Archive for the ‘History’ 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!


PROFILE Albert Delgado

March 16, 2011
Albert Delgado Frame of Saint Patrick Retablo

Framed retablo of Saint Patrick for his daughter, Pat. photo courtesy Pat Delgado ©2011

PROFILE Albert Delgado | Tinsmith | October 23, 1925 – December 4, 1997

Tinsmith with a Heart of Gold

I thought I should start documenting some of the family tinsmiths in the blog.  After recently reconnecting with my second cousin, Pat Delgado, it seemed like the perfect time to profile her father, my Great Uncle Albert Delgado.  I’ve been sick all week, so I interviewed her on the phone to get some insights into Albert as a Delgado Tinsmith.  She immediately sent me some great photos of pieces she owned by her father.  One, a framed retablo of Saint Patrick, seemed perfectly timed to inspire me to report so close to his Feast Day.  I had never tied my cousin’s name to Saint Patrick, but now I see Pat, born on March 18 nearly shares a birthday with Saint Patrick.  This is just the kind of cleverness and humor you might expect from my dear Uncle Albert.

The Delgado tin history begins with my great-great grandfather, Francisco Delgado.  His work defined certain aspects of Spanish Colonial tinwork design.  He handed down his designs and techniques to his son, Ildeberto, who used the craft to claw his way out of the chasm of the Great Depression with the help of the New Deal Era WPA.  Ildeberto and Zenaida Delgado had seven children, all of which studied tinwork to varying degrees.

I Intend to profile each of the children over the next year in my blog.  I’ve already introduced you to one of them, my Grandmother, Angelina Delgado.  Writing these profiles is not only a great way to share the depth of our family history in the Spanish Colonial Arts, but for me to connect on a more intimate level with the stories of these legendary characters of our family through interview and story sharing with other family.

Albert Delgado wearing his Truchas hat

Albert wearing his hat expressing his feelings for his beloved second home in the small town of Truchas, NM

Somewhere in the middle of six other siblings, Albert Peter Delgado was born October 23, 1925.  When Pat gave me his birthday, I made a quip about Albert being a Libra (we have quite a few in the family) and she retorted that he actually liked to think of himself as being more of a Scorpio (as he falls on the cusp).  I wouldn’t have figured him for the horoscope type, but I would certainly characterize him as a Scorpio, with sharp wit and charisma galore.

Pat recently brought some pieces over to my brother’s tin shop for repair.  He worked on them while she waited and they had a chance to catch up.  It was a nice convergent moment for Pat to have Jason, the next generation of Delgado tinsmiths repairing her father’s pieces.  I think it was an honor for both of them in a sense.

I talked to Pat about what she felt Albert’s legacy to Delgado Tin might be and one of the things she had mentioned was his punch designs.  Part of the challenge of becoming a tinsmith is finding ways to make marks on the tin.  You can use a nail or an old screwdriver or blunted chisel.  But, tinsmiths learn quickly that making stamp patterns can save time and refine the finished product.  Uncle Albert had a leg up on original punch-making.

He served a full tour of  four years in the Navy during World War II where he was trained as a machinist.  This early training would influence his later career choice as a trainer at the labs in Los Alamos and developed an expertise in Tool and Die making.  Although, I believe he enjoyed the technical aspects of his 9-5 job, he loved his artistic hobbies.  He was not the most prolific tinsmith of his generation and he was not award-winning.  But, those facts do not accurately reflect his passion for tinwork or his notable talent.  Almost every person I have had contact with in Santa Fe owns at least one piece given to them by Uncle Albert.  He was so generous with his work.  Pat described how he participated in Market more for the social interaction than the income.  His work hangs at Ranchos de Taos, the Old San Isidro Church and in Rosario Chapel, among other notable places around town.  But, even when we were working with the Sacristana of Basillica Saint Francis, Terry Garcia, she pointed out several pieces given to her by Uncle Albert and thought of him with great fondness.  His generosity inspires me to be more giving with my own work.  I think he just liked to bring smiles to peoples faces.  Pat said, “He would give you the shirt off his back.”

