In New Mexico, images of saints (santos) were known as bultos (sculptures) and retablos (paintings on wood). Local woods–aspen and cottonwood root for bultos and pine for retablos–were used; water-based paints were made from local and imported vegetal and mineral pigments.Religious images were brought to New Mexico by the first settlers in 1598 and were imported throughout the seventeenth century.
Period documents describe the presence of sculptures, paintings on canvas and copper, engravings, gilded tabernacles, and gilded altar screens from Mexico. During the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, most Christian imagery was destroyed.
In the late 1700s increasing numbers of religious images made in New Mexico took their place alongside imported pieces in churches and homes. Grounded in the Spanish Catholic tradition and evolving art styles of Europe, a unique local aesthetic peculiar to New Mexico developed on the northern frontier of New Spain. At least a dozen santeros, or saint-makers, were active in New Mexico by the 1820s and had developed a style that is distinctly New Mexican in character.
[excerpted from an article by Donna Pierce in Spanish New Mexico, The Spanish Colonial Arts Society Collection]