Marcelino Cortés
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Marcelino Cortes, also known by family, friends and acquaintances, of which he had many, as Don Marcelino, was a master craftsman, sculptor, painter and artist.  “Don” is a title of respect and admiration bestowed on men that others view with high esteem in our country.  No matter whom you speak with about Marcelino Cortes, whether it be family member, friend and even in articles or information written of him, everyone refers to this “Renaissance man” as Don Marcelino.  From all accounts, he was loved, admired and most of all respected by a multitude of people and this included the U.S. government at the time.

Born in Puerto Rico in 1895 to Sebastian Cortes and Blasina Morales, Don Marcelino had humble beginnings working in the family’s coffee fields and fruit orchards.  Toiling the soil, he grew up strong and he married Rumalda Custodio and they went on to have two daughters and three sons.  I am the son of Cristobal Cortes, and my grandfather is my namesake.  He and his sons built one of the first wooden houses in the area.  The house still stands today on land owned by my cousins, the sons and daughters ofSalvador Cortes, and is a remembrance of the great man.


Later, he was drafted into the U.S. Army and after a short stint in Panama with the Army, he returned home with an affliction that paralyzed him from the waist down.  Condemned to a wheelchair for the rest of his life, he could no longer work in the fields and orchards that he so loved.  However, Don Marcelino had a wife and many children to feed and therefore had to find a different way to make a living and support his family.  This is when he turned to his knowledge and creativity as well as his ingenuity and perseverance.


Don Marcelino began working with wood and creating Santos. Santos are wood carved saints associated with Christianity and has been a folk art form for about 4 centuries on the island of Puerto Rico as well as other places where Christian Hispanic peoples resided.  The people that design and sculpt Santos are known as Santeros.  There were many Santeros before Don Marcelino and there have been many Santeros after but according to his family and many friends and acquaintances, none have achieved that title with the passion and zeal of Don Marcelino.

In speaking to my Tia Dalila Cortes-Custodio, daughter of Marcelino who resides in Vineland, New Jersey recently, I found out that Don Marcelino was commissioned to design and carve the twelve Stations of the Cross for a Roman Catholic Church in Catania, Puerto Rico.  She claims that this sculpted work was one of the most beautiful she had ever seen done by any artist or craftsman of that generation or era. 


His ability to sculpt wood and craft Santos became legendary in Utuado, Puerto Rico, where he had taken up residence and his reputation as an artist blossomed and began to take shape.  By 1932, after being commissioned for numerous works of art for individuals, churches and the University of Puerto Rico, Don Marcelino was a well known and respected Santero.   My father spoke many times of the sculpture that Don Marcelino made for then Governor of Puerto Rico, Luis Munoz Marin, of a Jibaro, a mountain man, complete with a beer bottle in one hand and a machete in another.  This too has been confirmed by an article written about my grandfather and included on this website. 


In addition to being an artist, family members and friends of Don Marcelino rave about the furniture that he designed and manufactured.  My mother, Luz Caraballo as well as others in the family helped him turn wood on a lathe. A lathe that he had designed and manufactured with his own hands and which I believe is still in the possession of my cousins in Puerto Rico.  My mother talks about the countless hours that she turned the lathe (no electricity) that allowed him to shave the wood into beautiful legs and spindles that would adorn chairs and furniture. She speaks very highly of a spindle bed that he made with her assistance.  We have been told that some of the older families in Puerto Rico are in possession of some of the furniture.  His talents however did not end there.

Don Marcelino was a considerate and compassionate man who liked to help his people.  It has been said by many family members and friends that he donated his time and materials to making caskets, crutches and wooden legs for people who were less fortunate and desperately needed help.  To help his fellow farmers, he designed and built one of the first coffee bean peelers in the area as well as handles for axes, picks and shovels used to toil the fields.  My Tia Dalila has also told me that he was hired by the U.S. government to install manufacturing equipment in Puerto Rico and he accomplished it without any formal training or expertise of the machines.


Marcelino Cortes, the humble man with humble beginnings, no formal schooling or training and of little means was a man that not only his family could be proud of, but a man that is a legend among many on the island of Puerto Rico.  A man who never gave up, who raised his family well, and yet found time to devote to his art and his passions but more importantly, to his people, the Puerto Rican people.  And if his art is not enough, we should turn to his originality and determination to make life better not only for his family but his friends and acquaintances. 


As a family, we have not been able to determine where his artwork is and to this date, we do not own a single one of his sculptures or his creations.  We do not even own one picture of his works.  This is very sad not only for me, but for the entire family.  Recently our hopes were raised by a rumor coming from family in Puerto Rico that several pieces of Don Marcelino’s art would be auctioned off.  After countless phone calls, emails and late night research on the Internet, I have not yet been able to track down an auction or any other information regarding this development.  I am hoping that as people read this, if they have any information about my grandfather’s artwork or know of where the artwork has been kept or even have pictures, they will forward them so that we can include them on this website.

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Marcelino Cortes Military Records
Article by Rompeviento
Marcelino Cortes
Genealogy Chart
Cristobal Cortes Main Page
Book Entry by Teodoro Vidal