Santera, Saint Maker


Catherine Robles Shaw is an artist who learned about ‘santera’ as a child. She writes, “My first exposure to this art form came when, as a child, I visited the churches in the San Luis Valley. My family had been among the first settlers in the Conejos land grant and lived in Mogote and Las Mesitas, Colorado. After visiting old churches in Chimayo and northern New Mexico, as an adult, I came to realize the meaning of the little retablos that had been in our family. In 1991, I began making retablos for my family and friends. Then in 1995, when I was admitted into the Spanish Market, I became a full time artist.”

Her award-winning work has been documented in a short film, viewable here.

Robles Shaw continues, “As a Santera (Saint Maker), I hope to preserve some of the unique traditions of my Hispanic culture. Retablos are the story tellers of my ancestors. They are the natural extension of the beauty and simplicity of our Spanish lives. My husband, Michael and I aspire to represent our work with as much historic accuracy as possible.

“My art process uses the same materials that were used in the 18th and 19th centuries. Retablos are flat hand carved wooden boards made from local woods, such as pine and aspen. Bultos are three dimensional carvings made of cottonwood root and local woods. Next I coat the piece with gesso, which is made from gypsum and rabbit skin glue. This is the foundation for the natural paints. I use plant and insect extracts as well as mineral colored earth’s for my paints. The painted piece is then coated with the Pinion Sap Varnish which is made by dissolving pitch nuggets in grain alcohol (mula). The finished pieces are waxed and prepared for display. Each piece is one of a kind.”

On View: The Passion Altar Screen Installed in Grace Episcopal Church, Carlsbad, NM by Catherine Robles Shaw

See more of Catherine Robles Shaw’s work In: Gifts 2009 An Open Studio Exhibition of The Artists Registry, a division of ECVA.

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