Art: Desert Saints

The painted pine tablets and sacred statuettes might easily have been mistaken for relics of ancient Crete. They had the same soft, staring eyes, tight smiles and ornate costumes. Actually they were made between 1680 and 1850, in a cutoff, primitive, fiercely Roman Catholic corner of western America. Last week 80 of them, on tour of the Pacific Coast, were on exhibition in Portland, Ore.'s art museum. Next stop: Seattle.

The men who made the sacred objects —and called them santos—never owed allegiance to the U.S. They were the hard handful of caballeros, Navaho...

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