Archive for the ‘Finished Retablos’ Category


New Website!

January 23, 2012

I am in the process of rebuilding my blog in a new format that will give me more flexibility.  You can get to it with my main URL,  But, I thought I should put a note here in case people stumble across the old site here.  THanks for visiting!  Lots of great info on the Spanish Colonial Arts here in Albuquerque.


Doña Sebastiana | Lady Sebastian

August 15, 2011

She is an unusual figure in the Spanish Colonial realm.  She is not prayed to or revered.  She is more a symbol of mortality and penance, a bleak reminder of our fragile and sinful state.  She is the only “Muerto” image allowed in traditional Spanish Market.  The colorful and playful muerto images of Mexico are actually a completely different family of imagery.  They derive from the celebration of All Saints Day (or All Souls Day), a celebration created to help the Catholic Church assimilate existing Aztec celebrations of the dead.  Much like The Death Card of the Tarot, the gleeful images of the Mexican culture actually symbolize life, change and spirit.  Originally, the morbid mesoamerican native celebrations, dating back thousands of years, would revolve around the skull of the deceased, often inserting flowers (especially Marigolds) into the eye sockets to reflect the life that once was and the hope that they might visit again to give guidance from beyond.  The Aztec figure known as the “Lady of the Dead,” presided over such celebrations.  The modern celebration is known as “Dia de los Muertos” or “Day of the Dead.”

Catrina Image

Then, in the turn of the century, the artist José Guadalupe Posada, created an image of a skeleton wearing the garments and hat of a sophisticated lady.  The skeleton lady, known as “Catrina,” became the inspiration for the irreverent images you see today riding motorcycles, drinking tequila or dressed like Elvis, celebrating the life essence of the person that once owned that body.  The body of animated skeleton figures are often referred to as “calavera” (spanish for “skull”) or “muerto” (spanish for “death”) imagery.

Death Cart bulto by Rubel Jaramillo

In sharp contrast, Doña Sebastiana is a dark reminder of our humanity.  Originally, the Penitente brothers, a group of monks that were known for public acts of penance, would create a wooden cart, ridden by a skeleton woman also made of wood with jointed limbs.  The cart and woman could be nearly life sized.  The woman would often have human hair adorning her head.  She might also be seen holding a bow and arrow.  The Brothers would fill the cart with rocks and pull it on the makeshift roads about town as a demonstration of penance.

San Sebastian retablo by Vicente Telles

San Sebastian retablo by Vicente Telles

There is only speculation as to the source of her name, but one generally accepted theory is that the bow, a common instrument of death at that time, was simply a reminder of our mortal state, as the Grimm Reaper carries and sickle.   Perhaps, when onlookers observed the death figure, they made an association with Saint Sebastian (San Sebastian) who is shown impaled by multiple arrows, hence the name, “Lady Sebastian.”

She has become a figure of superstition.  Although explicitly not prayed to or revered, folk remedy might include calling upon her for healing and even in help finding lost items or protection from kidnapping.

Mostly shown in bulto form and referred to as the Death Cart, I think she is a fascinating part of the unique local history and through painting her image, I have the opportunity to educate people on yet another important difference between New Mexican art imagery and Mexican art imagery.

Spanish Market 2011 is the fist time I have painted her image.  It was the last image I decided to paint just before our Preview items had to be submitted.  I was very much enjoying getting into the anatomy of the skeleton.  And, since she was such a simple image in terms of iconography and color, I focused on detailing her with fine brush work and sgraffito.  I had painted her on a large board and the possibility of translating all of that detail onto a small retablo piqued my interest.

Doña Sebastiana copyright ©2011 Sean Wells

Doña Sebastiana copyright ©2011 Sean Wells

The large ones, I had painted on a plain board with an arched top.  I thought this recalled the simple headstones of local cemeteries.  When I was done, I found the image somewhat static.  My Dad happened to be staying with me, so I asked him if he had any suggestions of items I could add.  He said he liked when I would incorporate architectural elements (he ought to since he’s the one who covered the bill for my BSArch).  I thought that was a great suggestion so I created an arched opening around the figure to recall a mausoleum.  I also thought it was important to include a hint of the actual Death Cart in the background to help me tell the complete story (it appears in the small board).  There are lots of wonderful details that I like in that image including the obsidian tip on the arrow in her hand, the brass buckle holding the quiver to her chest and the accuracy of the anatomy.  But, my favorite element was the wispy sheer tattered gown I donned on her.  I have one clay that has a wonderful translucent quality when it dries and I had the thought that I could paint it right over my detailed skeletal painting to create a gown.  It was a scary moment, but it worked perfectly.  The colors ran a tiny bit, but just added to her ethereal and eerie mystique.  I talked with a couple of the artists about how I’m too chicken to use the traditional piñon varnish sealer for fear that I will smear my painting.  But, they had recommended that I use gum arabic as a binder with my pigments.  It gives just enough adhesion to allow you to topcoat items without smearing.  But, I’m still not sure if I will use it.  I really like the purity of simply using clay and water.

