Category Archives: Mexican Art

Making a Nicho Retablo for Day of the Dead

The nicho retablo I created for my Day of the Dead/Dia de los Muertos altar this year!

This summer I visited the National Hispanic Cultural Center in Albuquerque, New Mexico.  I always love going here and seeing the exhibits.  My late cousin, Chila (Orcilia Forbes), served on the board of the center and it’s such a wonderful place to visit and explore.

I was walking through the permanent exhibit section with my mother and my cousin, Ophelia (better known as Boogie!), when we came across a really beautiful piece of artwork of the Virgen de Guadalupe.  It was a retablo or shadow box of a large Virgen Mary in the center, surrounded by small shadow boxes all decorated in different ways with other images of Mary.  We were all in awe of this piece.  I wish I could remember the name of the artist, but suffice it to say that the wheels started turning in my head and in my cousin Boogie’s head!  I didn’t get a photo since no photos were allowed in the gallery, but I sketched out the design so we could have something to reference.  Boogie and I decided this was something we needed to modify and try for our next Zuniga Family Reunion in 2019!  We always bring photos and make a point to remember family members who have passed on.  This would be a wonderful way to engage family members and plan a reunion activity!  Between now and then though, we decided we would each work on a prototype to see what we needed to have on hand in order to create a nicho retablo.

As background, nicho retablos are a mixed media type of creation or artwork.  In Hispanic culture, they tend to be spiritual and religious and can be used on an altar for events such as Dia de los Muertos or in devotional places of your home.  Sometimes these are made with small tin boxes, like an Altoids tin box, while others are made with wood and have doors that can be closed on the images inside. These are always very colorful and vibrant.  The décor can be quite ornate but there is a beauty in all this décor and it is quite striking because it tends to signify the person or persons being honored.

Boogie called me shortly after I got home from Albuquerque and she had found some shadow boxes at Hobby Lobby that she thought would work well.  She sent me a photo and I went to buy a few.  They looked perfect!  I set out to make a nicho retablo for my Day of the Dead altar this year and chose a photo of my father with his two brothers and sister.  I’ve always loved this picture of them…all sitting on the couch at my grandmother’s house and smiling broadly!  I knew I wanted to make this multi-dimensional so I made several copies of the photo so I could cut out each figure and experiment.

Meanwhile, I had collected various “artsy”  items like old jewelry, fabric leaves, decorative ribbon and other crafty items from various places.  I hit a creative roadblock as I got started and I wasn’t sure what to use so I went to Pinterest to browse.  Something I saw sparked my creativity and I decided I needed monarch butterflies to place behind each figure from the photograph to make it appear they had wings!  I headed to Michael’s and found a package in the perfect size!

From left to right – Uncle Lorenzo, my dad Praxedis, Uncle Felix and Aunt Gloria

From there everything started evolving…I used ribbon at the top of the display that reminded me of papel picado.  I also placed some of the same ribbon on the glass at the bottom.  Next, I hot glued each of the figures to the back of the shadow box, staggering them so they would all fit.

Next I used plastic amber gemstones from an assorted I bought at Hobby Lobby along with brown sequins leaves – two leaves to a gemstone – to create a flying effect, like a flying heart.  Honestly, I wasn’t sure how I was going to use them but when I put them on the counter top, two leaves fell next to a gemstone and I took it as a sign to use that particular design!   The front part of the retablo, the glass, needed a little something more so I cut up a few fabric leaves to make them smaller and added a yellow looking plastic stone – again, keeping with the flying heart effect.

Heart applied to my dad’s photo and a look at the glass decor before everything is finally pulled together and completed.

The final touch was a red plastic gemstone heart.  There was only one in the package that I bought.  I placed it on the photo of my father adding a pop of color to the shadow box.  It was now ready to seal up and place on my dining room altar.

The addition of this handmade nicho retablo this year is really what my altar was missing and feel a few more in the works in the weeks to come.  I know when I begin seeing photos on social media of other altars for Day of the Dead/Dia de los Muertos this year, it will keep this creative streak alive so I’ll need to take advantage of that!

