The Arts, Food, and Culture (261)

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."

Bert's Burger Bowl: "Scenes for "Two-Lane Blacktop" were shot in the early 70s near the Santa Fé Plaza and at a motel in Santa Fé. The car race scenes were shot on Airport Road. This nighttime scene was shot at Bert’s Burger Bowl. It starred musicians James Taylor and Dennis Wilson."
Movie Locations of the Great Southwest

While there are some features of the Northern New Mexico experience which have transformed or even diminished in recent years, there are those treasured aspects of the culture  which have endured and should be preserved.  Some of these include the food created from locally grown produce such as the chilé; the distinctive dialects as differentiated from one Spanish-speaking town to another, reflecting the uniqueness of the people in each community; and certainly the arts such as the music, again a story of the people's experiences and life-journeys.   

Long adored for her passion and her talent, and now appreciated for her contribution to that notion that we must not forget from where we came, is 89-year old  Antonia Apodaca.  Antonia was born into a family of musicians in Rociada, NM. A talented guitarist and songwriter and a dynamic button accordion player, she has an extensive repertoire of traditional Hispanic tunes and songs from Northern New Mexico that she learned from her parents and uncles.

If you know  Antonia's music, you know how special she is to Northern New Mexico.  If you are hearing about her for the first time, Voces de Santa Fé is proud to introduce her, as it is the goal of this website to honor and preserve the traditions of our families.

La música de Antonia Apodaca:


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