Tuesday, November 21, 2017


I paint saints because they embody the great desire to be one, united with the great source of life and love - our true purpose for being... BROTHER ARTURO OLIVAS, OFS

Self Portrait
My dear friend, renowned santero ARTURO OLIVAS passed to the Father, on Saturday, November 18 after an almost  7 year battle with cancer.  Everyone who came into contact with him, from his students to fellow artists, were better for knowing him.

Arturo painted Catholic images after the style of New Mexican religious folk artists of the 18th and 19th centuries. These images are commonly known as retablos. Early Santeros, who painted Retablos, used wooden panels and water-soluble paints colored with natural pigments and sealed their paintings with pinesap varnish. Arturo painted his original Retablos using these same materials.

The iconography of the Retablos is based on a centuries old canon governing the depiction of Catholic saints. The Church relied heavily upon the standard use of symbols and motifs to help illiterate faithful in Europe and the Americas identify and learn the stories of the saints. Hence one could travel from the churches and chapels in New Mexico to those of Peru and identify the same saints rendered in distinct regional styles.

The Christmas Card
St Martin de Porres

New Mexican Retablos are distinctive in the bold use of simple lines and colors. The primitive materials dictated the style and training available to artists who were generally self-taught, a distinction Arturo shares with his forebears. The tradition of New Mexican Retablo painting reached its peak during the mid-nineteenth century. Arturo's work incorporates elements of his Spanish and Native American ancestry in order to preserve and teach the faith and customs of his forebears.

Arturo’s family originated in Spain from whence it migrated to Mexico, Texas, New Mexico and California. The Olivas family entered New Mexico in 1695 as part of the so-called reconquest of the region after the 1680 Pueblo Indian revolt which expelled the Spanish-Mexicans to El Paso. About ninety years later another branch of the Olivas family guarded the founding settlers of Los Angeles, California and was later granted the Rancho San Miguel in Ventura which still stands as a public museum.

"My family heritage strongly influences my work. In my youth my father danced the Matachines, an ancient folk dance introduced by the Spanish conquistadors, on the major feast days of the saints. My mother is descended in part from the Tarahumara people of northern Mexico and valued the folk traditions of her people. In my work I incorporate elements of my Spanish and Native American ancestry in order to preserve and teach the faith and customs of my forebears."  (Br. Arturo Olivas, OFS)

OL of Guadalupe
Arturo  became a Secular Franciscan Order in 2007, making his  final profession in 2010. He served as servant minster from 2012 to 2015. His Franciscan vocation meant a lot to him and he was in the process of petitioning for permission for lay religious to wear the habit of the Order ( a custom in later times).

Several years ago Arturo gave us permission to use one of his pieces for our Christmas card. We chose  "The Soul of Mary". Arturo had told me he wanted to present us with one of his works, and knowing my birthday was the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, he would give us  that work. Later however knowing of my love of the Sacred Heart, he made for me that piece, giving it to us last year. I am sure it was one of his last pieces, and one which we treasure. 

Arturo's faith, in his  work and health and in his illness are an example to all of us and while he will be greatly missed, his life lives on through his art and his example.

OLRs Sacred Heart of Jesus

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