I first met José Luis Sotelo Montoro (Puma de los Andes) at his home a couple of days before my interview. That evening, the night sky was thick with rain clouds, but it held off long enough for us to find his home. For my friend, Marbel, this was the third time she had seen José’s incredible Christmas exhibition (which is actually displayed in his living room) - she even joked that maybe she should get a cut for bringing so many people to see it.
We met again on Sunday, the last night of the display. As I spoke limited Spanish, and he just a little English, Marbel had to be our interpreter. There were plenty of laughs between the serious questions - it was like three friends catching up over drinks.
José has three words to describe his creative expression: Art, freedom and faith. To him, faith is the most important, and without it his art wouldn’t have meaning. He has learned to let go of ego, because for him we all work, but not everyone will leave their mark. He believes that the talent isn’t his, for his craft is the medium to express his faith - a gift from God.
The display spans the length of his living room and created an intimate space for those who came to see it. When did he start making these displays? Creating and displaying Christmas beléns (baby Jesus in the manger) had been a family tradition for as long as he can remember. Seven years ago he began to fine tune his craft, and the public display is now in its fifth year. Artistic talent certainly runs in the family as his dad, Julio Cesar Sotelo, is also a celebrated photographer.
As a well-known artist in Huaraz, José Luis is also a sculptor, singer, musician, composer, puppeteer, and a teacher of both the arts and traditional Peruvian culture and history. He lives and breathes the creative life. Despite his many talents, he remained humble and did his best to articulate his sense of purpose, which greatly stems from his faith in God.
“We are useless servants if we have only done what we had to do.” Luke 17: 7-10
Each display takes him eight months to draw, researched and create, and another month to assemble. He somehow manages to keep it a secret until the big reveal in December. If you just happen to be in Huaraz at this time of year, make sure you check out his stunning work of art. You will learn a lot about Peruvian culture and traditional life in Huaraz.
Ronna Grace Funtelar is a thirtyish storyteller, creative, writer and slam poet currently travelling in Peru. She is a hobby hiker, photography and sunrise enthusiast with a passion for mindfully helping others live beyond their comfort zone.