A CROSS TO BEAR
Dozens of crosses adorn an otherwise long, bare white wall in Christian Saiz’s living room.
Smaller crosses stand out among the bunch with their bright red outlines, while others showcase themselves with their intricately designed carvings or layering of contrasting woods.
The display is a hand full of creations designed and brought to life by the Los Lunas santero.
But for Saiz, the cross — two rectangular lines laying perpendicular to each other — is more than a religious symbol — it changed his life.
“The cross is what helped me have a wake up call in my life, because I was lost,” Saiz said.
Saiz began assembling rosaries and crosses, made from pine, oak, wormy maple, mahogany and cherrywood, more than a year ago through a volunteer job with the New Mexico Men’s Recovery Academy.
The academy is an intensive program focused on relapse prevention, according to its website.
In March 2011, Saiz was one of two individuals from the academy chosen to help restore La Capilla de San Antonio de Los Lentes, a church built in 1789.
“I had already been out of my drinking, but I volunteered myself to get into the program to be able to be there and help others,” he said.
The 49 year old drank on and off for more than 30 years, and has been sober for more than four years.
Over the span of 14 months, Saiz helped revitalized the church from the roof to the walls down to the floor. From the discarded wood, rusty nails and tin needing to be replaced within the church came inspiration — inspiration that led to an idea.
The “wood fanatic,” as Saiz calls himself, began bending, molding and constructing these materials into crosses.
“Why let it go to waste if you can do something with it?” Saiz said.
At first, Saiz cut up small pieces of tin, used to wrap around freshly delivered lumber, to assemble crosses. He painted each cross in colors spanning the rainbow and donated them to the San Antonio de Los Lentes Fiesta later that year.
From there, Saiz’s hobby sprouted into more than 175 handcrafted wooden crosses — each one different from the next.
“To me, it’s something that I can be doing forever, but I have different ways of doing it,” he said.
Having a hobby, such as building crosses, helps Saiz avoid sitting around with nothing to do.
“My crosses helped me not to have idle time,” he said. “They helped me know that there is a God. There is another being that is there to take care of us.”
As far back as Saiz can remember, he’s given new purpose to unused items or discarded material.
“I would make whatever I could get a hold of,” he said.
Living on the Saiz family ranch in Puerto de Luna, one had to learn on their own how to maintain their own equipment or create items needed, Saiz said.
“Now, you go to a mechanic shop or veterinarian. My dad took care of everything — we were our own vets,” he said.
While at the ranch, he picked up a number of handyman traits from his parents, including woodcarving and assembling items needed from household items laying around the house.
As a young boy, Saiz transformed an old piano into a microwave stand and shelf space for kitchen supplies for his mother.
He created his own version of a mahogany lamp with wood carvings embedded in the sides, which he won a first place prize for in a school contest, and wooden valences, which enhanced the family’s living room windows, among other items.
Piecing together crosses, ranging in shapes and sizes, with glue or nails, helped Saiz grow as an individual. Building crosses helped Saiz reconnect with his Christian faith by pushing him to read the Bible and meditate on the cross itself.
“It was like an awakening for me to start doing something and to let go of stuff that could be used for the right reasons that was through the church,” he said. “It gives you a spiritual something to keep on doing what you’re doing and helping others.”
Crosses are the one symbol used and applied toward a wide variety of religions taught early on in life, Saiz said.
“It’s something whether there’s a person that’s not familiar with the Lord, or they’re having a problem, or they want to know something, that’s the first part of what we’re going to learn in our lives, I believe,” Siaz said. “And from there, it’s either scriptural or whatever you want to feed yourself to grow.”
The crosses can either serve as a tool for individuals to learn about their religion or stir a notion deep inside that sparks a change.
In his creations, Saiz doesn’t like depicting Jesus Christ as hanging on the cross anymore.
“He already hung for us. He’s alive in everybody’s lives now whether they believe in him or not,” he said.
Saiz plans on continuing building crosses in his living room for hours on end while listening to Christian music or religious speakers on the radio.
He hopes this talent will bring about further opportunities, such as establishing a business where he can sell his wares from.
His work can be seen hanging in Teofilo’s Restaurant in Los Lunas and during art shows at the Tomé Art Gallery.
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