It is a fun and challenging image to create.


Coat of Arms: Delgado Family Crest

April 30, 2011
Delgado Family Crest

copyright ©2011 Sean Wells y Delgado

[Read more about the Delgado Family Crest origin and symbolism below.]

It was so timely that I viewed parts of the inspiring Royal Wedding on the same day that I intended to write the post for my recently completed Delgado Family Coat of Arms.  In the highlights of the wedding, the various media showed glimpses of the handsome program given out to guests.  As a graphic artist, I was very curious to view the layout and design of such a prominent visual article.  I checked online to see if there were any opportunities to view the program and was so pleased to find our most generous new royal couple had the forethought to share the program free online for all to see!

Click here to visit the official site to download the Official Program from the wedding of Catherine and William

Well, there were some very beautiful layouts.  I love the black and white photo of them.  I love the charming watercolor map of the parade route.  Although, I found the font layouts on most of the rest of the pages quite boring.  But, that’s not really what I wanted to mention here on this blog.  What really moved me to get on my article was the beautiful Coat of Arms layout (pg 25 of the program) that shows the crests of both families with text describing the symbolism.  It’s just wonderful.

The program goes into the clever symbolism shown in both William’s Royal crest and Catherine’s family crest.  I especially loved the playful visual split down the middle of Catherine’s family coat of arms as a pun reference to the name “Middleton.”

After completing the Delgado Family Crest using traditional retablo techniques, I had talked to my husband about the meaning and significance of the imagery to our kids.  I am not a Delgado by name.  My children are not Delgados.  My married name is Wells.  I am a descendant of one of the original Conquistadors, Manuel Delgado, that settled here in New Mexico more than 400 years ago.  But that is not why I honor the name in my retablo work.  I have incorporate the name in my artwork because it was my great-great grandfather  Francisco Delgado who defined himself as a traditional Spanish Colonial Artisan tinsmith and who made the great effort to give that legacy to his children and grandchildren.  Without him and his perseverance, I would not have found this important element of myself.

So, I thought if I am to use this name, I should understand it more fully.  I have been using a generic Delgado crest here and there, but I thought it would really become a part of me if I painted it using my traditional retablo style and techniques.  I researched the name and crest symbolism.  I took my time with the piece and I reworked many areas, especially the text, to get it just right.

It was a wonderful exercise for me to recreate with my own hands
this symbol  that I had used so liberally to date.  It is a part of me now and I am a part of it.  With each step I take to slow down and kneel to the story of that which came before me, I feel enriched, blessed, honored and humbled to be a part of this flow.

And, now I look at this magnificent fairytale couple, beginning their journey into a life people think they would want, (but would probably hate) and I wish them good will in marrying their two disjointed symbols of family together.  And, they can now add their own symbols to a new crest that both honors the past and gives hope to a better future.  And, I will look forward to painting a Wells crest for my family and my children that will merge the traditional Wells crest (which I have yet to research) and perhaps elements of the Delgado crest into a unique and original crest for this generation.

The family name Delgado originates from the Latin word, “delicatus” (the root of the word “delicate”), and refers to the word “thin” or “fine.”

It is so hard for me to associate these meanings with any Delgado I can remember.  For me, “Delgado” conjures up images of war horses and canons, symbols of strength, power, confidence and leadership.  I am coining the word “aggressive creativity” as part of my description of the modus operandi of a Delgado.  The only association I can remotely connect with thoughts of filiment-like structure in the world of Delgado, is their very presence.  There is something about Delgados that is so fleeting and ethereal.  You cannot hold a Delgado in your hand, in your grip.  So slippery and mobile, Delgados are like the valence cloud around the nucleus of an atom–you may only roughly predict where they might go next.

The center shield in blue represents the quality of loyalty in both a personal sense and towards the Royal obligations owed to Spain.  The 7 eight-pointed stars represent the enlightenment of God.  I loved painting these elements and spent a great deal of time shading and shaping them.  I used to draw this exact eight-pointed dimensional star over and over as a child.  maybe this was why–some genetic memory of my family’s connection.  The blood red second shield represents the quality of honor and forthrightness.  The eight cauldrons represent the wealth of the (presumable) lord and perhaps specific number of estates held at the time.  I only own one at the moment, so maybe I should eliminate 7 cauldrons.  Although, technically, our lot is a compilation of two lots, so maybe I could keep two cauldrons.

