It was quitting time and Huberto Maestas, the artist, was ready to lock up his warm, familiar San Luis studio and head home. He’d be back in the morning ready to make a fresh pot of coffee and resume work again on fine-tuning the project he’d left just hours before. But this time---December 6th---Maestas’ routine took a sharp turn and left him an eyewitness to his worst nightmare.
An hour after leaving, Maestas got the call that his studio was on fire. At 7:30, he found himself standing in a dark, freezing night only yards from the same door he’d locked just an hour earlier and watching the building and three decades of work engulfed in flames. Worse. There was nothing he could do.
“I couldn’t believe it was happening,” he said. “I could clearly see what was going on, but I couldn’t do anything about it. I was in a state of shock.” As firefighters spread water on the fire, time seemed to move in slow motion for Maestas. “You’re just helpless.”
Maestas is the artistic father of San Luis, Colorado’s, famed Stations of the Cross monument. Dedicated in 1990, the shrine attracts thousands of visitors who’ve come to Colorado’s oldest town. As they ascend the gentle incline, they pause at each of the fourteen stations which depict the final hours of Christ. Awaiting them at the top is “La Capilla de Todos Los Santos,” The Chapel of All Saints.
Included in the loss, said Maestas, are molds for many of his bronze creations that have found homes nationally and internationally over the years. Among them are the casts for the miniature Stations of the Cross that Maestas personally presented to Pope John Paul II in Rome in 1991. Also claimed by the fire are original art pieces, including original paintings, and the tools that Maestas used to create his work.
Two victims of the fire were a pair of griffins that Maestas had nearly completed. Griffins are legendary beasts with the body, tail and hind legs of a lion and the head and wings of an eagle. They were to be placed at Pueblo’s City Park. “The only parts I hadn’t done were the wings,” he said. He had planned to “cast them the next morning.” He’s hoping that he’ll be able to salvage the mythical creatures and fulfil his commitment.
Because so much of Maestas’ work is in bronze, he’s confident that he’s not going to have to start at square one, at least with them. “All the bronzes were still on the table and there’s no damage to them.” He’s optimistic that they can be renewed with sandblasting. Any nicks from the studio’s collapsed ceiling can probably be fixed, as well. “I could probably return them to a normal state.”
Still, for the foreseeable future, it’s going to be a slow slog for one of the San Luis Valley’s most famous artists. “Now I need the equipment to do that work.” He thinks, if all goes well and he can regroup in a timely fashion---including finding a new space to work---he could be up and running in a matter of weeks.
He already has a jump-start on regaining some normalcy. By last Friday, a gofundme page had already collected nearly a third of the $50,000 Maestas estimates he’ll need to start over. If the goal is met, said Maestas, he might create another mythical creature. “I’m going to sculpt a Phoenix just because of this.” In mythology, the Phoenix is a bird that regenerates and rises from the ashes of its predecessor.
Fire investigators, said Maestas, have identified his studio’s wood stove as the cause of the fire.