Arturo Montaňo was bow-hunting in northern New Mexico when he spotted elk
antlers lying on the ground and picked them up. Back in camp that night, as he
turned the antlers over in his hands, he thought to himself how the crown of the
antler looked like Christ's crown of thorns. Then he turned to his
brother-in-law and said, "I want to make something out of this, something no one
else makes." And that is just what this talented, enthusiastic, and inspired
forty-four year old did.
It was just before Christmas 2000 when Montaňo came home from his hunting trip
with his antlers, went into his garage for a couple of hours, and came out to
show his wife, Darlene, the beautiful crucifix he made from carving the last two
points of the antlers and attaching them to a cross made of old wood and tin.
Darlene admired the crucifix and asked her husband to , "go back and make some
more for Christmas gifts." And again, that is what Montaňo did.
Montaňo, the eighth of thirteen children of Benny and Adelina Montaňo, was born
and raised in Santa Fe. He remembers the home his parents maintained in the Casa
Solana area as warm, happy, religious and well-disciplined. The Montaňo family
attended mass at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church regularly, and his mother, a
homemaker and bulto collector, kept an altar in the home. His father, a postal
worker, enjoyed making stamped leather articles and giving them away. For
Montaňo, it was natural to give his parents that first crucifix he made.
Montaňo's vision and ability to create art from elk antlers is not as accidental
or innocent as he makes it sound. Art, or "Tudy" as he is known to family
members and close friends, has enjoyed arts and crafts since he was a first
grader in Sister Rosa's class at Our Lady of Guadalupe Parochial School in Santa
Fe. Sister Rosa encouraged him, and eager to please her, Montaňo worked hard at
his art work. From the seventh grade through high school, Montaňo's water color
paintings and other art work were sent to the New Mexico State Fair each year.
And, sheepishly, Montaňo admits to completing his sister's high school art
assignments as well as his own.
Following high school, Montaňo went on to complete a degree in commercial art
from Texas State Technical Institute in 1981. He now operates his own painting
business in Santa Fe, Casa Nueva Painting, where he specializes in customized
finishes for high end homes in northern New Mexico. While Montaňo has always
enjoyed his hobbies of collecting elk antlers, making furniture from old pieces
of wood, and has had a class in tin working at the Northern New Mexico Community
College, he has never had any instruction in bone carving. His technique is
Bone carving, the oldest tradition in colonial arts in New Mexico, originated in
Europe and probably arrived in New Mexico with Onate, according to santero,
Charles M. Carrillo, PhD. Shepherds tending their flocks in fields for months at
a time would pick up pieces of dried bone and carve them to pass the time. They
made tools, awls, needles, combs, bolos and even forks and spoons by carving the
bones. However, this tradition often went undocumented because it was a
non-religious, non-exportable folk art, an art practiced by untrained
individuals using materials found nearby, and made for their own, or local
consumption. It was a dying art, but according to Carrillo who spent four months
researching this subject in archives, up to two generations ago it was still
being practiced by shepherds tending their flocks in northern New Mexico. Today,
Montaňo is just one of a handful of bone carvers currently marketing their art
Montaňo, unlike the shepherds looking for the pastime, was inspired to take up
bone carving by his own spiritual beliefs and by the life and very essence of
his daughter Gabrielle. Gabby, as she is called, is a beautiful, special,
wheel-chair bound girl of twelve years. She was one in a set of twins born three
months prematurely. Her twin died, but after three months in a Denver hospital
Gabby survived afflicted with cerebral palsy. Today, she attends public school
in Abiquiu where she lives with her parents. She is the happy, angelic girl with
a big smile that blesses each piece her father carves by touching it and blowing
it a kiss. Montaňo has named his bone carving business "Gabby's Dad" and
works by his "creo."
Montaňo, who loves the outdoors, lives in Abiquiu with Darlene and Gabby where
he has two horses, cats, peacocks, pigs and sheep. This is also where he creates
his art from elk antlers two days a week in a two room studio he built himself
next to his house. He says a prayer before he begins to work asking God to let
him show the world Christ's pain and sorrow on the cross, or the beauty and
sanctity of the Virgin Mary he is about to carve.