Sunday, January 3, 2010


Inspired by David Chavez and the works of Patrocino Barela

I would like to tell you a little story about this woodcarving (No. 8730). I carved it as a Valentines gift for my wife-to-be, Linda. The year was 1998, it was about two hours before she was coming home from work to my converted school bus. I suddenly realized at about for in the afternoon, that I had forgotten to get her a gift (oh, what a guy thing to do!!!).

I quickly went out to my fire wood pile and located an exquisite, but quite gnarled piece of Rocky Mountain Juniper (perfect). Working feverishly for the next couple of hours, I had the carving waiting for her when she arrived. Day saved with seconds to spare!

Besides the amazingly short amount of time that this chunk of fire wood became a treasured gift, there is more to the story...

A few years prior to this, a chap by the name of David Chavez strolled into my studio at the Pueblo Alegra Mall and asked me if I could teach him to carve. David not only wanted to learn to carve but he had a certain style of carving on his mind and that is what he wanted to do. He wanted to carve in the style of Patrocino Barela a famous Taos carver from the days of the great depression.

So David became a student and
a good student at that. Turns out that David's uncle had a collection of several hundred of Barela's carvings, and some of these are what we used to train David to achieve a carving style which was like Berela's, was definitely David's.

David studied with me for a couple of years, during which time we became friends. David was beginning to get a following of people who wanted his angels and he started doing local art shows. One autumn when I was teaching carving at UNM I had invited David to bring some of his work and talk with my class. After the class David told me that he was invited to do a Christmas show at Los Alamos and asked me to do the show with him and I accepted.

David's style was similar to the above angel except that the wings were always down or added on. I told Dave that I would do relief carvings and we decided that at the end of the show we would just split any profits. And if there were any profits we decided that other shows would be in order.

That week I went to a local wood mill in El Salto and had them cut me diagonal Juniper slabs which I would use for my relief carvings. I took some of the slabs to my UNM class and had the students look at a slab and see what they thought they saw in it. Being the majority of my class were hispanic with a strong Catholic origin, it came as no surprise that the majority of them saw Mother Mary. Thus the birth of my Taos Spiritual Series. By the time of the show we both had a good number of carvings.

Unfortunately just before the show, my friend David had a heart attack which took his life. I never did the show. I had know from early on that David had this heart condition and that is why he retired and took up woodcarving. The Carving had enabled David to do something creative and something he enjoyed in the last years of his stay here on earth. For me I gained a friend. A friend who was a Taos native and who shared his knowledge of the area. A friend who I will never forget. A friend who turned me on to private showings of the the carvings of Barela and the stories of how his uncle came to have such a valuable collection (each carving was worth a minimum of $1,000 and many of them much more).

David's uncle was Barela's neighbor.Seems that Patrocino was more often than not shy of money for food and such, So, David's uncle would purchase carvings from Patrocino and times for as little as a pint of whiskey or he would give Patrocino's wife money for food. Over the years he had acquired more carvings than he had room to display them so many of them were stored in boxes to be rotated out for display or just stored away. When he died, he left his collection to the members of his family.

I am ever thankful for this time I spent with David and his family and for being privileged to see this wonderful collection of Patrocino Barela's woodcarvings.

Terry R. Wolff

P.S. A footnote about Patrocino Barela life. Born during 1900 in Bisbee Arizona, his father moved his family to Taos in 1904. He emerged in 1936 as one of America's most important artist when he was featured in a show of Federal Art Project artists in New York's Museum of Modern Art and was the first Mexican American artist to achieve national acclaim. Patrocino was a prolific woodcarver. He died at the age of 64, when a fire took his life as he slept in his carving shed on the night of his 33rd anniversary.