While visiting Santa Fe, New Mexico for the annual Spanish Colonial Market, I wandered away from the Plaza, where local santeros (saint-makers) were displaying their sacred art, and found an unusual set of woodcuts in the nearby Monks’ Corner, a religious gift shop affiliated to the Benedictine Abbey of Christ in the Desert. They depicted the Stations of the Cross, as if the road to Calvary wound through the pinon pine-covered hillocks and mesa country of New Mexico. There was much about the figures, which recalled the expressionistic style of the santeros, but with differences, hinting at an art school training. I was curious to know more about the artist, Charles Aldrich.
Aldrich now lives in Arizona but was born in Los Alamos, New Mexico. His family was not particularly religious but growing up in a region so strongly influenced by Hispanic sacred art, Aldrich began drawing crucifixes at an early age, an artistic leaning, which his parents found rather strange. Says Aldrich: “I was always struck by the simple, emotive power of santero art compared with the usual Victorian style of church decoration.“ He went on to study print-making at Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Oklahoma. When the time came for his senior year project, he once again raised eye-brows in this bastion of conservative Protestant-Pentecostalism by choosing the Stations of the Cross as his theme.
To support his family, Aldrich took a job as a grade school teacher and made liturgical works of art in his spare time, including an altarpiece and relief carvings (of the Stations of the Cross!) for St. Peter’s Roman Catholic Church in Springerville, Arizona. Now retired, Aldrich has broadened his repertoire to include portraits, landscapes, and still-lifes, mostly in acrylics. He also paints public murals.
One of his most striking religious works in acrylic on panel is Christ in the Ruins, showing the crucified Christ without a cross, suspended above an apocalyptic landscape of smoking chimneys and devastated buildings. (The letters signify Jesus Christ in Greek.) His next major project? Another print cycle of the Stations of the Cross, of course.