Donated by Albert Delgado

The back of one of the Maltese Crosses of Rosario Chapel. photo courtesy Toby Younis ©2011

In addition, Albert gave Jason the fundamental knowledge he needed to learn how to create his own stamps.  I remember it was a rite of passage for my brother, after having struggled trying to make his own stamps for many years, with difficulty.  After Albert’s instruction, Jason was able to mimic some of the family punch designs as well as develop his own signature stamps patterns.  Albert could have simply handed Jason a set of stamps, but I think he knew it was more important to teach a man to fish and I know Jason is ever grateful for that knowledge.

albert delgado brass frame

Two larger pieces by Albert Delgado. photo courtesy Jason Younis ©2011

Besides his signature punches, both Pat and Jason noted Albert for his work with brass.  Although brass does appear on tinwork, it is usually in the form of bollitos, or domed accents that appear at the corner to tidy up joint locations.  But, Albert took the use of brass to a whole new level using entire sheets, as seen in the frame for the angel painting by Dean Delgado [pictured right in photo above].  If tin is Poor Man’s Silver, then maybe Albert’s way with brass gave him the Midas Touch.

“One of the things Albert brought was his very spartan (for Delgado style) aesthetic to his tinwork. He was very careful to be ornate without being overbearing. Angelina’s work always struck him as “gaudy” (his words!). In so doing, he was truer to the earliest tinwork, which tended to be very clean [minimalist] in stamping.”  ~ Jason

But, the one pattern that Pat thought Albert might want to be remembered for is his signature Maltese Cross design that appears on either side of the altar at Rosario Chapel.  I have seen the design since, but I don’t believe it appears before his earliest one.  It is an elegant, well-proportioned pattern.

Maltese crosses of Rosario Chapel

photo courtesy ©2011 Toby Younis

Tin Door by Albert Delgado for Señor Murphys Candy Maker

Tin Door by Albert Delgado for Señor Murphys Candy Maker. photo courtesy Jason Younis copyright ©2011

When I asked Pat to list her personal favorite piece, she listed several, but finally remembered one that stood above the rest–The doors at Señor Murphy Candy Maker (100 East San Francisco Street, Santa Fe).  I was so excited to find out Albert had done these doors.  I wish I had a photo of them and will be sure to take one next time I’m in town to add to this article at a later date.  I have gone through those doors and have so many great memories, much like my memories of Uncle Albert–sweet nuggets of pure joy for life.  UPDATE:  Jason found a partial picture of the door at Señor Murphy’s, so here you go!

Three things that I believe define the iconic Delgado:

  1. A love of giving and receiving knowledge.
  2. An entrepreneurial spirit.
  3. The ability to inspire.

And, it is in all three aspects that I think of my Great Uncle Albert as a classic representation of all that is good in the Delgado lineage.  It was Uncle Albert who set Jason on the correct course in making his own punches.  And, I was certainly inspired in watching him to develop my own artistic hobbies into focused directions.  Albert’s work has a distinctly independent spirit, but shows clear respect for the Delgado traditions taught to him.

As Uncle Albert got up in age, he suffered several strokes that affected the use of his right side.  Despite the handicap, he continued to work with tin, even though he often missed the punch and pounded his own fingers.  He used to ask his girls to, “hold the punch” for him in jest knowing that they would most likely be receiving a blow to their own hands if they should fulfill his request.  This was so typical of Albert’s comedic nature, laughing at those around him and at the same time admiring them.  Pat believed he saw the work as his therapy and conjectures that it helped him stay mentally and physically focused and positive until he could work no longer.

