Contemporary Hispanic retablos are altars that celebrate the North American madonnas of La Conquistadora and the Guadalupe and others that Cristina creates with precious metals, beeswax, oil paint and 22kt gold glazed antique ceramic mosaic on antique wood panels.
Retablos range from 18″ tall to over 52″ tall.
Artist Statement:This religious art is my expression of spirit, ancestral family and of my faith in creation. Raised within the traditions of Catholicism, I’ve created these retablos (altars) to explore the archetypal sacred feminine in the form of the Marion figures that blend the European image of Mary with the Native American Indigenous female creations figures. I do this by presenting the traditional madonnas of La Conquistadora and La Guadalupe with American Indian symbols. As I am a blend of Spanish, Native American and Anglo, creating Marian figures that represent this blend of cultures naturally flows from me. I’ve been making altars for over 30 years and consider them a visual rendition of my spiritual practice. When I paint them, I meditate on aspects of the divine and let the image change and flow as my inspiration moves my hands.
These contemporary Hispanic retablos are part of the traditional lineage of all of my ancestors. Because I work from traditions rather than repeat them exactly, these retablos fit into a concept that is the New Mexican Spanish tradition of the ex-voto. An ex-voto is a tradition of creating an image to commemorate life’s blessing with an altar sharing the blessing. My expression of the divine feminine is my way to express my gratitude for the blessings of life.
Contemporary retablo of the Guadalupe with Crown is an ex-voto. Titled, Guadalupe with Crown, the World is Her Heart, in this image the Guadalupe holds the earth within her heart. The spinning earth nestles into her body, a universe of spacious emptiness. Her image is created on sheets of sterling silver metal leaf layered with oil paints glazes and layered again with more silver. Her gaze is straight-forwards and engages you.
An ex-voto is a type of retablo that portrays a non-typical version of the revered religious figure. I painted this version of the Guadalupe to show her as a nurturing and loving universe gently enfolding the planet earth.
Title: Guadalupe with Crown, the World is Her Heart
Medium: Oil; 22kt gold, sterling silver leaf on vintage Ponderosa Pine wood panel reclaimed from a 1904 wood mill and formed by an artisan woodworker into a single panel.
Size: 18″ x 24″
Year: Fall 2007, 2009
La Conquistadora is the country’s oldest Madonna renowned in New Mexico and other parts of the American Southwest. Often called “Our Lady of Conquering Love”, La Conquistadora is the representation of the peaceful accord the Spanish settlers eventually reached with the Native American tribes in the region after decades of warfare. Today the statue is ensconced in the Cathedral of St. Frances in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
My ancestors were among the original Spanish colonists in the Southwest. When I was a child, my father created a grotto in our backyard featuring a Madonna, around which he planted corn. I visited the chapel in the Taos Pueblo in New Mexico and found a statue of La Conquistadora at the center of the altar in a niche surrounded with a mural of corn stalks. Inspired by that history, I’ve created the image of La Conquistadora on a retablo (traditional altar form) to include the symbols of the Native American counterparts: The Pueblo Corn Maiden and the Deni Spider Woman.
The model is Cedar White, daughter of Kenneth White, member of the Deni tribe.
After my father died from Alzheimer’s Disease I was looking for the vision for a retablo to honor both him and our ancestors. Within days of his funeral I took a trip with my family to the Southwest to visit the various townsites where our ancestors had lived. When I saw the Madonna at the altar of the Taos Pueblo church, I knew I had my vision. I’ve painted this retablo in honor of all of my ancestors and as a blessing for an ever-increasing peace between all peoples of the world.
Title: La Conquistadora/The Corn Maiden/Deni Spider Woman
Medium: Oil; 22kt gold, sterling silver and copper metal leaf; antique ceramic mosaic tile with 24k gold glazes; on vintage wood planks of Ponderosa Pine wood panel reclaimed from a 1904 wood mill forming a single panel.
Size: 42″ wide x 60″ tall
Year : 2005
In the Retablo tradition of the Ex-Voto, I painted this for my sister, Alisa Acosta to celebrate the blessing of her recovery from cancer. The image on a Ex-Voto is a visual acknowledgment and expression of gratitude for a blessing received. Sharing my sister’s journey to recovery with her I am in awe of her strength.
We grew up on the Southern California coast and when we were children, spent many days at the beach across the street from our Abuelita’s (grandmother’s) house. Our memories of the beach are a source of happiness to both of us. We’d play in the waves, boogie board, pop buds on long strings of kelp, or walk out onto the jetty with brown sacks of warm tortilla chips fresh from my Abuelita’s cast iron fry pan. On the beach, standing on the water’s edge and facing west, with the Los Angeles metropolis of millions of people at our backs, we would look into the wilderness of the ocean. This strong, iconic mermaid reflects both the divine feminine along with the beauties and powers of the ocean. The dominant color scheme is my sister’s favorite color — green, the color of a clear, crisp ocean wave.
Title: La Sirena Verde / The Green Mermaid
Medium: Oil and Sterling Silver metal leaf with antique 24kt. gold glazed ceramic mosaic on artisan made Ponderosa Pine planks salvaged from a 1904 building in Bend, Oregon.
Size: 17″ x 24″
Year: January 2008
To commission a Ex-voto celebrating a blessing, contact me.