My newly created nicho retablo now has a special place on my Day of the Dead/Dia de los Muertos altar!


Frida’s Nail Polish and Lipstick – Part Two

My Frida Kahlo doll surrounded by “her” nail polishes and lipsticks.

Last year, right before Day of the Dead, I was browsing through Instagram when I spotted a photo of Frida Kahlo nail polish and I was intrigued!!! Or maybe I should say, I was obsessed! I had to find this polish and as it turns out, lipstick too!!! You can read about this more in my original post – Frida’s Lipstick and Nail Polish.

Last month, I got an email from a young woman interested in finding out more about the Frida nail polish and lipstick.  She stumbled upon my blog post and asked to interview me for an online magazine.  Again, I was intrigued…!!!  We set up a time to talk and I went into my original story and my search for the nail polish and lipstick from this icon in the Hispanic community.

As it turns out…the hunt for the nail polish and lipstick is secondary to the reason finding something that “belongs” to Frida is so important.  That became the focus of our conversation.  Frida has long been an icon of strength, perseverance and independence for many women.  So having a nail polish or lipstick with her iconic artwork or her portrait really seemed to be a way to capture this strength, perseverance and independence for ourselves.

Frida had a unique beauty.  Who doesn’t know about her “unibrow-?”  But even with a unibrow – something that was so defining for her but would have the rest of us reaching for our tweezers…she was mesmerizing to people.  I recall going to Atlanta’s High Museum a few years ago with a friend to view the Frida and Diego exhibit.  I could have stayed for days reading all the descriptions and going through all their art creations.  At the end of the exhibit there were photos of both Frida and Diego.  There was one though…Frida was in a white dress and leaning on a wall.  It was in black and white, of course.  I just remember I stood and stared at it for the longest time.  I had never seen this photo before and she was simply breathtakingly beautiful in this photo.  I couldn’t get enough of it…  And at which point I was saying to myself…”what unibrow?”

Having these different Frida inspired nail polishes and lipsticks seems to be a way to be a little bit  like “Frida” ourselves.  I was becoming fixated again…  So after the interview, I began wondering if I could find any more lipsticks and polishes at my local CVS.  As luck would have it…I found some that I didn’t already have!  So now, I think I have everything that was offered through CVS and that makes me very happy.  And…I have the pictures to prove it too!

Meanwhile…I’m keeping my eyes open to anything new.  Who knows?  Maybe there will be a line of eye shadows next?!


Frida’s Lipstick and Nail Polish

img_2313I was browsing Instagram few months ago when I came across a photo of Frida Kahlo nail polish and lipstick.  I did a double-take.  When was a line of Frida Kahlo make-up introduced, how did I miss it and more importantly, where could I buy some??!!!  I commented on the photo and got a response that these items were found at a CVS store in California.  My heart sank a little.  I mean, with the large Hispanic population in California I could see this being a popular line but why not in Birmingham too?  I mean, we have a large Hispanic population too!  Granted, not to the level of California but still…  Artist Frida Kahlo is iconic with the Mexican population, especially around Day of the Dead/Dia de los Muertos celebrations.  (I’m working on a post about Frida that I’ll post soon!)


I was only able to find two lipstick designs at the Homewood store…I may need to check around and see if there are others!

So I grabbed my laptop, typed in Frida Kahlo nail polish and lipstick and the search directed me right to CVS.  There I found several color options for both the nail polish and lipsticks and better yet, iconic paintings of Frida and some of her artwork!  Now I knew I HAD to have these!!!  Ordinarily I would have just ordered them all online but that wasn’t an option.  There was, however, an option to search for a store that carried these products.  So I entered my zip code and found several stores right in my area.  Now I was getting excited!  I wrote them down – all within a 10 mile radius – and began my hunt.  At the first store in Homewood, I walked all over looking high and low.  The big name cosmetic brands all have their designated space in the store, so I knew I wouldn’t see these there so I figured it would be a small display off to the side or on the very top of the shelves.  No luck there.  Crossed that off the list and headed to the CVS in Cahaba Heights.  Once again, no luck and by now I was losing faith that I would find them.  I went to one more store in Homewood and again…nothing.  Maybe the product hadn’t landed in the stores yet?  Maybe I was a bit ahead of the shipment?  I really don’t know the answer to those questions.  I was disappointed but then decided I really didn’t “need” the products – I just “wanted” them – and so tucked it out of my mind…temporarily.