Detail of stars on Delgado family crest

The outer shield (described as “silver”) is suspected to have been added later and may have been bestowed on the family by the King of Spain for acts of service for country or it may be some element added as part of a nuptial bond.  The Spanish phrase on the outer ring reads “Ave Maria Gratia Plena,” or “Hail Mary Full of Grace.”  Although I’m not sure if it was intentional, I love the balance of the symbolism of the light of God in the center and the love of Mary on the bounding ring.  This “silver” ring is an especially interesting addition to the crest since the tinsmiths were derived from the silversmiths of Spain.  I would have liked to somehow incorporated a hint of our family tin style, but I asked Jason to add a tin frame around the finished board.  I will post a picture of the finished piece after he tins it up!

I did not leave enough room to put the text in the way I had envisioned so I decided to ghost in the covered letters so that the full words could be read.  Although it was a correction, I ended up liking the effect.  I used a font with the thought that the letters should look carved from the material and added highlights using color lifting and shading as needed.  I used a more traditional calligraphic font for the “Delgado” banner.

Delgado calligraphy banner

This piece will be available in the Tintero Gallery in Old Town (as soon as Jason finishes the tin frame) and will soon be available online.  It measures 7″ x 12″ before the tin.  I’ll be offering framed and unframed prints soon as well!


San Miguel | Saint Michael

March 30, 2011
Saint Michael Retablo by Sean Wells

Saint Michael Retablo copyright ©2011 Sean Wells y Delgado

As prince of the seraphim the archangel Michael led the charge against the uprising stemming from Lucifer’s betrayal.  Lucifer, at that time was one of the most favored angels.  But, after Michael defeated him, Lucifer is cast down.  Although called upon to defend the Church throughout history, it is not for his military strength that he is revered most, but for his healing powers offering miracle healing at several fonts and on various occasion.  His name translates to “Who is like God?” signifying his humility.  Scales represent his weighing of the souls of Man upon Judgement Day.  His angelic wings imply swiftness and his sword represent his strength.

San Miguel  |  Saint Michael

feast day September 29

Patron Saint of artists, bakers, grocers, mariners, paratroopers, police, EMT’s, haberdashers, bankers

Invoked against illness

symbols:  Conquered Demon/Devil, Sword, Scale/Balance,wings


Detail of Saint Michael retablo

copyright ©2011 Sean Wells y Delgado

NEW MEXICAN SANTERA TO AIR TONIGHT:  To learn more about Saint Michael and his connection to my family, be sure to tune in to Comcast Encatada TV tonight 9PM (Wednesday) to see the second episode on the Saint Michael retablo.  Channel 26 Albuquerque, Channel 16 Santa Fe.

It was a challenging retablo for me on many levels.  But, I have taken a big step forward in my development of the Saint Michael imagery.  I look forward to the opportunity to paint him in the future.  Pattern for this retablo is available on the link to the right labeled “09 Patterns” under “PAGES.”

Saint Michael Painting by Sean Wells

earlier Saint Michael painting copyright ©2011 Sean Wells

I also mention in the episode how I have attempted to paint him several times before I really committed to the study of the craft of retablo.  I like the resulting paintings, but never felt like they were retablos in the true sense of the word.  I found an image of one of the paintings that I promised I would share.  You can see, it is much more animated and realistic with muscles, shadows and has a cartoon graphic influence.  I like this image very much, but I think of it as a painting of Saint Michael rather than a retablo.

SAINT DATABASE LIVE:  I finally got the Saint Database so it is fully searchable!  Now, you can search for your favorite Saint my several criteria including symbols and colors!  I’ve always wanted to produce this database.  I am just starting it, so there are only a dozen Saints so far, but I will be adding to it continuously.  If you’d like to contribute to the development of this database, consider a donation. ¡Hasta Luego!

Saint Michael Retablo by Sean Younis Youth MarketUPDATE:  I located a couple of pictures from Children’s Market more than 2 decades ago!  Thought you would enjoy seeing me and it had a shot of the Saint Michael with my proud little 2nd place ribbon hanging on it!  I was still “Sean Younis” then.  It was actually purchased by one of the jurors.  So, if anyone happens to know who the owner is, I’d love to let them know what I’m up to these days!
Me beaming at children's market so many years ago! 


