José de Garcia Gonzales


was an itinerant Mexican-born painter and sculptor, and one of the most important artists working in late-nineteenth-century New Mexico. Gonzales left his nativeChihuahua, Mexico, in 1860, and moved to northern New Mexico to pursue his self-described vocation as a painter. The American occupation of the New Mexicoterritory in 1846 had resulted in an influx of trade, including commercial religious images, initiating a slow decline in works by area
(makers of religiousimages). Upon his arrival, Gonzales immediately set to work as both creator and restorer of several important church altar screens, religious paintings, and sculptures invarious northern New Mexico villages.Gonzales was a trained artist who worked in a provincial Neoclassic style, a simplified interpretation of the academic painting style that prevailed in mid-nineteenth-century Mexico. His works in oil had a distinctive Mexican flair, with detailed depictions of saints in rich colors bordered by popular floral and other Mexican motifs.Between 1864 and 1869, approximately, Gonzales was commissioned to restore the early-nineteenth-century wooden altar screens in the church of Las Trampas. Herepainted the same images as they had originally been portrayed, with the exception of one altar screen dedicated to St. Francis of Assisi. Gonzales also created threealtar screens in churches near the village of Peñasco, and one in the parish church at Arroyo Seco. These altar screens stand as premier examples of Gonzales’smasterful painting and restoration skills.As a sculptor, Gonzales brought new life to the tradition of making
as well. In keeping with the
tradition in New Mexico, Gonzales created polychrome
(three-dimensional religious sculptures), although even in this medium his detailed painting skills are emphasized. A unique polychrome sculpturemade between 1860 and 1875 combines the artist’s sculpting and painting styles, with a carved image of the Crucifixion flanked by two painted wooden panelsdepicting Our Lady of Sorrows and St. John the Evangelist. The image reveals the artist’s resourcefulness; stenciling on the back of the cross indicates that it was madeusing a packing box from St. Louis, Missouri, which would have been shipped to the area via the Santa Fe Trail.Gonzales moved to Trinidad, Colorado, in the 1870s. There he continued to paint and sculpt, making his own molds and casting them in plaster, another popular Mexican technique. He lived in Trinidad until his death, presumably supporting himself as an artist.
See also
Bultos; Painting, American Folk; Religious Folk Art; Santos; Sculpture, Folk
Frank, Larry.
A Land So Remote.
Santa Fe, N. Mex., 2001.Padilla, Carmella, and Donna Pierce.
Conexiones: Connections in Spanish Colonial Art.
Santa Fe, N. Mex., 2002.Wroth, William.
Images of Penance, Images of Mercy: Southwestern Santos in the Late Nineteenth Century.
Norman, Okla., 1991