DENVER - Growing up, Sean Trujillo says he didn't draw the Power Rangers or the Ninja Turtles like most kids in his class.
"I was always the one painting the crucifix and the holy cards," he says.
That strong connection with his Catholic faith eventually lead him to become a Santero, an artist dedicated to the practice of painting saints and other Spanish-influenced religious art.
"I knew I loved my faith and I knew I loved my culture," he says. "I got involved with the Chicano Humanities and Arts Council on the Santa Fe Drive and they opened me up to a whole other world of Santo art."
From his studio in North Denver, Trujillo embraces the tradition of creating Retablos. Retablos are Spanish-Colonial folk art which is dedicated to honoring saints and religious figures.
"[Making] Retablos it's not something that I do for art's sake. I don't just do it so I can sell or make money. This helps me as a person, you know this helps feed my soul because every day we all have different experiences that happen in our lives."
Trujillo is part of a younger generation learning the process which dates back hundreds of years, before New Mexico and Colorado were defined by a US border.
"[Missionaries] needed things to aid their missions and decorate their churches and to get things all the way from Mexico City was just either way too expensive or took way too long, so they use what they had," Trujillo says.
Like his predecessors, Trujillo doesn't buy most of his materials from the store, he makes them himself.
"So basically you start out with your wood. I like to use the aspen wood sometimes a pine, very easy to carve with," he says. "I'll draw my design and I'll cut it out ...and that's your where your creativity as an artist comes through."
It's not just the wood he carves himself, the paints and varnish are also handmade.
His reds come from the dirt of Red Rocks, his yellow hails from Boulder. His palette consist of colors from New Mexico and Colorado.
Trujillo says he learned many of the techniques from the Colorado Santero and Santera artists who passed down the tradition.
"To be the youngest one out of the whole entire bunch to maintain this tradition and to respect it and to learn from all the masters who came before me, is just a gratifying experience," he says.
His work has been commissioned for churches but also for personal home worship.
"Those are the most meaningful ones for me because I believe in the power of prayer," he says. "And if something that I can do that I can create a God-given gift that was given to me to create something and then give it to somebody else to help aid them in whatever it is that they're going through. I think that's the duty of a Santero."
Trujillo's work will be featured alongside other Colorado santero art at the CHAC Gallery and Cultural Center.
The exhibit, Santo y Cruces includes the work of Sean Trujillo, Carlos Santistevan, Frank Zamora, Teresa Duran, Jose Raul Esquibel, Sister Roberta Westrick, Catherine Robles Shaw, Roxanne Shaw Galindo, Lynn Fresquez, Judy Miranda, Vanessa Fresquez, Meggan DeAnza, Ron Miera and Al Florence. It will also highlight the background and history of Retablos, Bultos and Reredos.
The gallery offers chances to meet the artist or participate in interactive workshops. A list of information is available at http://www.chacweb.org/2017/04/april-exhibitions/.
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