Santa Barbara | Saint Barbara

March 9, 2011
Saint Barbara retablo detail by Sean Wells y Delgado

copyright ©2011 Sean Wells y Delgado

She shares story with many of the saints.  Like Saint Francis, she came from a wealthy family.  And, like Saint Francis, she rejected the wealth and power offered to her.  Like Saint Lucy, she rejected a marriage proposal from a prominent suitor.  And like Saint Lucy, she suffered torture and death for maintaining her faith.

The marriage would insure her family’s status.  But, she had given her life to the lord and could not marry someone she did not love who did not share her beliefs.  Her rejection was an insult and an embarrassment for her father.  Her father had her locked in a tower for most of her life to protect her from the influence of the outside world.  He requested a bath house be erected across from her.  While he was away on a trip, his daughter redesigned the facade of the bath house to show three windows instead of the two originally planned.  The three windows were to honor the Holy Trinity.  But, upon return from his trip, she admitted to converting and her furious father betrayed her to the local magistrate as a practicing Christian.  The jury asked her to choose marrying the suitor and denouncing her faith or suffering torture and death.  Despite horrific repeated torture, she held true to her faith.  It is said that her woulds healed nightly and that flaming torches would snuff out when in proximity of her.  Finally, sentenced to death, her father volunteered to execute her.  He took her to a mountaintop and beheaded his own daughter.  But immediately upon doing so, he was struck by lightning and burned to death.

Santa Barbara  |  Saint Barbara
feast day December 4

Patron Saint of those in danger of sudden death, electricians, firemen, artillerymen and mathemeticians.

Invoked against fire and lightning.

symbols:  monstrance, martyr’s palm, crown with red plume, red robe or dress, three tiered skirt, three level tower, three windows, lightning bolt

Image Saint Barbara retablo by Sean Wells y Delgado

copyright ©2011 Sean Wells y Delgado

Detail of retablo of Saint Barbara by Sean Wells y Delgado

copyright ©2011 Sean Wells y Delgado

I always go into the show having very little idea where I am going with the colors and detailing.  I have never painted Saint Barbara before, so it was a little intimidating.  But, she evolved beautifully and she really told me just where she wanted to go.  I thought I finished her on the show, but she called me back and kept wanting detail after detail.  I love the rich results, fit for a woman of means.  I also love the way the windows surprised me when they popped with the graphic contrast. The resplendor on the top reminds me of a window to God.  I had actually forgotten to include many of her symbols in the show including the crown and plume, the lightning bolt and the tower in the background.  But, I will make sure they are in the downloadable pattern.  She is just such a complex image, it was easy to get lost in the pieces.

This piece is currently available in my online store.

Dimensions: 5 1/2″ x 12″

Please join me tonight at 9PM on Comcast Encantada TV Channel 26 to learn more about Santa Barbara’s complex symbology and story.  I invite you to share feedback on the show and the blog!


Saint Francis Episode

February 23, 2011

The new episode 1 of 2 on Saint Francis will air Albuquerque on February 23 9PM Comcast Channel 26 Encantada TV. It was a fun shoot, although I was a little slow to get going.  The first episode takes you through most of the main painting and the second will focus on the border.  I talk about the imagery and symbols of Saint Francis.  I also have lots of fun, interesting and touching stories about Saint Francis that I cover as well.  I find his story especially compelling.  Here is the text I include on all my gift tags with my retablos of Saint Francis:


1181-1226AD | Feast Day Oct 4

Patron Saint of the city of Santa Fe, the environment, families & animals

The son of a wealthy cloth merchant, Francis searched for meaning in his life and was moved by the goodness of the Church.  He surrendered all of his worldly possessions and vowed a life of poverty in devotion to God, unknowingly founding the Franciscan order of monks.  He received the marks of Stigmata, appearing only on the most devout of followers.  He is often shown with the marks.  He may be shown with skull, cross, animals.  He will have three knots on his rope belt signifying the three vows of his order:  poverty, chastity, obedience.

Retablo Saint Francis 004In the episode, I mention watching a few videos on Saint Francis.  The two films I can recommend are:

“Francesco” 1989 starring Mickey Rourke and Helena Bonham Carter.  It’s gritty, rough and honest.  Although physically, Mickey does not allow you to enter an authentic view, I think he did a fantastic job capturing the essence of humility, peace and compassion that Saint Francis represents.

