Friday, May 27, 2011

Day Trips: High Road to Taos, Part 2 in a Series

Cordova and Truchas
The next stops on the High Road to Taos are two communities small enough, and close enough together to share a zip code.

Originally named Pueblo Quemado for  an ancient, burned-out pueblo, Cordova was settled as an expansion from the Chimayo valley. The tiny community was abandoned in 1748 due to renegade Indian attacks, and permanently re-settled by 1750, named Cordova for a prominent local family.

Cordova is best known for the Lopez family of Santeros, or saint-carvers.

Originally, Spanish usage reserved the term santos for holy personages, including the saints as well as the Holy Family and for blessed objects which represent or are associated with them. The term “santero” referred to a wide range of persons who cared for a church or chapel and its furnishings, or who made, repaired, or repainted images. While the term santos has evolved into a broader meaning, including spiritually significant icons as well as animals and other folk images, the meaning of santeros has narrowed, now referring only to those who carve santos.

Jose Dolores Lopez (1868-1937) was a fifth generation santero, and like his forbears, he made his living also by making carved and painted screen doors, frames, nichos, shelves, chairs, tables (and even mailboxes and coffins), as well as being a maker of paper flowers and filigree jewelry, and a weaver. He also served as the town cobbler.

Lopez’s early santos were in the traditional painted style, but in the 1920s he began to develop what would become a unique style to his family; intricately carved santos of natural wood. He made use of the natural grain and unusual shapes present in local woods such as juniper, aspen and cedar.

Though his son George grew up with the tradition, for a time he went his own way, working on the railroad in Colorado, and then in Los Alamos during World War II. During long nights in the railroad camps, George started whittling small santos reminiscent of those he had watched his father carve in his youth. After the war, he returned to Cordova to take up the art full time.

George’s work continued the evolution of the art form, and in 1982, he was awarded the National Heritage Fellowship by the National Endowment for the Arts. The Lopez santero tradition is carried on today by his niece Sabinita Lopez de Ortiz.

The next stop on the High Road is Truchas, halfway between Santa Fe and Taos, where it straddles a ridge 8,400 feet above sea level. The colony of Truchas was established by a Spanish land grant in 1754 as an outpost. Built as a walled compound around a plaza, its purpose was to provide a buffer between other Spanish settlements and nomadic Apache and Comanche bands who often raided both Spanish villages and Indian pueblos.

There are numerous traditional crafts in evidence, including weaving, wood carving, furniture making, quiltmaking, and local pueblo pottery. In addition, Truchas has several galleries which feature contemporary local artwork and imported handicrafts.

Because the community has remained unchanged for so long, it still operates by many of the original Spanish land grant bylaws. For example, cars must share the roads with livestock, giving the livestock right-of-way.

Truchas offers stunning views of the Truchas Peaks, part of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, (nearly 5,000 feet above the community) and the Espanola Valley. The Truchas Peaks are a beautiful group of mountains with a true wilderness character, making them a destination for serious hikers and climbers.

More about Cordova, New Mexico

More about Truchas, New Mexico

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