The Santiago Family (La Unión Tejalapam)

This family, one of the best known in La Unión, is too large to present comprehensively. For this reason we feature several of its members: three of the four living older brothers – Martín, Quirino, and Plácido – and Martín’s son, Jaime, who is recognized as a formidable talent.


Martín Santiago Cruz (brother)

Martín, a warm and welcoming man, works surrounded by his extensive family. His signature pieces are primarily religious in nature: boats reminiscent of Noah’s ark, nativity scenes, and virgins and angels. His figures include highly detailed accessories, e.g., small bouquets of flowers that are inserted into recesses carved in their hands. He has a charming custom of securely and lovingly placing these bouquets in matchboxes to protect them during travel. To reach Martín’s home, part of the journey must be negotiated on foot through fields, sometimes steep, bypassing goats and crops along the way. Despite his prodigious talent and productivity as a woodcarver, farming remains his first love and dominant self-image.



Quirino Santiago Cruz (brother)

Quirino creates charming animals of all kinds that have a primitive quality: deer, tigers, lions, horses, cows, turtles, frogs, dogs, and armadillos, to name a few. To get to his home, one must traverse cornfields along the way, passing by the home of his brother Martín. Within view is the house of his brother Francisco, who also carves, and his son Felix. Quirino is a very contented man, surrounded by his large family. Quirino sincerely hopes that more people will come to know his work – as well as that of his family and neighbors — and that this tradition will not be forgotten.




Plácido Arturo Santiago Cruz (brother)

Plácido, Martín and Quirino’s younger brother, works out of his home along one of the main streets of La Unión.  His specialty is nativity scenes (small, medium and large), virgins, boats, carts, small devils, rodeos, and figures for the Day of the Dead. Plácido began to carve in 1968, taught by his older brother Martin to make small animal figures such as burros, bulls, wolves and pigs.  Initially he worked in copal but after many years he began to use jacaranda because it is softer when green.


Francisco Santiago Cruz (brother)

Francisco, the eldest of the brothers, creates wonderful scenes and enchanting female figures holding a variety of items, e.g., bouquets and market produce. Their serene expressions and graceful forms are distinctive. Despite having suffered a stroke that limits his use of one arm, Francisco’s figures convey delicacy and sincerity.


Maximino Santiago García (nephew of Martín, Quirino, Plácido and Francisco)

Maximino captures the vitality of daily experience in his representational scenes such as bustling markets, church processions, families awaiting the return of the spirit of their loved ones during Day of the Dead, and schoolyards in which children engage in soccer matches and play with piñatas. He also creates individual figures of market ladies bearing wares and produce (charcoal, radishes, papaya). The attention to detail in Maximino’s pieces is truly extraordinary. Maximino regards his art as a contribution to the preservation of Mexican traditions. He has passed along his artistic tradition to his son, José Santiago López, who has developed several specialty pieces, e.g., corn and eggs in which the Virgin of Guadalupe is carved, as well as cacti, nativity scenes, and figures mounted on bulls.



Eloy Santiago Cruz (son of Plácido)

Eloy has created a distinct set of works, including lively marimba bands, devils mounted on bulls, horse-drawn carts bearing members of a mariachi band, a group of devils or of formally-attired “muertos,” as well as nativity scenes in such carts. His wife Justina adds the cheerful painting that encompasses intriguing combinations of hues. Eloy attributes the cart motif to a legend his father narrated throughout his childhood, according to which people carried by horse-drawn carriages come out late at night, especially during Day of the Dead.




Calixto Santiago López (son of Plácido)

Calixto’s specialties are individual animal musicians of every variety, marimbas played by charming insect musicians, Virgins of Guadalupe, skeletons, mermaids, tables seating “borrachos” (men who are drunk), reclining bears who are reading, and mounted devils. His wife Olivia paints his pieces with great deftness and care. He features jacaranda wood that he believes to be of excellent quality.



Jaime Santiago Morales (son of Martín)

Jaime, son of Martín Santiago, is one of the best-known carvers in La Unión. His signature pieces are well-dressed devils and skeletons, aged couples (“viejos”) dancing, and rodeo scenes consisting of a corral and multiple human figures with their horses and processions. Jaime does not sell many of his pieces in the city of Oaxaca, working instead primarily on orders from the United States. Like his father Jaime continues to be heavily invested in his work and identity as a farmer.

José Santiago López (son of Maximino)



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