About three weeks ago I ducked into the Homewood CVS to pick up a few items when I noticed a small display of sample products in front of the cash registers.  I’m such a sucker for sample sized products so clearly my attention was peaked and as I browsed, there they were…several colors of the Frida Kahlo nail polish and several of the lipsticks too!  I couldn’t believe my luck!  And the colors are so vibrant and beautiful too!  I picked up two of each and on a return visit two weeks later, I picked up one more nail polish.


The color and photo on this nail polish bottle are striking!

Honestly, I think I love these more for the artwork than the actual polish and lipstick…they are just so darn cute!  But I did go back onto the CVS website and this time found several great reviews on the products so maybe I was a little ahead of the shipment after all.  One person said she would put the polish up against OPI which I thought was quite a compliment.  The lipstick was also given high marks.

I’m hoping this isn’t a one-time offering and that I’ll be able to find these again next year, or better yet, online!  I guess time will tell.  Meanwhile, I’m loving the fact that they were created at all and happy I was able to find these here in Birmingham!

Love the names of these lipsticks!

Love the names of these lipsticks!

Dia de los Muertos 2015…a look back…

A little girl admires the sugar skull masks at Dia de los Muertos Birmingham Festival 2015

A little girl admires the sugar skull masks at Dia de los Muertos Birmingham Festival 2015

Day of the Dead/Dia de los Muertos is tomorrow and Birmingham has one of the best celebrations around!  This is a story I did for Alabama News Center last year about the festival.  I look forward to sharing more photos and stories from DOD 2016 later this week!  (By the way…I’m about to #bloglikecrazy for the month of November as a blogging challenge through See Jane Write!  Should be fun!)

Birmingham’s annual Day of the Dead Festival, organized by the nonprofit Bare Hands Inc., was Monday, Nov. 2 in downtown. This was the 13th year for the festival that celebrates the lives of departed loved ones with lively celebrations, food, music, flowers, dancing and stories. The event has grown in popularity in recent years and continues to expand, drawing a diverse crowd.

Day of the Dead, or Dia de los Muertos, is a Mexican tradition that celebrates life rather than mourning death. The day coincides with the Catholic celebrations of All Saints’ Day (Nov. 1) and All Souls’ Day (Nov. 2). Many people describe this event as a colorful, vibrant and joyful commemoration rather than something somber. Altars feature photos, food or drink and hobbies of lost loved ones. Many Hispanic members of the community have embraced this event and participate as a remembrance of their native country.

Mural by artist Tim Kerr honored the Foot Soldiers of the Civil Rights era.  Dia de los Muertos Birmingham 2015

Mural by artist Tim Kerr honored the Foot Soldiers of the Civil Rights era. Dia de los Muertos Birmingham 2015

This year, the festival invited visual artist Tim Kerr from Austin, Texas, to create the central memorial. He chose a mural to honor departed foot soldiers of the civil rights movement. It was featured next to the altar honoring photographer Spider Martin. This annual altar is created by his daughter, Tracy Martin – a founder of the festival – and always draws a crowd.

While the festival honors the traditional Mexican Day of the Dead, it incorporates other elements that make it unique. To many Alabamians, it brings to mind Decoration Day in the South. It also gives a New Orleans feel with the jazz funeral parade and procession that takes place around the event. “Dressing up” is a mainstay at the festival. A parade honoring celebrated Mexican artist Frida Kahlo marched along with the jazz band and paraders performed on the main stage.

