Peter Ortega's internationally collected works have earned top awards at Santa Fe’s Spanish Market.
Peter Ortega was born in Tesuque, New Mexico. His parents are the esteemed Santero Ben Ortega Sr. and Isabelle Ortega. He is of Spanish decent which is an important aspect of keeping the folk art tradition. Peter learned the ways of being a Santero from his late father over 45 years ago. Each piece of artwork starts with a piece of wood which he then becomes inspired to turn it into a masterpiece. Peter is proudly carrying on the Ortega family legacy of creating magnificent works of art that will last for generations to come.
Santos are sacred art, and traditionally it was passed down in families. Carvers of saints know they are doing important work, and the historical context of religious art in New Mexico was that most towns were isolated, and without priests, so personal altars at home with specific patron saints would become the focus of each house. Carvers of Saints earn the the title Santero, or a carver of saints, and therefore that type of respect was not just given, but earned as each carver learns the path of technique and sacredness of his or her vocation. Because priests usually would tour through areas to perform the sacraments every couple of weeks (weather permitting) the importance of Sacred Art in the home and community became even more important and often priests were performing mass, weddings, funerals, etc., when they would travel through.
Pete Ortega has been called “the Michelangelo of woodcarving.” Like the famed Italian Renaissance sculptor, Ortega “sees” a figure within the natural shape of uncarved material—in his case, gently twisting cottonwood root or other wood native to the Southwest. With skills honed over almost 45 years, he deftly removes the excess wood, allowing the saint or angel he knew was in there to emerge. “Sometimes when I’m out there looking for wood I’ll see right away what it will be—there’s St. Francis!” Peter Ortega’s family, which traces its roots to Spain, has been in the Santa Fe area for generations. It is no surprise that he learned to carve from his father as a boy, using a pocketknife to shape small birds. Like his late father, internationally renowned carver Ben Ortega, Peter exudes warmth and reveals a deep love for his craft. He also carries on his father’s legacy through an award-winning style that is similar yet marked by its own distinctive qualities of refinement and detail.
Peter Ortega works primarily in cottonwood root but hand-carves any type of solid root or limb with an interesting shape. He finishes his pieces with natural stains, some of which he makes himself. The end result are graceful and engaging characters. St. Francis—one of his favorites. San Pascual is the saint of kitchens and cooks. Ortega’s smiling San Pasqual wears a flat-brimmed hat and often carries a stack of firewood for the cookstove and a bottle of wine—“a little bit for cooking and a little for San Pasqual!”
Ruth Ann Culver of Artesia, New Mexico, began collecting the senior Ortega’s carvings in the early 1970s and now owns a number of Pete’s as well. “There’s something pure and spiritual and beautiful about them,” she observes. “Looking at them just makes my heart smile.” Peter says about his father: “My dad used to say, ‘If you put your heart and your spirit and soul into it, people will like it.’ He left us the best gift in the world: making these carvings, which makes people happy—which makes me happy.”
Hand carved St. Francis and San Pascual Santos by famous Santero, Pete Ortega. Made out of cottonwood and other native New Mexican wood. St. Francis is the patron saint of animals so he is shown with birds. Each piece is unique and unlike anything previously created. The pictures are there to serve as somewhat of a guide but each carving has it's own beauty. You Might by chance be one of these; A cook, a Catholic, or a New Mexican, or simply have a very much designated kitchen, its presumable you might own something bearing the picture of San Pasqual the benefactor (Patron) of cooks and kitchens, sheep and shepherds. A culinary specialist's kitchen can never contain to many pictures or items of San Pasqual.
This is traditional New Mexican folk art. Hand carved wooden Santos by one of New Mexico's best known folk artist Peter Ortega. Peter Ortega's carvings come in 2 figures to choose from in three different sizes: St. Francis, San Pasqual.