Skip navigation and jump to content.

Hispanic Culture Exhibit:  Hispanic Culture Exhibit

    "Her Madonnas touch a nerve because they bring that joy of family and friend and love for one's fellow man past all the traditional reserve you would normally see in a Madonna."

Lee Musgrave, Curator, Maryhill Museum of Art Travel--Bonita.jpg

A letter from Cristina:

    I am greatly influenced by my Hispanic heritage. Born in Los Angeles, I am the daughter of a Anglo American mother and a Mexican American father. Because of my appearance combined with the time and place I lived, I experienced prejudice growing up; events that caused me to identify deeply with my Mexican American heritage.

    My paternal grandmother (Catalina Maria Ortiz Acosta) was  a  classical pianist and gifted Renaissance woman. Her ancestors included the original Spanish settlers and soldiers that settled in North America in what is now New Mexico in the late 1500's and 1600's. She had antique blankets and other objects from the centuries of life her ancestors had lived in the Southwest region. I found the objects in her home continually fascinating.

    As a young child I would often listen to her practice Debussy, Bach or other classical piano pieces as I played with Native American objects from our family's past or leafed through her collection of antique books, looking at engravings. From her I observed the example of the artist's life.

    The influence of this part of my culture inspires my series of Madonnas. Painted with oil, sterling silver, copper or 22kt. gold metal leaf and inlays of antique 24kt gold glazed ceramic tiles, these Madonnas include symbols that delve past the dawn of Christianity, and also represent the earth religions of the Native Americans. New Mexico was a frontier for almost three hundred years. Because travel was often unsafe and difficult, access to clergy was sporadic, thus the tradition of the retablo developed as a home altar. They are beautiful additions to  any spanish art or southwest art collection.


Nordstrom Stores National Hispanic Heritage Exhibits have included Cristina's Madonnas in October 2005 and October 2006.

Subscribe to her Newsletter for once a month news, or get more on her Blog.

La Sirena Verde / The Green Mermaid
18" x 24"
Click here to learn more.
La Conquistadora /The Corn Maiden / Dine Spider Woman
A symbol of the peaceful accord the Spanish eventually reached with the Pueblo and Dine tribes, she is the USA's oldest Madonna.
Click here to learn more.
Guadalupe with Tear
This Madonna is serene despite her intuition that her child would meet great challenges.
Click here to learn more.
Our Lady of the Winter Snows
Layers of Sterling Silver with oil paint reveal the Madonna cradling her heart in her hand.
Click here to learn more.
Lady of Czestochowa
Lady of Czestochowa, The Black Madonna of Poland.
Click here to learn more.
La Conquistadora with Corn
Holding the food of life over her heart, she watches over the land. The floral motif symbolizes her blessings.
Click here to learn more.
Guadalupe with Crown, The World is Her Heart
18" x 24"
Click here to learn more
Christmas/Nativity Angels Dance with Joy for You,
retablo -- Santos style
36"x36" tri-panel.
Click here to learn more
La Sirena / The Mermaid
18" x 24"
Click here to learn more
Maria Madonna, Retablo in gratitude for the blessing of creation. 36"x36" tri-panel.
Click here to learn more.
Dancing Madonna, retablo, ex-voto, 26" x 26" tri-panel.
Click here to learn more.
Rock Canyon Madonna, retablo, ex-voto, 26" x 26" tri-panel.
Click here to learn more.

Eve & the Tree of Knowledge
42" x 60"
Click here to learn more.
Dolores Huerta & Cesar Chavez
Si Se Puede (Yes You Can)
18" x 24"
Click here to learn more
St. Isidore, Patron Saint of Agriculture, retablo - Santos style 36"x36" tri-panel.
Click here to learn more.
Retablo_Blessings of Love
The Blessings of Love
36"x36" tri-panel
 Retablo in the tradition of the New Mexican Ex-voto.
Click here to learn more.
Click here to learn more. 
La Malinche as the Guadalupe with the Three Sisters, Corn, Squash and Beans
42"x 60".
The Madonna is with the 3 foods necessary to thrive in the SW.
Click here to learn more.  
Love Always, Siempre Amor
16'6" x 52" drawing
Click here to learn more.
Center of the Universe
42" x 60"
Click here to learn more.
Running Meditation
42" x 60"
Click here to learn more.
Paradise Found
36" x 36"
Click Here to Learn More

Retablos (or altarpiece in Spanish) are a traditional sacred art form with roots that pre-date Christianity, with roots in the Mediterranean areas that include part of what is now Italy. The art form of the retablo first came to North America with the Spanish settlers and artisans that followed the Conquistadors to the North American continent to settle what is now Mexico and the United States.

There are two types of Retablos, the Santos and the Ex-Voto. The Santos style of retablo is either a Saint (from the Roman Catholic Christian tradition) or a member of the Holy Family. Similar in concept to the art form of the Byzantine and/or European Orthodox Catholic icon, the Santos is painted in accordance with strict liturgical rules that define how the central figure of Saint or Holy Family member is represented. The counterpoint to the Santos is the Ex-voto, a no-rules, personal vision that is created to commemorate a blessing received or when a prayer has been answered.

The Ex-voto retablo is the art form I focus on. I love it! This retablo art form gives me a way to connect with the religion of my childhood, without having to get into any personal struggles with a dogma that doesn't always jibe with who I am now.

When I was a child, my abuelita (paternal grandmother), Catalina Maria Ortiz Acosta would tell me about the ancestors we shared. They were goldsmiths, soldiers and settlers who had first come to North America in the 1500's, eventually settling in what are now the towns of Santa Fe, Taos and Abiquiu in New Mexico and Ortiz, Colorado. Though she was born in Los Angeles, she held her New Mexican roots close to her heart, importing New Mexican chilis to her home by the beach in Playa del Rey. (I updated her recipe for Red Chili Sauce, if you'd like to try it.)

I paint my retablos to express and explore my gratitude for the blessings of my life. My favorite subject is the Divine Feminine which I interpret as Madonna / Female Creator images. Because my Spanish/Mexican ancestors migrated to North America in the 1500’s, I also include American Indian symbols, as that heritage is sure to be part of my mix.

Along with the visual symbols of my work, the materials I use have personal meaning. My Ortiz ancestors where famous goldsmiths. Thin sheets of 22kt. gold leaf, copper and sterling silver glisten under and over layers of oil paint and evoke the presence of those ancestors. The antique ceramic tile mosaic is glazed with 24kt. Gold and is from a now shuttered ceramic factory in the same area of Southern California where I grew up. The wood panels are built by an artisan wood worker and mostly include re-worked lumber siding from razed timber mill buildings in Bend.

I finish each Retablo with a blessing, usually on the back of the image. In the old tradition of territorial New Mexico, the Retablo often became the spiritual focus in the home when travel was dangerous and people could not attend church. Centuries of isolation in New Mexico led to the unique form of the Ex-Voto often painted on tin, leather or wood panels.

Artists were commissioned to paint retablos that often became symbols of a family’s spiritual life. In that tradition I offer myself to paint commissions of a Retablo for you that commemorates your blessings.

Choosing Paint Colors     Home Decor Licensing    Who is Cristina    Press   Philanthropy    Hand Painted Ceramics    Cooking with Cristina   Art and Inspiration Articles and Books    Contact Cristina   Original Oil and Acrylic Paintings  Site Map  Hispanic Heritage

Contact Cristina Acosta