“The Flowers of Saint Francis” 1950 directed by Roberto Rossellini.  This is a beautiful portrayal through vignettes of his life in black and white.  The director employed local monks to play the roles of the Franciscan disciples.  It feels like you are watching actual footage as it has an aged quality and everyone is speaking Italian throughout.  It is so sweet and gentle, like Saint Francis might be.  Even the “violent” scenes are done with a quietness.

I painted this board with my sister-in-law in mind.  She told me that as a child, she used to play with a Saint Francis image at her Grandparent’s house that had removable birds.  She had fond memories and still plays with it from time to time.  I had my brother create these pajaritos based on some Christmas ornaments he made for my sons this year.  It is a pattern from my Grandmother.  I tapped some upholstery tacks into the wood and glued magnets onto the back of the birds so they could be removed, rearranged or rotated!  I’m sending the board to my sister in-law for her birthday 😉

I’ve asked my brother to add the bird ornaments to his online store.  If they are not available yet, they should be by tomorrow.  Just visit the Tintero Online Store.

I’m also adding a simplified version of this image of Saint Francis for your personal use in the Patterns link on the right under PAGES.  I’ve left out all the symbols so you can add your own.

I am very moved by Saint Francis’ strength of character.  I especially like his prayer, which I believe is recited in all of the movies I saw.  I want to include it here for you.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon.
Where there is doubt, faith.
Where there is despair, hope.
Where there is darkness, light.
Where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.



Good News!

February 15, 2011

After having a bit of a cranky day, I came home to the best Valentine’s Day Card ever…a note from the Spanish Colonial Arts Society welcoming me as a NEW ARTIST FOR SPANISH MARKET 2011!  My husband actually debated whether to present it to me on V-Day or not.  He watched me check the mailbox every day since the jury.  And, he admitted to preparing a pep-speech should it be a disappointing note.  That was the best gift from him, knowing he is with me on this ride.  The letter came on a beautiful letterhead with a nice watermark of the SCAS logo.  It said the committee wanted to pass on some feedback on my work.  I’m not sure it’s something I should share, but it was generally positive with some constructive criticism that I will contemplate.  My husband and I had fun discussing our interpretations of the meaning of their comments.  I am just so pleased and I look forward to making plans with my brother  (he’s already juried in from a previous year in the tinwork category).  I am both relieved and exhilarated!

Our Lady of Guadalupe 001To keep my mind busy during the week, I worked on an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe.  It is not for Market, since it is on a reclaimed board.  It was a tacky board I picked up at a yard sale for a quarter that had an attempt at Tole painting on the front.  It looked like someone had abandoned the painting before completion.  So, I adopted the board and sanded off the old image.  I knew I wanted to paint the Lady of Guadalupe image on it, but it wasn’t until I decided to put the cherub below the votive shelf that the work really got interesting.  I used the imagery of the crescent moon  and the falling of the fabric of her gown to tie the top to the bottom.  I adore the face of the angel.  In the original Guadalupe, the angel is noted for a cherubic presence, but an adult face.

Our Lady of Guadalupe cherub detail

Since I knew it was not for Market, I also used a watercolor ultramarine blue to imitate the natural Lapis color of her gown.  I haven’t really been using blue to date, but wanted a brighter palette for this Guadalupana image.  I’m working on a formula to extract the color from lapis lazuli stones, but the color is still not satisfactory and the process is both expensive and labor intensive.

Our Lady of Guadalupe sgrafitto detailI’ve attached some close-ups of the sgrafitto work on the dress pattern that I’m especially fond of.  I asked my brother to add one of his sweet little leaf votives and it was the perfect compliment for her.  We decided to attach it at a 45 degree rotation so the leaves would frame her dress instead of competing with it.  It was fun to collaborate together, even on such a small element.  Most of the time, we’re just handing pieces off to one another.

The Guadalupana story is compelling and beautiful.  The symbolism of this iconic image is rich.  I made a conscious effort to avoid painting her while I got comfortable with my painting style.  I doubt there is a more recognized retablo image and I was afraid it would be too easy to slip into the kitschy niche she seems to attract.  But, I will save my full write up on her when I release the Guadalupana episode of New Mexican Santera (assuming we secure some underwriting for season two).

Jason installing tin votive This retablo is currently available at Tintero Gallery or in my online store.  She’s quite tall, measuring somewhere  around 15″ tall and maybe 8″-10″ wide.  Well, I suppose I should try to get some sleep.  Lots to dream about!

Oh, New Mexican Santera will be airing Wed Feb 15 at 9PM.
Albuquerque Comcast Ch 26 The final episode of Saint Rita
Santa Fe Comcast Ch 6 The first episode of Saint Rita

Followed by New Mexican Tinsmith!