Since childhood, master wood carver Augustin Cruz Prudencio has been surrounded by art. He recalls watching Day of the Dead processions, Christmas parades, and other community events in his hometown of Oaxaco, Mexico and being inspired by the pageantry and color inherent to traditional festivals of this kind. As a child, Prudencio’s parents—themselves both artists—assigned him simple tasks in the creation of the carved painted wooden creatures, figures, and other items Prudencio now is a master at making. His formal apprenticeship in carving came at 11 years old.
Oaxacan wood carving—using regional wood called copal—dates back to pre-Hispanic times, when the ancestors of artisans like Prudencio made wood carvings for practical use. With the arrival of the Spaniards, Catholic symbolism began to be incorporated into items whose purpose had religious meaning as well as ancient, indigenous relevance. This manifests in depictions of San Miguel, for example, brilliantly adorned, hoisting a gleaming sword overhead; also, you will see Cruz creating carved and vividly painted wooden objects of Aztec warriors, along with numerous representations of Oaxaca’s diverse plant and animal life.
Today, Cruz helps oversee a workshop where young members of his community are taught this distinctive art-making style. It is the hope of Cruz and other artisans that new generations with be able to express themselves creatively and also earn a livelihood for themselves families; most of all, Cruz hopes that the conservation of techniques used to carve and paint copal artworks will continue for generations.