Las Cruces, NM
Tomasita J. Rodriguez does what traditional santeros and santeras do; she creates images of saintly subjects, using materials and techniques that have been used by artists since the 1500s. However, Rodriguez does it all in miniature.
Focusing on spirituality, artistry and traditions that date back centuries, Rodriguez often creates Biblical scenes dramatizing the lives of Jesus, Mary and various saints illustrated in small tableaux.
Rodriguez’s works include painted bultos (carved wooden images of saints) and retablos (niches, and altar pieces). Her talents are highly regarded and she has been a part of the Santa Fe-based Spanish Colonial Arts Society for more than 30 years. In order to be accepted into this prestigious society, artists must qualify through a rigorous jury process verifying that they use authentic methods and techniques in line with artistic traditions dating back more than 400 years, since the region was colonized by Spain.
Rodriguez, a native of Santa Fe, is from a family of artisans. Her father, Jacob Rodriguez, was an artisan with the Works Progress Administration, a New Deal program of the Franklin Roosevelt administration. From him, she learned techniques for finishes, antiquing and distressing wood. Her mother, Loretta S. Rodriguez, did traditional, intricate straw appliqué. Her aunt, Paula Rodriguez, is credited with reviving straw applique traditions after World War II, and her uncle, Eliseo Rodriguez, was a painter associated with the Cinco Pintores, a noted group of artists recognized for helping found arts communities in Santa Fe and Taos.
Tomasita Rodriquez. Our Lady of Guadalupe in Tin Frame, 1992. Cottonwood or basswood, gesso, oil paint, tin. entire piece: 5 × 6 × 1 in. (12.7 × 15.2 × 2.5 cm).
Courtesy of the Artist
After moving to Las Cruces to attend New Mexico State University, Rodriguez stayed and became a teacher, sharing her skills with generations of students. At Court Youth Center and Alma d’Arte Charter High School, she taught a variety of arts and crafts and worked with students on a “recycled chair project,” transforming old chairs into works of art for a benefit auction. In addition, she also worked with with teens to create murals around the city of Las Cruces.
She occasionally ventures outside her traditional works to create contemporary pieces such as folk art including Día de los Muertos tableaux, that feature cavorting skeletons. She has also worked in tin and stained glass. An example of this work can be seen in the Stations of the Cross at Holy Family National Catholic Church on Parker Road in Las Cruces.
One of her favorite subjects is St. Francis of Assisi, a figure often seen in her work. In an article published in the Las Cruces Sun News, Rodriguez said, “If you know his story, he started out as a playboy. I love all the things St. Francis di.he saints were regular human beings who made a choice and went beyond what was expected of them.”