A young girl has her face painted as sugar skull at the festival.  This is one of the most popular things to do at Dia de los Muertos.

A young girl has her face painted as sugar skull at the festival. This is one of the most popular things to do at Dia de los Muertos.

The children’s area provided families with sugar skull or “calavera” crafts, activities and a puppet show. Speaking of sugar skulls, having one’s face painted at the festival is popular and not limited to children. The line to have faces painted was long but the results were praised. The public altar area provided a place for attendees to bring photos and personal remembrances or “ofrendas” and honor a departed loved one. One young woman, born and raised in Alabama, commented that she didn’t know much about Day of the Dead until recently when a friend told her about it. She was looking for a way to pay tribute to her father, who recently passed away, and she was excited to take part in this year’s event.

“I want to remember the good times and not dwell on my dad’s death,” she said. “I think this is why events like this are so meaningful and powerful to people like me.”  She held a picture of her father holding her as a baby, and brought his favorite fruit, an apple, to include in the public altar area. Through tears, she remarked how happy she was to be a part of the event.

A couple dresses out in full sugar skull makeup and colorful clothing for Dia de los Muertos Birmingham 2015.

A couple dresses out in full sugar skull makeup and colorful clothing for Dia de los Muertos Birmingham 2015.

One of the most heartfelt moments at the festival is the annual roll call. People submit names of deceased loved ones to be called out from the main stage. As names are called, family and friends in the audience hold up pictures of their loved ones.

Robert Hernandez, a festival volunteer, created an altar to honor his family as well as Selena, who was known as the Queen of Tejano music before her murder in 1995. His creation of a large white flower was a central feature of his altar highlighted with music from the late artist. Hernandez met someone attending the festival who knows Selena’s family. The friend took pictures and promised to pass them along to her family.

Altar by Robert Hernandez dedicated to Tejana Musician Selena was a popular stop at Dia de los Muertos Birmigham 2015.

Altar by Robert Hernandez dedicated to Tejana Musician Selena was a popular stop at Dia de los Muertos Birmigham 2015.

Another volunteer noted that Day of the Dead in Birmingham is not a secret anymore.  “More and more people are discovering the beauty of this holiday and want to be here,” she said. “It’s been a wonderful and uplifting night.”

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Yellow Bloom Tablecloth, Papel Picado and Mariachi Sombreros


Yellow bloom oilcloth vinyl tablecloth, papel picado and Mariachi sombreros!

February is my birthday month and more than anything I love getting together with family and friends to celebrate another year of life.  Usually my husband makes a wonderful meal and we gather around our dining room table and share stories and so much laughter, followed by Edgars cupcakes.  This year, since Eddie wasn’t feeling well, we went out to dinner but we came back to the house for those cupcakes and birthday cards!

At this stage in my life, while it’s nice to receive birthday gifts, it’s not something I expect.  My sweet mother has gift giving in her DNA.  I always tell her not to buy me anything but she can’t seem to NOT bring gifts on special occasions.  This year though, she listened.  She didn’t buy me anything.  Instead, she went through some of her things at home and wrapped them up for me.  This meant so much more to me because these were things she bought for herself several years ago when we were in New Mexico for a family reunion.

Yellow bloom oilcloth vinyl tablecloth my mother bought in New Mexico several years ago.

Yellow bloom oilcloth vinyl tablecloth my mother bought in New Mexico several years ago.

The first item was a Yellow Bloom pattern oilcloth vinyl tablecloth.  I remember when she bought this.  I was with her and I almost bought one for myself.  She had seen one of these tablecloths at a family member’s house and had to have it!  This pattern is so bright and cheery and now that I have my new kitchen farmhouse table, it will look great set with some Fiesta dishes and margarita glasses.  My goldenrod colored kitchen walls will be a nice backdrop too!

Plastic papel picado...good for outdoor use!

Plastic papel picado…good for outdoor use!

