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Ra Paulette: Fascinating Cave Art, New Mexico

Posted by
on August 02, 2018 at 01:51 PM

© Courtesy of internet resources

Some people are born to do amazing things, that’s a fact. American artist Ra Paulette only reaffirms the same. For over 25 years, the sculptor has been digging into the mountainous terrain of New Mexico; chiselling,  chopping and chipping – to carve out elaborate and artistic cave spaces! Attracting visitors from across the globe, these splendid works of art are said to have an ephemeral feel; akin to shrines and sanctuaries, and conducive for prayer and meditation.

Ra Paulette is a self-taught artist; he never had formal training in architecture, sculpting or structural engineering – skills he seems to have mastery over! Working only with hand tools such as shovels, pick axes, and scrapers, Paulette has created this underground fantasy world, across 14 caves in the desert north of Santa Fe. Sometimes using pre-existing crevasses and sometimes just directly tunneling into the soft sandstone cliffs, Paulette navigates his way into the subterranean world and creates mind-blowing and magical spaces - embellished with scallops, moldings, ledges, and inlaid stones. He then moves on, leaving the work to its fate. His attitude towards his art is transferred on to the finished caves, in the sense that they are not guarded or owned; and therefore vary considerably in accessibility. Some are located on private land, while others can be freely explored by the public, and one is even being sold for over a million dollars. The 14 caves, all of which differ in size and design, nevertheless unanimously showcase Paulette’s spiritual devotion.

Paulette treats his caves with love, chiselling them meticulously and decorating them with unique and emotive motifs and designs – which seem to seamlessly flow out from the sandstone surfaces, as though formed by natural processes. However, he does it out of love and passion and not as a money-making venture. He then leaves caves to be discovered and explored by others. He hopes they will be enjoyed, and people can find peace in the shrines he has so lovingly crafted.

Each of Paulette’s caves is unique, some featuring undersized doors or skylights that let the sun in, while others include benches carved right into the wall or deep niches for flickering candles.


His life and works have been encapsulated in the 2014 Oscar-nominated documentary, Cavedigger. Paulette once described his caves: “It has a lot to do with the juxtaposition of opposites: the sense of being underground with the light streaming in; the intimacy of being in a cave, yet the columns end up very large, sometimes thirty to forty feet high.”


Paulette's first commissioned work of art, "Windows of the Earth Shrine" – which completed in 1996, is accessible, via the website OriginNewMexico.com. It was made for a resort and retreat center, Origin at Rancho de San Juan. This provides the public with the opportunity to view and visit the cave sanctuary on guided tours, by appointment. Day visitors and overnight guests can hike a third of a mile, enjoy the view, and step inside the sandstone cave space to meditate, journal, enjoy the art, experience a sound bath with crystal singing bowls, or even hold a wedding photo shoot. The gorgeous space has 30-foot windows and smooth, gracefully  curving walls. The tickets for the guided tours are sold online, and are priced at $87/adult and $40/child; which includes the 2.5-hour tour and a nice catered meal.


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