Monday, October 27, 2008

Art and Culture: A Note about Tradition

Dear Cristina, (via my website,

Just wanted to send you a note to let you know how much I enjoyed viewing your work. You've accomplished a lot. I have a Masters Degree in Art....used to do a lot of Chicano Art..studied the old masters techniques for one yr. in Florence, Italy and finally I plan to retire early next year to pursue my art. I have been inclined to paint retablos and to build and paint small altars and try and bring back this beautiful tradition we once had in South Texas. I am from Las Vivoritas Ranch, a land grant in parts of South Texas ...mostly in Jim Hogg County....but I've been living in Corpus Christi, TX for many years...I have been looking at other works being done by many New Mexican Artists and I appreciate everyone who has remained true to their culture and promote it via art or music. Your art has inspired me to go home and paint this weekend and I just wanted to let you know....thanks for placing your work an your life for all of us to see, it only reminds me of all our people spread over this wonderful country....keep creating and good luck in all that you do and will accomplish in the future.
Un Amigo de Tejas,
Roel F. Montalvo (photo of St. Benedict retablo painted by Roel Montalvo)

Thanks for the nice note Roel, I appreciate your support. Thank you for writing about the tradition of painting altars (retablos) in Texas. I'm excited to share this image of your retablo you made for your daughter's home. Please keep me updated on your work.

For those readers who aren't familiar with retablos, here are some of my observations about the art form of the retablo. There are two types of retablos, the Santos (an image that includes a Saint or member of the Holy Family in the Catholic Christian tradition), or an Ex-voto (an image created in gratitude for a blessing received).

There is a long tradition of painting altars in this country, especially in the American Southwest. And the influence of the old masters is an integral part to his type of work, something that surprises some viewers of retablos, as retablos including Santos and Ex-votos are considered to be folk-art by some viewers. Though there is a "folksy" quality to the pieces because artists of all skill levels paint retablos , it's more a modern perception than the reality of the people that paint them.

Originally, the Spanish artists that brought this tradition to North America were trained in the Renaissance artistic traditions of their times. As generations of artists copied and interpreted the theme, far from the painting studios of Europe, the style changed. Still, when I look at many pieces I see compositional devices and a visual approach that is European in origin. Retablo images often reveal a beautiful blend of cultures that has been slowly changing over the centuries.

See more of my retablos, both santos and ex-voto style on my website at

Live in the Central Oregon area? Are you on vacation in Oregon? High Desert Gallery is exhibiting a group of over a dozen of my retablos. This is the first time they've been exhibited together. Call/contact High Desert Gallery for details:

High Desert Gallery,
1-866-549-6250, or 541-388-8964

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