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Marcelino Cortes

marcelino_cortes_puerto_rico_craftsman_artist_santero_santos_antique_art001002Nace en el barrio Ángeles de Utuado en el 1885. Hijo de un labriego. Fué un puertorriqueño autodidacta: pintor, escultor, tallador, caíigrafo y diseñador. Encababa machetes y hacía cabos de hacha y de asadón. Fabricaba máquinas para despulpar el café, tallaba gallos, pájaros y flores.  . Reparaba máquinas de cocer, tallaba muebles a cuchilla y a torno, hacía mesas, tures, roperos así como figuras de caballos que descansaban sobre sus arcos para los niños mecerse.

Al quedar parcialmente inválido instaló un taller en su casa y comenzó a tallar santos. Las maderas que mas utilizaba eran el cedro hembra y el laurel geo que le conseguía su hermano que era serrador, y algunos vecinos. Los santos que mas le gustaba tallar eran Los Tres Reyes Magos.

Murió en el año 1954.


Vidal Santoni Teodoro, Dr. "Santeros Puertorriqueños".Ediciones Alba. san Juan,Puerto Rico.1979.


Of the people who I have known in my life, there have been three of them who have excelled; because of their history, their charisma and their intelligence. They are in order Marcelino Cortés Morales, John V Linsy and the Dr Pedro Albizu Campos. Although they were in different fields each one has been an apostle in their vocation and principles.

Marcelino Cortes Morales was born in the 1891 in the District of Angeles in Utuado, Puerto Rico. He was educated until the fourth grade and enlisted in Uncle Sam's Army in 1918. He returned ill from Panama in that same year. In his youth he was a strong man, yet soft spoken but intelligent. Although ill, he had amazing abilities with his hands and was a capable master craftsman. He was a painter, sculptor and carver. He was a calligrapher and an expert designer without formal training or schooling. From 1919 to 1932 and later he resolved many problems for the agriculture people by making handles for machetes and axes as well as making a machine of copper and nails to grind coffee.
In the 1932 he carved an artwork of Satan at the insistence of professors of the University of Puerto Rico. He used an engraved image as guide that he obtained from a priest from a church of Lares, Puerto Rico. He also made musical instruments including cuatros, guitars, guiros and maracas. He carved roosters, birds and flowers. By this time, by profession, he was officially a Santero and his specialty were carvings of the Three Kings on Horseback…In 1936 with the advent of P.R.E.R.A. (Puerto Rican Emergency Relief Administration) and P.R.A.A. he designed women's clothing including blouses, housecoats, and slips which were produced in Puerto Rico for export. In 1940, he graduated to sculpting and created a four foot sculpture of a "Jibaro" in cedar wood, complete with machete in one hand and a bottle of beer in the other. This work was for none other than Luis Munoz Marin.²

Cortes repaired sewing machines. He manufactured wooden coffins which he donated to needy people because by that time the Great Depression had hit. After all of this, he dedicated himself to making furniture, all carved by hand with knives. The Diaz, Lecaroz and Reboyra families still have some of his works. In addition, his son, Salvador, still possesses the lathe that Cortes built himself to facilitate his work.

All that Cortes achieved was possible only because of his own efforts, strong will and determination. His physical barriers and eternal paralysis did not stop him and I have not managed to know any other man as strong willed. Marcelino Cortes Morales died in 1954 being The First Craftsman of Angeles and we should say The First Artisan of Puerto Rico.

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Teodoro Vidal

Marcelino Cortés Morales was a son of a laborer in the mountains of Utuado, Puerto Rico. Cortés was born in 1885 and worked in the coffee and fruit fields. Just after he married, he had an attack that left him paralyzed in his legs. This forced him to remain in bed for several months. However, he and his family were in need, so while lying in bed he began to carve Santos. His relatives say that he learned the art without the benefit of teachers or instruction and that the wood that he used was brought to him by his brother.

As a result of his disease, the artist and creator stayed partially handicapped but nonetheless installed a small factory in his own house. He dedicated himself to work on his art and to make other wood products. In his sculptures, Cortés generally used cedar and laurel wood that abounded in the region and that his brother and other neighbors would bring him. Of cedar wood, he said that the best pieces were obtained "from old trees with a lot heart." Of the Laurel wood he said that he used it a lot because, like the cedar, is did not have knots, it did not tend to crack and it was easier to carve.
Cortés insisted that they bring him wood that was cut in the declining moon, and refused to use wood that was cut in May because during that month it rained a lot which made the wood wet and susceptible to moths. In a corner of his homemade factory, Cortés usually had pieces of wood that he had put to dry and to have ready for when commissioned for project or other orders. He liked to have plenty of cedar on hand not only for the pedestals of the carved saints, but he also made traditional cedar chests.

While the santero was still relatively young, a woman devotee of the District of Angeles, in Utuado, commissioned him to carve an image the "La Pura y La Limpia" of regular dimensions to donate to the parochial church. This order contributed to the recognition of his neighbors and the rise in reputation of the artist. It led to people to see how creative he was.

In addition to the carved saints, Cortés made furniture including tables, chairs, closets and many other things. In a room of his house there was a complete furniture set built by him. On more than one occasion he also made crutches and wooden legs for people who needed them. Cortés also carved rocking horses and many other things. Guided by an engraving of Satan that he had seen in a parochial church in Utuado he carved it out in wood to complete a commissioned work for a woman from Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico.

Surviving relatives of Cortés speak very highly of the artist's works. A daughter once beamed, "I have never seen artwork from any other craftsman as beautiful as the ones my father once made." However in addition to Cortés being an artist and craftsman, he was also a barber and calligrapher. Many illiterate people would visit his home to have him write letters.
Marcelino Cortes Morales had five children and many grandchildren. He passed away on April 15, 1954 according to records obtained from the Registro Demgrafico de Utuado.

His collection consisted of more than 3200 objects. In 1997, he donated his entire collection to the Smithsonian Institution and the National Museum of American History. The collection was exhibited in the museum in the 1990's. In addition, Don Teodoro has authored at least seven books on various topics relating to Puerto Rico and its culture.