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An extraordinary and extremely large historic
New Mexican carved wooden bulto or Santo of
“San Pedro” or Saint Peter The Apostle by George
T. Lopez, Cordova, New Mexico, c. 1950’s
As you can clearly see, this piece is a very big deal indeed; large literally, at a colossal 38 3/4” in height and
figuratively in its obvious quality and exceptional beauty. Santero George T. Lopez (1900-1993), is of course a major New Mexican artistic legend and a designated national American treasure, the honored and deserving recipient in 1980 of the National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage fellowship. Son of the renowned Cordova, NM wood carver, Jose Dolores Lopez (1868-1937), young George grew up with great carving and great religious devotion, the key elements of becoming a great Santero. However, George first had an entire life as a journeyman railroad worker working around the intermountain west. He would carve wood figures from memories of his father’s work and from seeing the various saints in his local village church as a child during the long lonely nights in the railroad camps. He returned to New Mexico in the mid-1940’s to work for a time at Los Alamos National Laboratories before settling back into his home village of Cordova around 1948-50 to take up his wood carving full time to which he devoted himself completely until his death in 1993.
"It's part of my life, and part of my name ...
I'm a sixth-generation santero.”
-George T. Lopez
At left, Jose Dolores Lopez, c. 1930. At center, San Antonio de Padua in Cordova, New Mexico, George Lopez’ s village church.
At right, an original historic photo of George T. Lopez, c. 1950, possibly by T. Harmon Parkhurst, Santa Fe. At lower right in the photo is an unfinished carving of a very large San Pedro figure. To view our website listing of a very similar large San Pedro figure by George T. Lopez, please click here. To view our website listing of this historic photograph,
Left photo source and © National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. Center photo source and . © Joe Vogan Photography.
Lopez can be seen pictured above in the historic c.1950’s black and white photograph of him at work with a large figure of San Pedro which is likely a slightly different figure than the one we are discussing here. We sold another large San Pedro by George Lopez in 2012 which was five inches shorter than this one and which is also pictured here. Our sense is that the piece in the historic photo is this first slightly smaller one primarily because of the shape and height of the figure’s headpiece but it is hard to be completely certain. The larger St. Peter we are discussing here has a beautiful large headpiece on which is carved an upside down dove symbolizing “El Espiritu Santo”, The Holy Spirit looking down from above. The Holy Spirit is naturally one of Saint Peter’s sacred symbols. In his left hand, Saint Peter holds a bible which is carved with the inscription “El libro de la vida Jesus” which translates to “the book of the life of Jesus”.
The Bible itself measures 3 1/2” in length by about 3” in width.
In Peter’s right hand, he holds his famous Key to the Gates of Heaven which measures approximately 8 1/2” in length
and is about 2” in width at the widest point. The key is made in two pieces interestingly jointed together, one of which is removable. The key is inscribed with the words “La Llabe” which in Spanish means “the key”. Saint Peter is known in Spanish as “El protector del cielo”, “the gatekeeper of Heaven” and thus he is always the custodian of the keys to the kingdom.
The overall size, detail and finesse of this extraordinary carving speaks to Lopez’s devotion in his life and to this particular Saint in that the two depictions of Peter we have seen by George have both been equally monumental in their scale, detail and significance. “A whole lotta love” as someone more contemporary has put it. We would say that this figure is the largest one of these in existence, but we cannot be certain. When we acquired our 33 1/4 inch St. Peter
some years ago we had never seen a larger one so we naturally thought the same thing then.
The figure is made almost entirely of hand-carved local New Mexico Aspen wood. The feet are slightly darker in tone and wood grain and might be Mountain Mahogany, another local northern New Mexico wood Lopez used regularly. The figure measures 38 3/4” in height and it is approximately 16” in width at its widest point. It is in excellent original condition and particularly so considering its 70 or so years of age. There are a couple of water stains, one on the front of the figure’s robe at the lower right and another on the figure’s right foot. The figure is titled and signed across the bottom front of his robe in a hand-carved inscribed signature which reads as follows: San Pedro George T. Lopez, Cordova, NM. There is some additional carving below this which might possibly be a date but we cannot read these characters accurately.
This figure is one of the most important and monumental pieces of historic 20th Century New Mexican and American folk art in existence. It would be a significant major addition to any private or Museum collection anywhere in the world.
Price available upon request
At right, another very large bulto of San Pedro, 33 3/4” in height, by George T. Lopez, c. 1940‘s. We previously sold this bulto in 2012.
The Basilica of Saint Peter in Saint Peter’s Square, Vatican City, Rome