four hundred years ago, the Spanish came to the New World and brought significant changes. One of the most lasting changes was their faith—Catholicism. Painted and carved images of saints (santos) have lived in the homes of Hispanic and Native American New Mexican families for hundreds of years. Santeros, the local artists who made the santos, began to carve and paint the saints to supply churches and homes. Enter Virginia Maria Romero, a self-taught, awardwinning santera who has taken the retablo, redefined it, reinvented it, and made it her own. Her contemporary religious retablos are inspired by the culture of New Mexico and by her Polish-Irish heritage, which sets her work apart from others of that genre. The style, color, and composition of her retablos exhibit her uniqueness and creative quality. An exhibition of her work will be on view at Manitou Gallery, 225 Canyon Road in Santa Fe. Opening reception on Friday, July 27, from 5 to 7: 30 pm.
Becoming a santera I became a santera quite by accident—or maybe not. In 1998, my mother passed away suddenly and unexpectedly. I was handed her belongings in a plastic bag. In the bag were the clothes and shoes she had been wearing and a small red cloth pouch in which she carried several small crosses. The crosses seemed to me a sign or a symbol with a hidden purpose, left for me to figure out. With the crosses—and turtle as my guide (I believe in totem animals)—I was led to Our Lady of Guadalupe parish, in Tortugas, New Mexico. As a result I was inspired to paint a retablo of Guadalupe, which began my vocation as a santera.
Using Traditional Materials For my retablos I use traditional materials including carved and adzed pine, homemade gesso, watersoluble and hand-collected pigments (ochre, cochineal, black walnut), homemade piñon sap varnish, and wax.
Retablos for Religious Purposes & the Retablo as Decoration Some people choose to talk about, define, and lecture about their spirituality. I choose expression through my artwork. I am not a scholar on the subject of the meaning or purpose of religion or saints, but I do know that my work has a purpose to me, and to others who have expressed to me how my work affects and inspires them. I think it is a personal choice of how retablos are to be used. It is not up to me to define what that purpose is to others. For me, retablos have a religious purpose.
The New Work My new works consist of retablos, altars, crosses, and acrylic paintings. In some of the pieces I continue to combine saints and animals. I’ve also just released a new CD—Iktushiwi/Raven Speaks— in collaboration with Karuna R. Warren & the New World Drummers, with my artwork and poetry. I feel my work speaks for those whose voices cannot be heard.
Photograph | j ul y 2012
Guy Cross THE magazine | 19
THE magazine is Santa Fe New Mexico's magazine of international art, photography, culture, and restaurant dining