To understand what a retablo is, one needs to look at the history of New Mexico and how the Catholic faith shaped the lives of the people here, both colonizers and Natives. First, …
To understand what a retablo is, one needs to look at the history of New Mexico and how the Catholic faith shaped the lives of the people here, both colonizers and Natives. First, the term retablo refers to the painted wooden planks or tablets, sometimes carved in relief, on which are depicted the images of Catholic saints or religious figures. Next are the bultos, which are carved statues of the same. Both are also referred to by the overall term, santos, and the makers of which, santeros.
To see a new exhibition of contemporary expressions of this art form one might want to attend the opening reception of "Retablos - From the Heart and Soul" Sunday (Dec. 9), 2-4 p.m., at la Hacienda de los Martínez, 708 Hacienda Way off Lower Ranchitos. Admission to the reception is free.
The exhibition and sale, presented by Taos Historic Museums, will feature works by local artists. In addition, some retablos from private collections will be on view by notable artists, according to an announcement. Twenty percent of sales will benefit Taos Historic Museums.
"A traditional retablo is a votive offering made in the form of a religious picture typically portraying Christian saints, painted on a panel, and hung in a church or chapel especially in Spain and Mexico," an exhibit statement reads. "Throughout the years artists have taken on creating retablos with new styles, visions, expressions, meanings, and so on, while also continuing with the traditional. What do you see? Come see what others see."
After Don Juan de Oñate established the first Spanish colony in 1598 near what is now Okhay Owingeh Pueblo, the Catholic clergy who accompanied him on the journey from Mexico set about converting the faith of the Native people they encountered. This was one of the primary reasons for establishing a colony here, namely the claiming of souls for the church.
As time went on, various colonizers spread out and began creating settlements along the valleys and plateaus throughout this new territory. As each new colony was created, the faith of the colonists went with them.
The effort to change the spiritual beliefs of Pueblo Indians was not without conflict. In 1680, after decades of oppression during which some Catholic priests enlisted military force to drive out native religion with violence and the destruction of sacred objects, Pueblo Indians rose up in revolt and evicted the Spanish colonies.
Twelve years later, the so-called "reconquest" saw the Spanish colonists return, and while armed clashes sparked from time-to-time, Natives and colonists chose to live with each other. Converts were still made, but not with the reckless zeal from before.
Now, villages dotted the landscape, but priests were few and far between. This meant that many of the faithful took it upon themselves to keep the faith, so to speak.
Without the symbols of their faith in capillas and village churches, individuals began making them in the image of the works found in cathedrals back in Spain and Mexico. This folk art soon flourished and some artists became famous for their stylized expressions. Thus, the santero was born.
The exhibit will be on view through Jan. 7, 2019. For more information, call Luisa Mylet at (575) 758-1000.
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