Carreta de la Muerte (Doña Sebastiana) by Luis Tapia

Carreta de la Muerte (Doña Sebastiana) by Luis Tapia

Carreta de la Muerte (Doña Sebastiana)

Luis Tapia

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Carreta de la Muerte (Doña Sebastiana)

carved cottonwood, pigment, animal teeth, cotton fiber 
Image Size
34h x 44d x 25w" 
ink signed underneath the tongue: "LUIS" 
Edition Size
ink inscription with date beside signature: "Hecho por la mano de LUIS 87" ("made by the hand of Luis") 
Inventory ID
Price On Request 

The noted southwestern author Carmella Padilla, the sculptor's biographer, commented about this work:

"This is an early work, likely the second in Luis's Carreta de la muerte series, featuring the skeletal image of Doña Sebastiana, a significant figure and symbol of death in the Holy Week rituals and processions of New Mexico's centuries-old Penitente brotherhood. (The first in the series, created in 1986, is in now in the collection of the Smithsonian's National Museum of American Art).

For Luis in his early years of innovating New Mexican tradition, death cart figures gave him one of the first creative opportunities to explore his individual expression, as his historical research demonstrated that the early makers had also put their personal spins on this particular image. Luis would go on to create a range of colorful, large-scale carretas de la muerte featuring Doña Sebastiana with a range of expressions that compel the viewer to confront, contemplate, and perhaps even laugh at, the specter of death. In Northern New Mexico and Southern Colorado she is honored in the Hispanic Communities, particularly in the Penitente Brotherhood, Los Hermanos de la Fraternidad Piadoso de Nuestro Padre Jesús Nazareno.

La Fraternidad is a lay confraternity of the Roman Catholic Church. This order is related to flagellant orders dating back at least a thousand years in Spain. Today, the Brothers act predominantly as a beneficent and charitable organization in their communities. Doña Sebastiana is publically displayed principally during Holy Week processions warning people to keep their souls prepared for the moment when death strikes, even if it comes without warning . . ."

Tapia hand carved the whole sculpture, including the cart and wheels, out of traditional native cottonwood he finds in New Mexico. He painted the figure's fingers, mouth, and toe nails with red ochre, added animal teeth to the mouth and topped off the sculpture with pulled cotton. Two white beads are set into the skull's eye sockets. A very effective warning.

Luis Tapia was born in 1950 in Agua Fria, a small village just outside of Santa Fe, New Mexico, one of the oldest Hispano communities in the US. Today, he is known for transforming the "traditional" New Mexican art of saint making, recasting hallowed religious themes and artistic techniques to address and express current social and political issues, including immigration, addiction, identity, racial injustice, crime, and pedophilia in the Catholic Church. Though initially controversial, his bold, provocative, and often humorous approach elevated Tapia as a trailblazing contemporary sculptor whose works reflect his activist roots and his belief that tradition is alive and evolving.

Inspired by native Spanish-American music and Hispanic civil rights issues, Tapia began to explore his own heritage in the early 1970s, and as a result began carving santos after examining figures in churches and museums around Santa Fe. He received a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1980. In addition to carving figures in wood, Tapia makes and restores furniture and constructs and restores reredos (altar screens) for churches in northern New Mexico. Tapia helped found La Cofradia de Artes y Artesanos Hispanicos, which has been instrumental in the contemporary revival of Southwest art. He received one of nine National Endowment for the Arts 2023 National Heritage Fellows.


Please call us at 707-546-7352 or email to purchase this item.