The next items were three sets of very large strings of papel picado.  Mom said to me when I pulled these out of the gift bag…”I figured you would get more use out of these than I would. ” I told her these will be great during Day of the Dead this year!  Papel picado is considered a Mexican Folk Art and is seen in many Mexican restaurants and during many Mexican celebrations.  It’s so colorful and I really love using it to decorate.  One of my cousins in New Mexico has it draped from the ceiling of her kitchen and it’s so unique and beautiful!  I’ve considered doing that in my own kitchen.

Turquoise miniature Mariachi sombrero - one of three my mother gave me for my birthday this year!

Turquoise miniature Mariachi sombrero – one of three my mother gave me for my birthday this year!

Finally, mom gave me three miniature Mariachi sombreros.  Mariachi sombreros are so beautiful and I remember wanting to bring one back for my dad when I visited Mexico as a senior in high school.  Unfortunately, I didn’t have enough money to buy one so instead, I bought him a miniature one similar to these.  The day my mom bought these, I also picked up a few to use on my  Mexican Christmas tree.  These three will join the rest this year when I decorate.  I especially love the turquoise one…I didn’t get one that color.

Thanks mom…I love you!

Frida and Mary

First DOD pillow purchase from Earthbound Trading Company at Brookwood Mall. Frida Kahlo surrounded by sugar skulls.

First DOD pillow purchase from Earthbound Trading Company at Brookwood Mall. Frida Kahlo surrounded by sugar skulls.

Right before Day of the Dead (DOD), I was at Brookwood Mall and wandered into Earthbound Trading Company.  There was a huge display of DOD items and I loved going through and checking everything out.  Interestingly, the one item I came home with that day was a pillow.  That’s right…a pillow!

There was a large box in front of the display with an assortment of DOD pillows.  Of course, there was requisite sugar skull pillows in an assortment of colors, but the ones that got my attention had the images of Frida Kahlo and the Virgin Mary on them.  It took me quite a while to decide which one I wanted – mind you – they weren’t on sale.  Since it WAS close to DOD, I decided on the Frida pillow surrounded by several sugar skull characters.  When I got to the checkout, I remembered I had a discount coupon of 30% via email.  YAY!  I love a bargain and although I was about to pay full price for this pillow, the 30% off really made it sweeter!

A week after DOD, I was once again at Brookwood running errands when I ducked into Earthbound to see if they had any DOD items on sale.  Low and behold…they had ALL the pillows deeply discounted – among other things!  I’m talking 65% OFF!  Woowhoo!!!  So, I came home with TWO more pillows that day!  One has the image of the Virgin Mary on it and the other is Miss Frida again.

Virgin Mary pillow from Earthbound Trading Co.

Virgin Mary pillow from Earthbound Trading Co.

When I got home, I put them on the wooden bench in our foyer…it was the perfect place and I think they’ve found a permanent home.  That is…until Christmas, when they take a short hiatus for my Feliz Navidad pillows!


Another Frida Kahlo pillow – this was in square shape – the others are all rectangular.


I think all three of these pillows have found their forever home on my Mexican bench in my foyer…what do you think?

A Look Back at Birmingham’s Day of the Dead Festival

Candles light one of the altars at Day of the Dead #13

Candles light one of the altars at Day of the Dead #13

Every year I look forward to Birmingham’s Day of the Dead Festival.  This was year 13 for the festival and while it was a rainy day, the rain stopped right before the event was set to start and people made their way downtown.  As I’ve always said, DOD is a photographer’s mecca!  For a week after the event, it’s fun to see all the social media posts and photos of everyone dressed out in sugar skulls.  Photographers J. C. Bravo and Larry O.Gay are always on hand and capture incredible shots of the people .  In my opinion, their photos are breathtaking and really showcase the beauty of Day of the Dead.  Check J.C. and Larry out on Facebook when you get a chance and you’ll see what I mean…

Photo taken by photographer Larry O. Gay with my camera. Thanks Larry!

