was revered as a master santero (a maker of religious images) among fellow santeros for creating detailed, powerful artworks that challenged them to raise the bar on quality in the carving arts. Valdez was raised in the tiny village of Dixon, New Mexico, an area steeped in the cultural and religious traditions of his Hispanic ancestors. A carpenter by trade, Valdez was frequently forced to leave home to find work but retumed whenever possible.
Then, in 1974, a nearly fatal accident resulted in an injury that ended Valdez's carpentry career. That same year, friends invited Valdez to join a lay religious brotherhood commonly known as the penitente or the penitent ones, that met in an adobe morada or meeting house adorned with centuries old bultos (three-dimensional religious carvings) and retablos (religious paintings on wood). The experience had a profound effect on Valdez's life, prompting him to pick up a pocketknife and make copies of the saints. What started as a way to pass the time became his life's passion.
Valdez carved random chunks of aspen wood scattered around his mountain home, using scholarly books about New Mexican santos as a visual guide. Unsure of what paints to use, he followed a store clerk's advice and bought commercial acrylics, then taught himself how to paint. Valdez's use of commercial paints was a significant departure from the works of the early santeros, who created homemade paints from natural pigments. But Valdez's natural ability resulted in original images that, though based on old models, were refreshingly new. His bultos and retablos depicted the passionate stories of the saints through highly refined carving and painting techniques that would characterize Valdez as a master.
Valdez's art provided him with a necessary income and his work proved immediately popular in the marketplace. His first three carvings were purchased by the Taylor Museum in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Before his death, his works would be included in private and public collections internationally. Among his most popular images are eerie, large-scale death carts, skeletal images of death riding in rickety wooden carts traditionally used in penitente processions. Valdez's personal favorite was the Crucifixion, and he created hundreds during his career.
Valdez spent his artistic career carrying on the traditions of his ancestors, but he was also convinced that traditions change as times change. By producing polychrome santos, he gave an important nod to historical styles while allowing those styles to evolve through his own personal style. In doing so, Valdez has inspired new generations of New Mexican santeros.
See also Bultos; Death Carts; Religious Folk Art; Retablos; Santeros; Sculpture, Folk.
is recognized as the creator of a distinctive body of Pennsylvania German birth and baptismal records, marriage and family records, and decorated religious texts, but efforts of researchers to assemble even rudimentary information about his life and career have failed. Van Minian initially was identified as the maker of a birth record bearing his signature in the collection of the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Folk Art Museum. His are among the most engaging and whimsical examples of fraktur in the tradition of the Pennsylvania Germans. Much of his work was undertaken for families in Berks and Montgomery Counties, Pennsylvania, and Baltimore County, Maryland, but he also produced a marriage and family record for a couple in Dorset, Vermont, dated 1826. His last dated work records the