Monday, 04 June 2012 14:16

Santero Artist Ramon Montes

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An artist steeped in tradition

Ana Maria Trujillo | The New Mexican, Posted: Saturday, May 30, 2009  

Ramon Montes

The living room in Ramon Montes' house near the Railyard is filled with original pieces by Montes himself. Wooden carvings of La Virgen de Guadalupe and the Stations of the Cross hang proudly. A few kachinas can be spotted if one looks carefully. Framed Christmas trees made from his late wife's jewelry are displayed on stands on the dining room table. 

It's his work as a santero and a mentor to young artists, his heritage and his amazing life story that earned him a spot as a Living Treasure. According to the Living Treasures Committee, Montes, who was born and raised in Santa Fe, is a "true Santa Fean." 

Montes, 90, has been an artist since he was a little boy, he said. He still works a few hours every day, creating new things. 

His late father was a wood carver. One day, he took the boy aside, gave him his first knife and taught Montes the trade. 

In addition to carving, Montes started working when he was just a little boy. 

"When I was about 6 or 7 years old, my brother and I used to sell The New Mexican, and once a week we used to sell the Nuevo Mexicano," Montes said. He earned enough money — $7 — to purchase part of his first communion suit. 

"I got all my nickels and dimes and quarters and I had enough money to buy my jacket and pants," Montes remembers with a laugh. "My father and mother bought the rest. 

"I always worked," Montes added. "I worked all my life." 

He eventually joined the Civil Conservation Corps to help provide for his family when his father was sick with cancer. Every time he would receive his $30 check, he would send $25 home and keep $5 for himself. After two years, Montes had to leave as per the organization's requirement, and wait six months before returning. Within that six months, though, his life changed drastically. 

His parents died, leaving Montes in charge of his six younger siblings. Both his work ethic and his carving skills were utilized during this time. He worked to provide for his siblings and carved toys for them for every holiday and celebration. 

He created so many beautiful toys and cribs, in excess of what he needed for his siblings, that he showed his work to a couple who owned a furniture store downtown [where the Hilton Hotel is now]. The owners asked him to bring over everything he had so they could sell it. Shortly after Montes took over all his work, there was an explosion at the store, killing the owners and destroying his work. 

"That was the end of my woodworking," Montes said. "Everything I had was gone. The poor man was so good to me and they both died." 

Montes entered the Army during World War II. Before he left New York, a priest gave him a rosary, with which he prayed fervently for his safe return. He made a promise that if he returned safely, he would make a pilgrimage to Chimayó — a promise he kept when he returned home [walking in his combat boots through trails over the hills before there was a road like today]. Montes still prays with the rosary, twice a day. 

Also, when he returned home, Montes' grandfather convinced him he should began to carve again — but this time to carve something more meaningful. Montes drew on his faith and began carving santos. His house is filled with art because he doesn't sell it. 

He said he's witnessed the drastic change of Santa Fe — which had only about

10,000 residents when he was a boy. In his neighborhood, which now includes the Railyard, only Spanish was spoken. 

He said he doesn't know why he was chosen to be Living Treasure, but "It's a big honor."

Read 2101 times Last modified on Monday, 04 June 2012 14:57
Maria Montez-Skolnik

Family

Both sides of my family trace their roots in the Santa Fé area to the 1600s.  In the earlier years they were primarily farmers, builders, craftsmen, artists (wood carvers and weavers), and educators.  I graduated from SFHS & NMSU and received my BA & MA in Speech & Language Pathology. I divide my time between Santa Fé and the San Francisco Bay Area.  

 

2 comments

  • Comment Link Jerry Kerr Tuesday, 25 November 2014 02:56 posted by Jerry Kerr

    His legacy lives in his children and the beautiful work he left behind.

  • Comment Link Mike Lord Monday, 04 June 2012 15:23 posted by Mike Lord

    What a remarkable man. I only wish that I could have met him. Seeing his life's work has been a rare privilege.

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