“Adam and Eve” by Patrociño Barela
Close Looks: "Adam and Eve" by Patrociño Barela
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The roughly-carved wood sculpture depicts Adam and Eve under a tree in the garden of Eden. At just over a foot tall, it features the two figures with their backs to one another on an inscribed base. The structure on which the figures stand is a single piece of brown wood in the form of an upright section of log. The material is unpainted and untreated. On one side is a full-body figure standing inside of a cave-like surround. The letters A D A N, all capitals, carved into the wood below the figure tells us he represents the Biblical Adam. The figure holds a wide stance and appears with his right arm covering his mouth and his left arm placed along his chest. His specific features are only suggested in the carving, which has two distinct cavities for eyes and a broad, block-like nose. His forehead protrudes from his face and casts a small shadow over his eyes. His tight body language and worried facial expression suggests confusion, slight anxiety, and an overall discomfort. The Adam figure is surrounded by an archway into which he is carved. The top of the archway is thick and curves directly above his head. The left side of the archway is thinner and has an oval-shaped hole spanning from the middle of his head down to his knees that allows us to see through the sculpture to the other side.
To see the artwork and understand its narrative in full, one must walk around the piece. On the opposite side is a female figure carved from the hips up with arms raised above her head. On her torso, the letter E V A are carved in all capitals. The E is slightly higher than the other two letters; it is slender and tall rather than wide like the V and A. The figure’s feminine facial features and detailed breasts indicate her female gender. Unlike Adam, her mouth and lips are visible. Her features are more elongated, and her forehead appears larger. Her face has a look of cunningness and pleasure. Her skin is textured, resembling the scales of the snake above her on the left which hangs from a tree. Its head is large and triangular, and its body tapers off as it coils. It looks at Eve with small, deep holes for eyes. Five rounded pieces of fruit hang from a branch across from the snake. Eve is grasping one fruit in her right hand and reaching out to a cluster of fruit with her left.
The tree branches, foliage, and fruit are carved with detail and at a magnified scale on a third side of the sculpture between the two figures. The texture of the carving resembles the cuts of tree bark and the curvature of leaves. The fruit itself is at the center of the piece, most likely to emphasize its importance.
The duality of this sculpture is immediately apparent. For me, it encapsulates what it means for an object to be “in the round” as it requires its viewer to examine it from all angles in order to understand its full form and meaning. When first encountering the object, I am struck with the simplicity of the Adam figure yet am intrigued by his shocked expression that reads as somewhat mischievous. His placement, set back in a halo of wood, is simplistic in nature. Yet, when I look closely, I can see that there seems to be a different figure peeking through the almost window-like spaces. Eve’s form is even more organic, with uneven breasts, a protruding forehead, and skin that appears textured like fish scales. Although differing from a more contemporary rendering of a woman, this expression of Eve feels essentially female as she earnestly reaches toward the fruit. The opposing sides of Adam and Eve provide two dichotomous perspectives that remind me of the very gendered separation that continues to dictate the relationships between men and women today. This work is beautiful as it both highlights the natural qualities of wood as a medium and provides a commentary on gendered relations, all surrounded by the looming foresight of the fall from grace that is to come.
– Katie Brandao is a recent UNC-Chapel Hill graduate who majored in art history
Patrociño Barela, American, 1908-1964, Adam and Eve, n.d., wood, 14 3/4 x 7 1/2 x 4 1/2 in. (37.5 x 19.1 x 11.4 cm). Ackland Art Museum, Allocatied by the U.S. Government Commissioned through the New Deal art projects WPA Collection, Transfer from UNC-Chapel Hill Department of Art, 58.7.9.
I am looking at a wooden sculptural piece that looks like it is meant to be portable or on display. On one side, I see a figure with one hand over their mouth and one hand over their heart. This catches my eye because I’m wondering…are they scared? Are they eating? What’s going on? As my eye moves down, I see that there are letters at the base of the wooden sculpture: A – D – A – N. We know from the title of the piece this is referring to Adam, in the story of Adam and Eve. I’m also struck by the lack of detail on this side; it is sculpted very practically without a lot of extra detail.
When I look at the second side of the sculpture, I immediately notice there is much more detail. First off, I see a female figure, a serpent, and the fruit on the Tree of Good and Evil. I see that Eve has one of the fruits in her hand, but I am not certain if she is offering it to Adam or if it has already been offered and he’s eating (as depicted with the hand over the mouth on the other side). This side also has Eve’s name etched on the bottom, but these letters have more
detail so you can tell that it’s a tree trunk. There are branches on the right side of the figure where the fruit is hanging from, and she’s actively reaching up. Compared to Adam’s side, there is a lot more visually going on suggesting that Eve is a more active figure in the sculpture than Adam who is just watching.
In the exhibition, Eve’s side faces out at a diagonal towards the Object Lessons gallery. Because Eve has more of a role in this story, as told visually in the sculpture, her side is featured more prominently than Adam’s. Commonly, when talking about Adam and Eve, the story is told that Eve was created from Adam’s rib and is blamed for the origin of sin. This sculpture and presence within the gallery presents her with a little more autonomy and agency than the common narrative.
– Lindsay Hale is the Public Programs Coordinator at the Ackland Art Museum.
