Frank Brito, Master Santero
by Dr. Charles M. Carrillo
Sometime in the late 1970s, when I was walking through the streets around the Plaza of Old Town in Albuquerque, I peered into a gallery window and was captured by the presence of eight or more traditional, but modern New Mexico bultos. I inquired and was told by the shop owners Maria and Jim, that the polychrome bultos were carved by a santero in Santa Fe. His name was Frank Brito.
At that time I was just beginning to make santos, and for a novice, I was thrilled to be able to see and even handle such wonderful work. In 1980, I was juried into Spanish Market and never realized that the santero who I admired was also a Market artist. At a distance I quietly dreamed to be so skilled!
Finally, the following year, I met the artist I so admired. This quiet and humble man extended his hand and as I shook it, I realized that I was touching the hand of a master for the first time in my life. Although the meeting was brief, I looked forward each year after that to say hello and admire the work of a master santero.
I recall the time I went to Spanish Market and was overwhelmed by a life sized bulto of Nuestra Señora de Rosario that he had carved and was proudly displaying. It was not soon after that I missed the master at Market. This was about eleven years ago. Much has changed at Spanish Market since then.
Eight years ago our family moved to Santa Fe from Albuquerque. We determined then that we would "save up" and purchase to works by the Santa Fe master santero. It took a while but soon my family was the proud owner of a San Miguel and a Santo Niño de Atocha by Frank Brito. It was at this time that had the opportunity to have an extended visit with my friend Frank Brito. I have often prayed that someday, Frank could return to Spanish Market.
About five years ago I became friends with another accomplished santero, Gilbert Montoya, a grandson of Frank Brito. Gilbert has filled me in on details, as I often think of Frank and his days at Spanish Market. My wife Debbie also sees Frank's wife Corine at Wednesday morning bowling and my teenage daughter Estrellita depends on Corine, a professional seamstress to fix dress hems and broken zippers.
In 1995, after Spanish Market, I decided that we should concentrate on honoring the master santeros who have inspired so many of the succeeding generations of santeros. In the past five years, other great master santeros have been carried away by the angels to knock at the gate of heaven. We never had a chance to honor them.
I am not aware if it was my letter to the Spanish Colonial Art Society that prompted this year's selection for the Masters Award for lifetime achievement. I applaud the selection of Frank Brito and in my letter of nomination I said," it is my opinion that if we are seeking to understand tradition, then we must choose an individual that not only represents the tradition, he is the tradition."
Frank Brito has worked about fifty years as a santero. He was carving santos long before many of today's well known santeros were born. It was a joy and a dream come true to once again see Frank Brito at Spanish Market. I look forward to seeing Frank there next year. In the meantime, we can all learn a lot about the meaning of being a santero from Frank. I hope that everyone who is privileged to own a Frank Brito santo, takes a minute or two to ask God to continue to bless Frank and his family and to thank him for all the many joys he has brought to our homes where his work magnifies the glory of God.
Dr. Carrillo, himself an award winning artist at Spanish Market, is the author of a new book on Historic Hispanic Pottery, which will be released in March of 1997.
First published in Tradicion Revista, Volume 1, No. 3, Fall 1996.
Copyright 2002. May not be reproduced in any form without written permission.