Gustavo Victor Goler was raised among bultos and retablos.
A child of a Santa Fe-based family of art conservators and restorers from Argentina, Goler apprenticed in the studios the family used for their work. He began his apprenticeship at a very young age, gaining incredible wood-carving skills by helping to restore 200-year-old carvings from throughout Spain’s former empire.
In high school he began carving santos. Santos are a traditional type of religious folk art common especially in Mexico and the U.S. Southwest. Typically, a santo is a Catholic saint represented as a painting on a wooden plank (retablo), a carved three-dimensional wooden sculpture (bulto) or within an altar screen (reredo).
By 1986, Goler was running his own conservation studio in Santa Fe. At the same time he burst onto the art world with his own New Mexico-inspired vision of retablos and bultos of holy men and women. Today, he lives and works in Taos.
Now, the University of New Mexico’s Harwood Museum of Art in Taos has to opportunity to acquire the largest-known single collection of Goler’s work.
Today (Dec. 13) from 5-7 p.m., the Harwood will host the Victor Goler Collection Event to help raise the $65,000 needed to keep this collection in Taos and make it available to the public. Goler himself will talk about his work and Fr. William Hart McNichols of San Francisco de Asís Parish in Ranchos de Taos will speak on the sacred arts.
Refreshments will be provided. There is no admission fee to the fundraiser.
Al Walker was a friend of the Goler family from way back. Somewhere along the way he began purchasing a piece of the artist’s work every year.
“There are 44 pieces in the collection now. A big part of what made Walker’s collecting so fascinating and important is that it traces the evolution of the artist, year by year,” said the Harwood’s Director of Development Juniper Manley. “The way I understand it, Walker actually slept outside overnight at the Spanish Market year after year so that he could buy up the first-place-ribbon winners Goler had submitted.”
Goler first made his way to Spanish Market in 1988. He never left. Goler’s mix of tradition and innovation propelled him to win 11 first-place awards, two Best of Show awards, the People’s Choice award, the Archbishop’s award and numerous others. These were the works that Walker wisely snatched up.
Goler’s work ranges from the look of antiquity to rather edgy contemporary political commentary.
His “Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe,” for example, has the Virgin perched on a crescent moon amid the stars and the light of heaven. The figure has been painted and worked to make it nearly indistinguishable from a bulto created by one of the masters of 18th century New Mexico.
Meanwhile, “Adam and Steve” is a santo done in the traditional style but which makes a powerful statement on issues facing modern America, particularly this coming year when the U.S. Supreme Court plans to take up the issue of same-sex marriage.
“St. Apollonia,” on the other hand, sits somewhere in-between inviting a giggle perhaps, being a santo praising dentists. The Apollonia figure triumphantly holds a set of pliers in which a freshly plucked molar is held. It is a piece that is truly cringe-worthy. A newer piece, “La Santisima Muerte (Holy Death),” confidently sits on the back of a pickup smoking a cigar and sucking on a bottle of tequila and casting love spells. Some continue to pray to her for luck and love and protection from bad situations.
Manly pointed out that Goler’s value doesn’t rest only in his artistic achievements.
Over the course of his professional life, Goler dove into some intensive stylistic and iconographic research on New Mexican santeros and those from elsewhere in the world, creating a wealthy body of scholarly material. The Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., invited him to present his research and discuss the designs, materials and techniques used to create santos throughout Latin America.
His unique knowledge has also lead to him work with local parishioners to restore sections of altars, altar screens and other religious material. He was instrumental in the purchase of late Arroyo Hondo collector Larry Frank’s famous accumulation of 259 santos several years ago by the State of New Mexico.
Walker has offered his entire collection to the museum at half the appraised value — a total of $70,000. The offer is made all the more generous given that Walker has already donated several pieces outright to the museum and has committed to donating a new piece to the collection every year. The museum has already collected $5,000 towards the acquisition.
“Both Victor and Walker have a strong commitment to Taos and they want to make sure that the collection remains here. Our mission as an institution is to exhibit and steward works created in or inspired by Northern New Mexico,” Manly said.
“Victor is not only a local artist but he carries on and conserves this tradition. He keeps this art form alive, carrying it forward and always finding new ways to challenge both himself and the material to make it his own.”
Harwood Museum is located at 238 Ledoux St. For more information, contact Manley at (575) 758-9826, ext. 116 or email email@example.com.