inspiration.

Just outside Santa Fe, on State Highway 5, is the studio of Jim Davila, generally credited with popularizing those gaily painted wooden snakes that have become a Santa Fe trademark. Davila also carves and paints fish and other whimsical, brightly colored figures. For an appointment, call 455-2962.
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Date:May 1, 1991
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