Inspired by his Spanish heritage, Baca’s art reflects cultural influences from the past hundred years. He describes his work as “a sanctuary where I can truly escape, relax, and express myself.” But what adds an element of richness to his life are the ways in which his pieces touch the lives of others.
It’s an hour before dawn, and devout fans are liningup at the annual Spanish Market in Santa Fe, New Mexico, to see the latest designs and shake the hand of artist Lawrence Baca.
Santa Fe, meaning “holy faith” in Spanish, has been fascinating visitors since the 1590s. Rich with both Anglo and Pueblo cultures, it is considered the third largest art market in the U.S. Artists are moved by the beautiful, natural landscape unique to this town, located 7,000 feet above sea level, nestled between mountain and desert. The Spanish Market, the largest annual gathering of Hispanic artists in the country, fills the Santa Fe Plaza in late July. A feast for the senses, Baca’s jewelry shares the stage with music, pageantry, food, and dance. He got his start there, and it remains his best show every year.
Over the past two decades, Baca has made over 20,000 pieces. One critic described his work as “an elegant fusion of faith, fashion, and function.” Baca uses materials that range from sterling silver to 24 karat gold with a variety of gems and stones, such as garnet, amber, turquoise, and carnelian, a red or deep orange healing crystal. His work is highlighted by complex detailing, fine overlay skills, and unique, hand-stamped designs.
When Baca began his jewelry career in his early 30s, he was intrigued with the role of local history in jewelry making. “When the Spaniards came to New Mexico in the fifteenth century, they brought silver for utilitarian and religious purposes. They even had silver conchos that decorated their horse bridles,” Baca says. “The Indians started trading with the Spaniards and took the art to a whole new level. And the jewelry that first appealed to me is what is known as ‘Old Pawn’.”
Indeed, one of the greatest aspects of Baca’s work is he knows how to make every piece look old. “I want my work to be timeless,” he says. He shapes his designs to be crooked, off-center, uneven. “I want someone to pick up my work and think it could have been made one hundred years ago.”
Baca also loves the rough-hewn qualities of centuryold New Mexican santos, carved and painted art forms of the saints. In local museums, he studied the work of Spanish colonial silversmiths and noticed how the religious devotion that inspired his ancestors to create santos was reflected in the elaborate monstrances and crosses. He discovered how Spanish silversmiths taught Native Americans to add beads, glass, and crosses to their own work.
Baca is known for his handmade crosses, sunbursts, flowers, and sacred hearts; every work is one-of-akind. This creative man who has full control over his pieces in the making loses that control as he sells them. But Baca has learned to trust that his creations “find their way to the right person.”
A long-time customer raves, “Each piece he makes radiates love and positive energy and brings joy to the person wearing it. Whenever I wear a piece by Lawrence, it makes me happy and brings a smile to my face when I look at it.”