Upon first glance, I am initially drawn to the material out of which this sculpture is carved. The wooden material of Adam and Eve creates the impression that this sculpture has been cut out of a wood block and shaped accordingly. This shaping results in dynamic texture on Eve’s side specifically. Her torso seems almost scaly in comparison to her smooth bottom half. The line-shaped carvings to her left suggest Eve’s movement. Conversely, Adam’s side is very smooth and there is no texture on his torso or surrounding the background of his figure. This lack of texture in comparison to Eve’s various dimensions connects to the stillness that Adam embodies.
The concept of movement flows throughout Eve’s side of the sculpture. Although she already has one fruit in her left hand, her right hand is still raised. She could either be reaching for more fruit or she could be dancing. Either way, Eve’s movement is paralleled by the snake’s movement, which is represented by its slithered coil.
The gaze of the snake falls on Eve’s head, which looks to me like it may be waiting to strike. Because Eve’s eyes are downcast, it suggests to me that she may not anticipate what is to come. She is surrounded by motion.
By contrast, Adam’s figure is struck by idleness. His figure seems to be frozen in shock, with one hand over his mouth and one hand over his heart. There is no object in the background of Adam’s figure, which draws all of the attention to his form. Thus, the only thing that the eye is drawn to on this side of the work is Adam’s arm positioning and his open eyes, which counter Eve’s squinting. Adam’s figure is particularly stoic in comparison to the lively carving of Eve.
– Mia Hodges is an undergraduate student and global Studies major at UNC-Chapel Hill.
- This sculpture is carved in the round, which means the viewer must completely walk around the artwork to see it in its entirety. How does this add to the viewer’s experience of the artwork? What is the effect of separating Adam on one side and Eve, the snake, and the tree on the other?
- Patriciño Barela’s early carving career focused on bultos, painted wooden sculptures often depicting Christian saints (see the About the Art section for more information about bultos)..How is this sculpture different? What, if anything, does it show about his own relationship with religion?
- Although this is a static sculpture, many of Barela’s works incorporate themes of activity and motion. What movements do you see when you look at this work of art?
- The work is titled Adam and Eve, referencing a well-known biblical story. What themes and symbols do you think of in this story? Do you see those elements in this work? How is Barela’s representation of the biblical story different from other images of Adam and Eve you know?
- Barela grew up in New Mexico and Arizona. The artwork is made from juniper wood from the region and constructed using simple forms. How do you think his surroundings (natural and cultural) affected his art?
- Study more of Barela’s sculptures in the collection of The Harwood Museum of Art.
- Listen to a Smithsonian Archives of American Art interview with Barela in 1964 on his life, carvings, and work with the WPA.
- Browse an online gallery of many of Barela’s santos figures at the National Hispanic Cultural Center.
- Gain a better understanding of the Federal Art Project and Work Progress Administration, as well as additional artists that were part of these programs here.
- See other depictions of Adam and Eve by artists in the Ackland Art Museums’s collections.
- Watch a brief video of Barela’s grandson Carlos Barela, as well as carver Felix Lopez, who are both modern santeros.
About the Art
- Santos are traditional representations of saints or other religious figures usually through wood carvings in the round (bultos) or painted wooden panels (retablos). Adam and Eve is an example of a bulto of the santo style of religious iconography. Barela himself was a self-taught maker of santos. This tradition was brought to the American Southwest by Spanish colonists of the seventeenth century.
- In Adam and Eve, Barela incorporates modern elements of abstract expressionism to the traditional Hispanic folk art of bultos. He wanted to inspire the imagination of the viewer by creating a unique blend of abstraction and religious symbolism.
- Adam and Eve is a three-dimensional sculpture made entirely out of juniper wood. While most traditional bultos are composed of several individually carved pieces, Barela carved his out of a single piece of wood. Bultos are also often painted, but Barela kept his free of color other than the natural tint of the wood he worked with, which also included cedar, pine, or redwood.
- As in Adam and Eve, Barela’s sculptures often represented scenes from the Bible with stylized figures. Despite this religious grounding, Barela’s work shifted more firmly from the spiritual focus than other such artists of his time. His stylized figures strayed from pious representation towards the abstract.
- Barela’s sculptures like Adam and Eve, and his state of New Mexico, were viewed as an intersection between European and Indigenous America. He was part of the mestizo modernist art movement, which sought to hybridize modernist art with indigenous imagery.
- Historian Stephanie Lewthwaite describes Barela’s carvings as “stylized yet simplistic, abstract yet symbolic.” Despite being an active artist during the early twentieth century, Barela was not received as a distinct modernist. Instead, his art was directly tied to his identity as “tribal” and “folk” artist, due to both his race and his background as a laborer.
About the Artist
1900: Born in Bisbee, Arizona
1930: Married and settled in New Mexico; began creating carvings
1931: Repaired a statue of St. Anthony
1936: Sculptures were shown at the Museum of Fine Arts in Santa Fe and in New Horizons in American Art at MoMA; began working for the Works Progress Administration’s Federal Art Project
1937: Time magazine named him as “The Discovery of the Year”
1943: Stopped working for the Works Progress Administration’s Federal Art Project
1964: Died in Taos County, New Mexico
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