Tag Archives: National Hispanic Cultural Center

The Piñata Exhibit – Sure to be a Smash Hit!

The piñata exhibit at the National Hispanic Cultural Center in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Visiting the National Hispanic Cultural Center in Albuquerque is always high on my list when I’m in New Mexico.  We were in town for our Zuniga Family Reunion over the Fourth of July holiday weekend and the family always builds in time for everyone to do a little exploring.  My cousin, Boogie (real name Ophelia),  my mother and I set out to check out the Center and found out there was a Piñata exhibit!

An entire exhibit devoted to piñatas???  We were intrigued!  I mean, we all know what piñatas are…. papier-mache figures, typically of donkeys that are filled with candy.  You are blindfolded, you hit them with a stick until they bust and then everyone scatters for the treats!  I still remember a birthday party I went to when I was around 8 years old in Puerto Rico.  All the kids were in a circle surrounding the hanging piñata waiting our turn to hit the donkey.  We were also close enough to dart for the candy if it got busted!  I guess I may have been a little too close, or maybe the stick was just that long.  I was standing in just the right spot for the little boy taking his turn to bring that long stick down, miss the donkey, and hit me squarely in the head!  I don’t remember if I got any candy after that or not!

While walking through the exhibit, we got a great history of piñatas as we admired the display.  The first ones were rather old, including one said to be a vintage China Poblana piñata from the 1930s.  This particular piñata was the inspiration to create this exhibit.  It’s faded from age and looks so fragile!  I guess I didn’t think of these objects of art as being very old but in truth, it’s thought that they originated in China and that Marco Polo was so fascinated by them in the late 1200’s that he took some back to Europe.  At the time, piñatas were made by using a clay jar (an “olla”) as the base.  They were then covered with paper or reeds and ultimately decorated with things like tissue paper, foil and other festive items.

Something I didn’t know was that piñatas were a religious custom in Spain during Lent in the 14th century.  In particular, they were broken on the Sunday after Ash Wednesday which was called “Piñata Sunday!”  They were seen as a symbol of temptation and represented evil.  Covering the person’s eyes while attempting to hit the piñata represented blind faith and the ability to conquer evil.  When the Spaniards arrived in Mexico during the 16th century they discovered piñatas already existed in the Indigenous culture to honor Huitzilopochtli, the Aztec god of war and the sun.  This festivity took place in December which was the god’s birth month.

In current Mexican culture, piñatas are very popular during Christmastime as part of Las Posadas.  These are the festivities that happen the nine days before Christmas when people gather to reenact  the Virgin Mary and Joseph in a procession, searching for a place to have the birth of Jesus.  During the procession, a piñata is carried from house to house and when the last house is reached, there is a piñata party.  The traditional style piñata used for the procession is a multi-pointed star representing the Star of Bethlehem that guided the three wise men.

The vintage Zozobra piñatas were rather interesting!  This one is extremely popular in northern New Mexico and Santa Fe.  The Zozobra is part piñata and part marionette – an effigy – that is burned every year during the Santa Fe Fiestas in September.  He’s referred to as Old Man Gloom (OMG) and was introduced in 1926.  His burning is done to dispel the hardships and troubles of the past year.

Who knew there was such a rich history surrounding piñatas?!  Mom, Boogie and I had a lot of fun exploring the rest of museum afterward, but not before stopping for a photo shoot of us posing with a stick in front of a piñata!  If you are in Albuquerque between now and March 31, 2018, stop by the Hispanic National Cultural Center and check out this really unique exhibit.

 

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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!