Embracing her child, the Guadalupe lovingly gazes at the child, Jesus. Here, La Guadalupe is the symbol of mother-love. Three playful birds flit within a field of copper leaf over tinted and textured wax incised with the shapes of roses. A 22 kt. gold leaf sphere glows above. Tile mosaic of antique 24kt. gold glazed poly chorme tiles is both a decorative surround and the pattern of her cloak. After painting the image, the seam between planks opened, creating a “tear” like line. Rather than filling the line, I saw that the tear symbolized the prescient moment when she intuited that her child would be destined for greatness and understood her role to nurture his beginning life with unconditional love.
Title of Artwork: Guadalupe with a Tear
Oil; 22kt gold, sterling silver and copper metal leaf; wax; antique 24kt. Gold glazed tile mosaic; semi-precious stones on vintage Ponderosa Pine wood panel reclaimed from a 1904 wood mill and formed by an artisan wood worker into a single panel.
Size: 18” x 24”
I painted this retablo of La Conquistadora at the Portal in the ex-voto tradition in gratitude for the blessing of fertility. The Madonna – Conquistadora / Guadalupe / The Corn Maiden – is at the center of life and death. On either side the skeletons, pillars on each end of the rainbow are guardians / ancestors / reminders of mortality’s part in the life cycle. Overhead a rainbow arcs to contain the brightness of her being. Flora switches from dark to light, from blood red to the dark of night and back again. A red stalk of corn, the color of blood, is the spine of her body. It springs from the crescent moon beneath her, the same moon cradels the landscape of the earth. An green stalk of corn stands at the side, as ever-present plant life.
Title: Center of Creation
Size: 42″ x 60″
Medium: Oil, 22kt. gold, sterling silver and copper metal leaf with antique 24kt gold glazed ceramic mosaic on wood panel. Wood panel is artisan made from reclaimed Ponderosa Pine planks taken from the 1904 circa mill buildings that were razed for redevelopment.
La Conquistadora, the country’s oldest Madonna is shown here with her hands in prayer posture cradling her heart of corn. A 22kt. gold leaf crown adorns her head. She watches over the high sun, moon and lands below. Floral patterns embellish the sky. Her body is a rock wall of gold glazed mosaic that stretches across the horizon and drops down a flower to the earth. Her blessings rain down upon us.
Title: Corn Corazon (Heart) Conquistadora
Size: 18″ x 24″
Medium: Oil; 22kt gold, sterling silver and copper metal leaf; antique ceramic mosaic tile with 24k gold glazes; on vintage wood planks of Ponderosa Pine wood panel reclaimed from a 1904 wood mill and formed by an artisan wood worker into a single panel.
Powerfully serene, the loving gaze of the Black Madonna, Our Lady of Czestochowa, is steadfast and unconditionally loving. The child sleeps serenely centered amid the vibrant garden patterns. The sterling silver corona is incised with a floral pattern that continues into the aura around her turquoise mosaic halo. The stylized shapes of tile mosaic become both cloak and background.
Title: Our Lady of Czestochowa, the Black Madonna
Medium: Oil; Antique ceramic mosaic tile with 24kt. gold glazes; 22kt. Gold and sterling silver metal leaf, on vintage Ponderosa pine planks reclaimed from a 1904 mill building and formed by an artisan wood worker into a single panel.
Size: 24″ x 36″
The mermaid retablo image is strong and iconic. Her tail swoops above her, creating a sort of crown. The shape of her tail and body combine to create a shape reminiscent of plant life. A horizon line of sterling silver leaf goes through her eyes, reminiscent of sea foam. The mosaic embracing her is studded with sea shells amid 24kt. gold glazed ceramic tile pieces.
I spent my early childhood living by the sea. I used to see pictures of mermaids and think that they were mostly all wrong looking renditions of sexy sea nymphs waiting for a sailor to fall overboard and float into their domain. This mermaid is different. She represents the ocean as a life giving, beautiful place but with the feeling that the dark and foreboding side of her world is also present. I love the sea, yet I’m always a bit afraid of the dark, unknown waters around me. She is my homage to the beautiful changeable sea.
Title: La Sirena / The Mermaid
Size: 18” x 24”
Year: 2007 September
Medium: Oil; sterling silver leaf; antique 24kt. Gold glazed tile mosaic; semi-precious stones on vintage Ponderosa Pine wood panel reclaimed from a 1904 wood mill and formed by an artisan wood worker into a single panel.
Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta are the co-founders of the United Farm Workers UFW. I grew up during the era of the Lettuce and Grape boycotts that Chavez and Huerta organized. The bravery of these two people to work for justice is an inspiration. I show them standing side by side as equals, balancing the world between them. Red veins travel like roots of a plant around the grapes and lettuce and into the space surrounding our spinning planet. The UFW United Farmworkers symbol is behind them (the symbol was drawn by Chavez’s brother). They are backed by a halo/sun embellished with drawings of floral vines etched out of the metal leaf. Their rallying cry of Si Se Puede (yes you can) floats above them.
Unfortunately, Cesar Chavez has passed on. We are lucky that Dolores Huerta is alive and continues her humanitarian political activities. To learn more about Dolores Huerta www.doloreshuerta.org
Title: Si Se Puede, Yes You Can
Medium: Oil; 22kt gold, sterling silver and copper metal leaf; wax; antique 24kt. Gold glazed tile mosaic; semi-precious stones on vintage Ponderosa Pine wood panel reclaimed from a 1904 wood mill and formed by an artisan wood worker into a single panel.
Dimensions: 18″ wide x 24″ tall