Tag Archives: Virgen de Guadalupe

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!


La Virgen de Guadalupe

Ann Seeley pewter bracelet with the image of La Virgen de Guadalupe that I bought in Albuquerque, New Mexico several years ago.

Ann Seeley pewter bracelet with the image of La Virgen de Guadalupe that I bought in Albuquerque, New Mexico several years ago.

A few years ago, I found this beautiful and unusual Virgen de Guadalupe bracelet on my way back from a Zuniga family reunion in Albuquerque, New Mexico.  It was made by artist Alice Seeley, the same artist who made the petroglyph pins I wrote about a few posts back.  I didn’t buy the bracelet at the same time I bought the pins and so I was surprised that it was made by the same artist.  It’s a heavy bracelet, made of pewter, and some might say its a little chunky.  However, every time I wear it, it doesn’t weigh me down…it brings me comfort.

La Virgen de Guadalupe/ Virgen of Guadalupe has brought comfort to so many people for so many centuries.  The story of how she came to be the Patron Saint of Mexico begins in the year 1531 – on Dec 12th to be exact – in northern Mexico City.  An indigenous Indian boy by the name of Juan Diego was walking toward the Hill of Tepeyac when the Virgin Mary appeared to him.  She told Juan to go to the Archbishop and request a church be built at the Hill of Tepeyac.  Of course, when Juan went to the Archbishop, he didn’t believe the boy.  Instead, he told Juan to return to the hill and ask for a miracle to prove the lady he was seeing was indeed the Virgin Mary.

So, Juan went back to the hill and Mary appeared to him again.  She told him to gather flowers from the top of the hill.  Now, this was December and this hill was rocky and no flowers ever grew there.  But when Juan reached the top, he found beautiful flowers!  Actually, he found Castilian roses which are not native to Mexico.  He gathered the flowers in his “tilma” (a cloak) and promptly ran to the Archbishop.  Juan gave the cloak of flowers to the Archbishop and as they tumbled to the ground, the cloak revealed a miracle – the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe imprinted on the fabric.

The image of the Virgin Mary that was on the "tilma" or cloak that Juan Diego wore. The actual tilma hangs at the altar at La Basilica de la Virgen de Guadalupe in Mexico City. It is over 500 years old. (photo from Catholictradition.org.)

The image of the Virgin Mary that was on the “tilma” or cloak that Juan Diego wore. The actual tilma hangs at the altar at La Basilica de la Virgen de Guadalupe in Mexico City. It is over 500 years old. (photo from Catholictradition.org.)

There is quite a bit of history about this Marian appearance that involves Spain, the indigenous people of Mexico and the Catholic Church, if you care to read more about it.  There is even doubt that Juan Diego existed by some.  But like many things we don’t understand or don’t have faith in, we doubt.  We want proof of existence.  I was raised Catholic and we talked a lot about the Virgin Mary when I was growing up.  Attending Catholic school helped!  In my case, it was Sagrado Corazon catholic school in Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico.  I remember the Benedictine nuns talking about prayer and one even said “you should pray to Mary for intercession because after all, she is Jesus’ mother and how could He say no to her!”  Hummm…that was an interesting concept to all of us little 4th graders at the time!

I choose to believe and to honor the Mother of Jesus.  Her image is exquisite in the renderings and art I’ve seen over the years.  I also am fascinated by the other stories of the Virgin Mary’s appearances around the world.  When I think back to biblical times, miracles were written about and discussed quite a bit!  There are plenty of miracles that happen today too, but sometimes we just don’t believe the impossible is possible.  It may not be the Virgin Mary appearing before you on a rocky hill, but miracles DO happen in present day.

Juan Diego’s miraculous tilma hangs protected above the altar at the Basilica of La Virgen de Guadalupe in Mexico City for all to see.  If you read more about the tilma, it has been the subject of much investigation, experimentation and scrutiny to see how it has survived for over 500 years, even when ammonia was spilled on it and a bomb damaged the altar in 1921.  In fact, the tilma seems to repair itself when damage occurs!  It’s rather fascinating!  In 1936, a biochemist analyzed the fabric and stated that the pigments used on the tilma were of no known source – meaning they weren’t of animal, mineral or vegetable.

Pope John Paul II was very devoted to the Virgin Mary.  In 1999, he named Our Lady of Guadalupe as the patron of the Americas.  She has long been revered in Mexico.  Her image is everywhere and I have seen it more and more over the past 15 years in Alabama.  She is particularly present at the local Birmingham Day of the Dead/Dia de los Muertos event. It’s always so beautiful to see her image surrounded by marigold on altars remembering lost loved ones.

El Dia de la Virgen de Guadalupe became a national holiday in Mexico in 1859.  It is a day of much celebration and pilgrimage to the Basilica.  It isn’t unusual to see people walking on their knees all the way up to the altar while praying in order to pay tribute to the Virgin Mary.  When I visited Mexico City and the Basilica as a senior in high school, I witnessed this.  It left quite an impression on me and I couldn’t imagine how difficult it must be to walk on your knees all that way.  I walked into the Basilica with my tour group and made my way up to the altar where the tilma hangs.  I remember thinking how beautiful it was and I stood there amazed along with so many other people.  I hope one day I can go back and experience this again.

A look at the clasp on my Virgen de Guadalupe bracelet. Such a unique piece and I'm so glad it found me!

A look at the clasp on my Virgen de Guadalupe bracelet. Such a unique piece and I’m so glad it found me!


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…

This slideshow requires JavaScript.