santo lowride

New Mexico possesses a unique history of devotional art creation which lives on today in the “santeros” of New Mexico and Colorado. Originating with the early Spanish settlers of the 1600s, when the production of Saint figures was a necessity for practicing Catholicism in the newly established territory of Nuevo México, the saint-makers were also stylistically influenced by the original Native American inhabitants of the land. In the intervening four hundred years, the santos tradition has been passed from generation to generation, driven by artistic passion and religion.

Many contemporary santeros and santeras have continued to use traditional materials and subject matters of the historic medium, while others have adopted popular culture imagery and contemporary materials in their work. That popular culture imagery has included a proliferation of references to Northern New Mexico’s lowrider culture in the work of artists such as Santero Nicholas Herrera and Santera Marie Romero Cash.

Nicholas Herrera, Viva Los Low Riders, 2000. Collection of Tia Foundation.
Cara Romero, Coyote Tales No. 1, 2017. Courtesy of the artist.

Lowriders in New Mexico date back to the 1940s, taking root in Española, New Mexico, the “Lowrider Capital of the World.” A lowrider is a car whose suspension has been altered in order to lower its body to just inches from the ground. The word also refers to a person who drives such a car. Beyond these literal definitions, the lowrider identity encompasses a host of underlying meanings and themes—faith, family, art, culture, creativity, and community—that help to explain the cultural context in which the cars thrive.

Just as santo artists seek a physical channel between the heavens and their daily life, the lowrider has evolved as a modern-day vessel for the belief systems of Norteño (Northern New Mexican) communities. The desire for santos creation was to act as an intermediary between the world we live in and the heavenly realm which the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost inhabit. With the lowriders, that intermediary act is experienced through velvet, chrome, and glass. Both art forms were developed and perfected uniquely in Northern New Mexico in a time when people needed a channel for communion. The fusion of low rider culture and the santos tradition is evidenced in the work of the Santo Low Ride artists. Their work brings communities of artists and human beings—over many hundreds of years—closer as we persist in our need for spiritual connection and protection.


Santo Lowride at the Harwood Museum
May 29 – October 10, 2021

Rose B. Simpson, Maria, 2013, 1985 El Camino, Photograph by Kate Russell, Courtesy of the artists.

In the upcoming exhibition at the Harwood Museum, santeros, santeras, and famed lowrider artists cruise low ’n’ slow, side-by-side to make apparent how these two art forms share subject matter and religious function, binding them across past and present peoples. Santo Lowride: Norteño Car Culture and the Santos Tradition (Saturday, May 29, 2021 – Sunday, October 10, 2021) unrolls the unique story of New Mexico’s interwoven expressions of devotional art and lowrider culture. For more information, and to purchase tickets, please visit harwoodmuseum.org.



Artists include: 

  • José Rafael Aragón 
  • Patrociño Barela 
  • Nanibah Chacon 
  • Pedro Antonio Fresquís 
  • Mike Giant 
  • Victor Goler 
  • Nicholas Herrera 
  • Joseph Leyba a.k.a. Blast Factory 
  • Felix Lòpez 
  • Joseph Lòpez 
  • Krissa Marìa Lòpez 
  • Randy Martinez 
  • Julio Martinez 
  • Arthur “Lowlow” Medina 
  • Joan Medina 
  • El Moises 
  • Antonio Molleno 
  • Toby Morfin 
  • José Benito Ortega 
  • Jack Parsons 
  • Corey Ringo 
  • Jerome Rocha 
  • Cara Romero 
  • Kate Russell 
  • Rose B. Simpson 
  • Bill Sisneros 
  • Mario Sisneros 
  • Luis Tapia 
  • Rob Vanderslice 
  • Benny Vigil 
  • Patrick Vigil 
  • and several unidentified artists from the 19th and 20th century

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