Photo taken by photographer Larry O. Gay with my camera. Thanks Larry!

At one point early in the evening, Larry grabbed my camera and took a photo of me with my husband, and my friend Theresa Deleon and her daughter.  So I now have an “original” Larry Gay photo on my very own camera!  Thanks Larry!

Meanwhile, instead of talking about the event, I’ll just let my own photos tell the story…



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Finding Tesoros in Austin, Texas

Beside Tesoros in Austin, Texas...this painting of the Virgen of Guadalupe is clearly visible from the street.

Beside Tesoros in Austin, Texas…this painting of the Virgen of Guadalupe is clearly visible from the street.

I went to Austin, Texas two weeks ago with my husband.  Eddie had a business conference and I went along since this place is on my “must visit” list.  Quite eclectic!  I mean, when your motto is “Keep Austin Weird,” I guess you kind of have to be eclectic!  We arrived early on Sunday and after checking into our hotel we immediately started exploring Austin.  First lunch at Annie’s, explored the Pecan Street Festival, checked out Mexic-Arte Museum, snacked at Walton’s Fancy & Staple, walked through the Texas State Capitol and finally had a light dinner at Second Bar & Kitchen.  Whew!  Exhausted but exhilarated!

I always do a little research before we travel looking for “off the beaten path” type places to check out.  Aside from restaurants, thrift stores and historical sites, I wanted to find some unique shopping.  I figured in Austin I would find a number of stores with Mexican art  when I stumbled upon Tesoros in the hotel magazine.  Located on South Congress (or Soco), I could have stayed there all day and not seen everything!  What a treasure trove – hence the name Tesoros!  (Duh!)  Outside the store there is a huge painting of the Virgen de Guadalupe.  So iconic and easy to spot.  Thankfully, there was parking behind the store – because parking can be a bit of a challenge in Austin!!!!  And they back into parking spaces there which is new to me…

Overwhelming display of Day of the Dead items at Tesoros in Austin, Texas!

Overwhelming display of Day of the Dead items at Tesoros in Austin, Texas!

The Tesoros website states that they are a retailer and wholesale distributor of folk arts and crafts and traditional items from over 20 different countries.  They definitely had a large supply of items from Mexico!  I naturally gravitated toward the Day of the Dead items and couldn’t believe the selection and variety.  There was a section on Frida Kahlo and I kept coming back to the Frida Retablo.  I knew I would come home with that one at least.

The Frida Kahlo display at Tesoros in Austin, Texas

The Frida Kahlo display at Tesoros in Austin, Texas

Next I found the Mexican tin ornaments.  I have picked up tin ornaments over the years and they are heavily featured on my Mexican Christmas tree at home each year.  I ended up picking up quite a few – putting them all out on the floor to see which ones I really wanted.  That’s when one of the sales people brought me a basket.  I knew I was in trouble now…

Mexican tin Christmas ornaments...this was just side one!

Mexican tin Christmas ornaments…this was just side one!

I walked around the back of the display and there were more ornaments including the Loteria (lottery) ornaments and quite a few hearts – some plain tin, some painted red and others with mirrors.  I could have bought them all…but I needed to be mindful of getting everything back on the plane!  One of the funniest items I found was the Michael Jackson sugar skull complete with silver glove!  I really should have bought one…

Michael Jackson Day of the Dead ornament! I wish I had bought it now...

Michael Jackson Day of the Dead ornament! I wish I had bought it now…

The last item I bought at Tesoros was a vinyl table-cloth/oil cloth.  I know that sounds boring but these tablecloths are so colorful and really create a traditional Mexican scene when you are setting a Mexican table.  I kept picturing my Fiesta dishes on the tablecloth.  They had so many colors and designs, it was hard to decide but I’m typically drawn to turquoise so that’s the one I got.

Here is a slideshow of some of the items I brought back…I think I’m going to need a bigger Mexican Christmas tree this year!  Oh…and I photographed them on a thrift store Mexican blanket I found for $5…

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