The first time I saw Santos Cage Dolls, I was not impressed! I thought they just looked freaky and odd with the blank-faced expressions and the empty, legless caged bases. Why not just create a complete doll? I just didn’t get it. But the more I saw of them, the more they grew on me. After a while, I thought I might try to make one of my own.
First I decided to find out a little more about them. I learned that Santos Cage Dolls are part of the Spanish tradition of Santo (Saint) art, carvings in ivory or wood of various and plentiful Catholic saints, angels, or the Virgin Mary. Rural villages without churches used the statues as replacement altars and in Catholic religious processions. Smaller statues were most likely made for private devotion. These icons were crucial to the Catholic church’s quest to Christianize not only the peoples of Europe, but especially the indigenous peoples of the newly colonized Americas.
The Santos artist is called a santero. He worked in the European tradition of polychrome (painted wooden) sculpture using locally available wood. In the Americas, that would be pine, cedar, mahogany and other soft woods. Crowns could be made from gold-plated aluminum tin, hammered brass, or gold, the last generally reserved for wealthy clients such as churches.
Art historians typically divide the Santo art into two types: the mannequin Bastidor style and the fully carved detallado style.
|CAGE STYLE||FULLY CARVED STYLE|
|also called Bastidor style, bastidor meaning “frame” or “framework”
||called detallado which means “detailed”
|often have removable arms, and movable limbs, sometimes caged into a frame to build shape||fully painted, fully carved|
|often elaborately dressed||needs no vestment dresses or robes|
Some statues are dressed in ornate religious garb, often topped with golden crowns. Angels often have carved wings. The cage style statues wear expressions that are beatific and serene. The cage could also be used as a sort of prayer shrine with objects placed inside the cage.
The dolls have become popular collector items although originals are scarce and pricy. (See santosconnection.com for details about vintage and antique Santos doll prices). Hispanic-American artists are still making Santos art today. Contemporary copies made of resin or fiberglass are geared toward mass production while wooden versions can be found in upscale retail outlets like Pottery Barn and online through various shopping sites including Amazon.com.
My Santos Cage Doll
After learning so much, I decided to make one! It took several months to make it and I’ll chronicle my efforts in another blog post but for now, here is my finished doll:
A Closer Look at Santos