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The poet William Carlos Williams wrote of Barela,"... for wholehearted depth of purpose his figures have a comment to make on the age which is like a breath of fresh air."
When Barela made his debut on the national scene, he was hailed by "Time Magazine" as the "discovery of the year". The "New York Times" cited his work for showing "real force... there is crude, honest, personal expression in the small carvings". The Museum of Modern Art proclaimed him the "most dramatic discovery made in American art for the past several years".
While Barela did not remain a part of the national art scene during his lifetime, he became a legendary figure because of his deep spirituality and monumental talent as an artist. Today in New Mexico, nearly every santero (an artist who creates sacred images) recognizes Barela as a major inspiration.