It was such a pleasure to talk with Pat and get her thoughts on the family direction.  I didn’t know that both her and our Great Grandmother Zenaida were part of the Sociedad Folklorica, an organization solely and selflessly dedicated to retaining the unique traditions of our area.  Pat also served on the Fiesta Committee for many years.  Pat was very pleased to see Jason and I continuing the family artistic story and she hopes that in general there is a return to roots.  It was also just nice to hear her manner, as Pat has so much of her father’s directness and sense of humor.

reverse glass painting tin mirror by Albert and Alma

Reverse glass painting collaborative by Albert and Alma. photo courtesy Jason Younis ©2011

Albert and his lovely wife, my wonderfully sweet Aunt Mae have two girls, Alma and Pat.  Both studied tinwork, but neither pursued it after his passing.  Pat remembers spending summers in my Grandmother’s studio, “doing all the dirty work,” as she lovingly put it.  She did all the bending, cutting and physically demanding aspects of the tin making.  But, she knew she didn’t have the passion to continue the tradition.  Although, she did note, if she were called upon to take up the torch, she would gladly do so.  I believe my Mom has a beautiful mirror that was made by Uncle Albert with reverse glass painting by Alma.  I did not have time to interview Alma and it looks like I had plenty to say for now!  But, I will add thoughts from her when I get a chance to catch up.

A note about Saint Patrick:  I may review Saint Patrick in the future, but as far as I can tell, he is not one of the common traditional New Mexican retablo Saints. Although I love this image.  Pat’s retablo was painted by Belarmino Esquibel, an award-winning Spanish Market artist.

Albert Peter Delgado |  Tinsmith
[Son of Ildeberto & Zenaida Delgado]
Brother to my Grandmother, Angelina Delgado
October 23, 1925 – December 4, 1997

Don’t forget, New Mexican Santera airs tonight at 9:00PM presenting the last half of the Santa Barbara retablo!
Comcast Encantada Channel 26 Albuquerque, Channel 16 Santa Fe.


Show on NM Santeros

January 25, 2011

Here’s a great little half hour show produced for KNME public television on New Mexican Santeros.  It follows some of the artists into the studio and it is filmed beautifully.  It has many oral excerpts of personal letters from the pioneer period that get you into the mindset of the settler artisan.

It features artists Jose Benjamin Lopez, Marie Romero Cash, Felix Lopez and Cruz Lopez.


Articles on Ildeberto and Francisco Delgado

October 31, 2010
iIldeberto Delgado nicho

A nicho by iIldeberto Delgado

Jason found some great write-ups on great-great grandfather Francisco and great grandfather Ildeberto Delgado.  It’s part of the International Folk Art Museum in Santa Fe.  They wrote a book and had an exhibit called “Sin Nombre” (“Without A Name”) on artists that were supported through the Great Depression by the New Deal Works Projects Administration (WPA) Federal Art Project (FAP).  I remember studying it in school, but it has a whole new meaning to me now that I know two key figures in our family line were supported and honored with projects from this program.  It even has more meaning as our budding family struggles in a difficult economy and I turn to retablos myself in an effort to both survive and define myself with some self-resepct.  Maybe Obama will commission some retablos from me for the White House!  They have a great record of some of the major commissions around town, some of them still in place.  I’d love to visit all of them in situ.

Francisco Delgado chandelier

Chandelier by Francisco Delgado

Jason was recently asked to restore some tin items at the Albuquerque Little Theater recently.  When he arrived to remove the pieces, he asked if they knew anything about the artist.  They didn’t have any records, but Jason immediately recognized them as coming from our family.  He talked to our Grandmother (who we refer to as “Nanny”) and she confirmed they had been produced by Ildeberto in the 1930’s.  It was a real honor for Jason to restore the pieces and it was equally exciting for the Little Theater to learn of the connection!

Here is the original article that appears on the International Folk Art website:

Sin Nombre

Look for “Francisco Delgado” and “Ildeberto Delgado along the left hand side.

Ildeberto Delgado Lunette

This piece was part of an electrified nicho; one of a pair made by Delgado for the Albuquerque Little Theater in 1936 as a part of a WPA/FAP commission. I believe this was one of the pieces Jason restored.