Frank Brito Jr.

 

BRITO, FRANK, SR.
(1922–)
did not intend to become a
santero
(a maker of religious images), yet his thirty-five-year devotion to the art form has established him as one of the most respected
santeros
in New Mexico. Brito was born in Albuquerque, but his family moved north to Santa Fe. During the Great Depression, Brito quit the fifth grade to sellnewspapers and work other jobs. Traditional carvings and paintings of saints were a familiar part of Brito’s Hispanic upbringing, and at age thirteen he beganexperimenting with using a pocketknife to copy the faces of popular saints in wood.Years later, in 1965, when an illness temporarily sidelined Brito from his work as a plumber, he turned to carving to help pass the time. It was at this point that heattempted to create full-bodied renditions of saints. In addition to a pocketknife, he used hand chisels to shape original images from aspen and pine. Brito based hisworks on traditional colonial-era pro totypes, but shunned the conventional uses of color and detail in favor of his own color combinations and designs. As Brito became more personally connected to his work, his saints’ facial features began to reflect the faces of his friends and neighbors. He also portrayed saints, such as SaintPatrick, who were not ordinarily depicted.In 1967 Brito decided to sell his creations at Santa Fe’s Spanish Market, an annual exhibition of artworks modeled after Spanish colonial styles. There, Brito became well-known for his unique style of
bultos
(three-dimensional religious sculptures), creating demand for his work among private collectors, galleries, andmuseums. Brito originally used native woods, homemade gesso, and paints from natural pigments as his primary materials. By 1985, however, he had determined thatmodern materials were more efficient, and switched to using commercial watercolor and acrylic paints, and even non-native woods that proved softer to carve.Brito also expanded upon his repertoire of saints to include carved and painted animals (roosters, cats, rabbits, and coyotes) which were then in great demandamong area folk art collectors, although saints remained his main focus. In 1987, during a visit from Pope John Paul II to Salinas, California, a Brito
bulto
of SanYsidro, the patron saint of agriculture and one of Brito’s favorite subjects, was presented to the pontiff as a gift. In 1996 Brito’s artistic longevity was acknowledged atthe Spanish Market, where he received the Master’s Award for Lifetime Achievement.
See also
Bultos; Religious Folk Art; Santeros;

Sculpture, Folk.
BIBLIOGRAPHY
Rosenak, Chuck, and Jan Rosenak.
The Saint Makers: Contemporary Santeras and Santeros.
Flagstaff, Ariz., 1998