Sometimes things happen that seem so mysteriously destined that I’m amazed at the richness of this universe. About 4 or 5 years ago a man called my business number and asked if I had any interior design need for furnishings. He was a semi-retired fine carpenter and furniture maker and was looking for new business contacts.
When he told me he was in Albany, Oregon a city in the Willamette Valley about 2 1/2 hours from my home in Bend, Oregon. I was curious as to why he would call someone out of his geographic area. When I asked him, he said that he had just started experimenting with calling people and that I was the first Hispanic name he saw under theDesigner category in the phone book. As he was Chicano (Mexican-American) he said he hoped I would be nice because my name was Spanish. (My late father was Mexican-American or Chicano, hence my Spanish name.)
Once he told me he was practicing his business skills on me, we both relaxed and chatted a bit, talking about what it was like to be one of the very few Mexican-Americans (Chicanos) in Oregon during the 1980’s. I told him about my series of retablo paintings of Madonnas that I was working on.
He then told me that he had something he needed to get rid of before he retired, and that I might be the perfect person for it. He said that he had a Catholic Church confessional from a church that had been closed. Though he was vague as to how he came by the piece, he’d had it for over 30 years and asked if I would like to buy it. Without photos I said no, though it sounded interesting. After our conversation I sent him a postcard of one of my retablos, La Conquistadora / the Corn Maiden / Dine Spider Woman.
The next month and for about 6 months afterward, the man would check in with me to see if I’d like to buy his confessional. I never saw a photo and always said no.
Then one Saturday morning he was parked at my studio in a work van with a friend. I was stunned that he had driven over 2 hours over a mountain pass and hadn’t called to even see if I would be there. My husband, Randall had been at work (at that time our work spaces were in the same building) early to catch up on things and met the man when he knocked on my husband’s door to ask if he knew where I was.
I drove up to the studio building to see Randall standing at the back of the man’s open van and signaling me the absolutely-no-way hand signals in tandem with the what-in-the-heck-is-going-on eyebrow raise.
Stepping behind the van I looked in to see the “confessional” and was struck with amazement. The sections of cabinetry and plastic ziploc bag of “extra parts” looked like nothing but scraps of old wood and a lot of work to my husband, but I could see that what I was looking at was an altar.
That was it — I really wanted that pile of cabinetry. The man and I went back and forth on a price and I bought the cabinet. Randall was totally against the idea, but as it wasn’t a “affecting both of us for life” type of decision, I bought it anyway. Fortunately, Randall is a lovely guy who happens to be handsome, handy and dotes on me — so, he put the cabinet together despite his initial dismay with my decision to buy the cabinet.
I was so filled with amazement at the synchronicity and magical quality of life. I cleaned the pieces of wood with Citrus thinner and Randall put the puzzle of pieces together until it was a complete shrine. I asked everyone I thought might know, if they knew anything about the cabinet. Nobody did, but I felt that it was a shrine for the Guadalupe. So, I had my artisan woodworker friend, Terry Scoville, make me 2 wood panels to fit the “holes” left in the cabinet after someone had removed something years ago.
I painted an image of the Guadalupe with Child in oils, 22kt. gold leaf, wax and antique ceramic mosaic to suit the intimate space of the shrine along with a thin horizontal insert. Randall installed them. It is beautiful and we get so much pleasure from viewing the shrine. The shrine to Our Lady of Guadalupe is my constant reminder of the strange and often ironic, abundant beauty of life.
A couple of years later, while traveling in Taxco, Mexico I saw identical woodwork on 2 confessional chairs in the Cathedral at the top of the hill and knew that the shrine had “found” me. The man from Albany, Oregon had indeed found the “right” home for what he thought was a confessional, but in reality was a Shrine to the Guadalupe.
In Mexico, the top part of the cabinet (with the portrait of the Guadalupe) is removed from the stand (or bottom section) and is carried at the head of a procession on Dec. 12th. Sometimes the curtain is across her image during part of the procession, other times not — it depends upon the local traditions. During the rest of the year, the top part sits on the cabinet in a church.
I often light candles I put in the cabinet, or just turn on a light to enjoy it. My friend, Mimi Graves brought me a ristra of local grown red chilies which dried while hanging from the cabinet door. Here’s some info about the festival.
Catholic traditions include Feast Days which are specially designated days for a Saint or Holy Person. December 12th is the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. In Mexico, this feast is one of the holiest days of the year. Though the concept is not sanctioned by the Catholic Church, some people consider the Guadalupe to be the Christian version of the Aztec Mother Earth goddess Tonantzin. The Our Lady of Guadalupe festival is much more of a tradition in Mexico than in the U.S., though in areas with a lot of Hispanics there are often processions to celebrate the day. Images of Our Lady of Guadalupe are often considered Chicano art, Catholic religious art or Hispanic art — To hispanics of Mexican-American ancestory, the image of the Guadalupe is a symbol that goes beyond religious affiliations to become an icon of identity.
I was raised very Catholic and consider myself Latina. Despite the spiritually seismic shifts I’ve experienced that re-shaped my beliefs, I love to paint Madonnas and think of them as expressions of the Divine Feminine.