3 of a Kind

Text by....Mark Mussari


A visit to Santa Fe first exposed husband and wife artisans Karen and Mark Klay to the art of sculpting bultos. Drawing on their joint background of collecting Native American artifacts, the Klays were working at the time mostly with gourds, producing highly detailed pots featuring three-dimensional elements. "The saint figures inspired us to do something different with the gourds," explains Mark. "We were just drawn to that Spanish Colonial look and the New Mexico style."

At first the Klays had another obstacle to hurdle: Neither had ever been trained in sculpting. "We started to read books on anatomy and how to draw human faces," says Karen, "and we just took some clay and began to mold faces. I think we kind of shocked ourselves." They quickly transferred their preference for using found objects and painstaking detail work to creating stunning bultos that have become favorites among high-end collectors.

The Klays initially worried about the public reception of religious imagery crafted from gourds. Their fears were dispelled in 2004, when they won the coveted Best of Show at the Scottsdale Arts Festival. Although the Klays also produce intricate kachinas, Mark admits that they are "most proud of the santos."

The Klays' saintly sculptures combine clay, tinwork, gemstones, fabric, and found objects with acrylics, oils, and pastels. A hammered tin crown encircles the dolorous face of Our Lady of Sorrows. Intricate lacework envelops Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception. A stately four-foot bulto of St. Joseph and the Christ Child features glass eyes and a staff crafted from a 125-year-old curtain finial. The Klays have also produced a number of St. Francis bultos, sometimes adding a distinctively Southwestern element, such as a pair of Gambel's quail. "There's something spiritual about it all," says Karen. "It's our own expression of this historical art form."

Works by Karen and Mark Klay may be seen at www.klayfineart.com. 





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