It may be one of the best-kept secrets in New Mexico.
Twenty years ago, a group of artists decided to start a festival dedicated to the very best of Hispanic art and culture. Initially, the mind turns to Taos or Santa Fe when thinking of vibrant New Mexico art scenes, but this yearly celebration, named “La Fiesta de Colores”, occurs in the little town of Grants.
Over one weekend in the spring, the festival is packed with activities ranging from processions and dances to boxing and car shows to music, food and a huge display of religious art.
“The Hispanic community decided they wanted to celebrate their culture and heritage,” said Jerry Montoya, a local artist and organizer of the fiesta. “They wanted to highlight their rich culture in the arts, music and dance along with the visual arts. Food and religion were also a big part of our culture and history in New Mexico.”
The art show, which is the highlight of the Fiesta, has been hosted for the past several years by the community center at St. Teresa Church in Grants. Award-winning artists come from across New Mexico, including Taos and Santa Fe, to display their work. Each year may also loosely follow a theme – in 2013, many artists chose to depict St. Kateri Tekakwitha in their work to honor her canonization as the first Native American saint. This year, because of the double canonization of Popes John Paul II and John XXIII, many artists included John Paul II in their paintings and sculptures.
(Video courtesy of Fr. Matthew Keller)
The festival also exists thanks to a long tradition of Hispanic cultural influence in both New Mexico and the Grants area. Montoya explained that over hundreds of years, Hispanic art in the area has taken on a uniquely New Mexican slant.
“Art in the Spanish colonial era was mainly through the church with its images of the saints and the prayers in Spanish. When the Spanish colonists moved on they took their images of the santos, leaving the locals to create their own with the resources that they had on hand. Pine and cedar wood replaced their marble and bronze statues; straw and tin replaced their gold and silver.”
Now, Montoya says, he and his fellow Fiesta participants are hoping to continue in the footsteps of the artists who came before them.
“Sharing ideas and the techniques of my holy art with my friends and fellow Santeros (someone who creates religious art) is like a family experience. We research iconography and share materials. Recreating the images of the Saints in our own native resources gives me a great feeling of the Holy Spirit inside me.”
He noted that many visitors compare the Fiesta to the Spanish Market located in Santa Fe. Although the 2014 Fiesta is now finished, it is only projected to grow in the coming years. And, as Montoya and other artists hope, it will preserve and continue a long tradition of uniquely New Mexican Hispanic culture.
For more photos, artwork, and information, visit lafiestadecolores.com