Retablos are an important part of the history, religion, and folklore of New Mexico. The Spanish word retablo means behind the altar. Retablos are basically paintings of patron saints. They were based upon oil paintings hanging in churches and cathedrals.
When the Spanish Conquistadores came to the New World, they missed the paintings of the saints that they had left behind. As a result, a tradition began of painting pictures of the saints on wooden boards that had been treated with gesso. Gesso is made up of rabbit hide glue and marble dust. It would be prepared and then spread out on the boards in a few coats. After the coats were dried, the gesso would be sanded down to smooth the ridges left by the applicator brush.
The saints that were painted on the boards were chosen for the specific problem or ill they were thought to remedy. For example, St. Peregrine is the patron saint of persons suffering from cancer; Saint Rita is a helper in desperate situations; St. Francis is the patron saint of animals and ecology and is called upon for harmony within the family; San Pasqual is known as the kitchen saint; and while Archangel Raphael is the Angel of Healing, angels in general were looked upon as helpers and guardians. People also had special devotion to different saints in times of war or drought or famine. They would call upon the saints to bless festivals, to watch over their family lives or for a bountiful harvest.
The retablo painters in New Mexico are known as Santeros. By creating a retablo, you also become a Santero and share in a centuries old tradition!
RetabloKits can be purchased locally in Northern New Mexico at the following locations:
Jackalope Cerillos Rd, Santa Fe, New Mexico
Mercantile at Ojo Caliente NM 414, Ojo Caliente, New Mexico
High Roads Art Gallery Truchas, New Mexico