The first hint that this polychrome cristo – crucifix – from Latin America was not carved from wood was its extremely light weight. The client mentioned it was made from “corn paste" and,
my curiosity piqued, I did some Internet research. Pasta de ca͂na is“a paste made from the pith of corn stalks which is sculpted and then painted to make processional statues. These sculptures were far lighter than wood and therefore much easier to carry. This technique was developed by the indigenous peoples before the arrival of the Spanish.” Another Internet article describes in detail formulating the pasta de ca͂na and states that the prepared (boiled, peeled) pith of the corn stalk was blended with orchidea rubber. The latter plant is abundant in the state of Michoacan. In the mid 16th stalk paste, especially in Michoacan and Mexico City. Cristos were often fabricated on a “skeleton” of cardboard, wood or stalks. In some cases, arms and legs were carved from soft wood.
The cristo had sustained damage through time, and it was likely that the cross and possibly the halo and crown were replacements. The legs broke off at the knees and the feet, once together, had broken apart. The proper right thumb was missing and the proper left arm had broken off at the elbow. A fragment of right index and middle finger had detached. Much of the paint on the torso, back and front, had been lost, with only islands of gesso/paint left and the remaining paint was cracked, tented and unstable.
Limbs were reattached and missing parts reconstructed. Exposed gesso and paint on the torso were stabilized with a cellulose ether and the large area of paint loss filled with toned Japanese tissue. The cristo was reaffixed to the cross. The process of repairing the crucifix was documented with photographs and a narrative.