You are currently viewing Sharing Miracles on the Border: New Strategies and Mediums for Exploring an Exhibition of Mexican Retablos

Sharing Miracles on the Border: New Strategies and Mediums for Exploring an Exhibition of Mexican Retablos

Today’s blog post comes from Chloe Richards, Art Center student docent and Vassar class of 2022.

Retablo of Josefina Pérez V., 1979
Oil on metal
26.5 × 20.5 cm (10 7/16 × 8 1/16 in.)
Princeton University Art Museum: Gift of Jorge Durand and Patricia Arias L. 2019.6.21

Miracles on the Border: Retablos of Mexican Migrants to the United States, an exhibition organized by the Princeton University Art Museum, is currently on view until December 13, 2020 at the Loeb Art Center, where it is presented with support from the Evelyn B. Metzger Exhibition Fund and the Friends of the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center Fund. The exhibition is fully bilingual, with all introductory text and individual object labels in English and Spanish.

Title Wall of the Retablos Exhibition

This collection of retablos—small votive paintings usually on tinplate—are religious objects that come from Mexican migrants and their families and function as thank-you notes in tribute to holy figures whose help was critical in overcoming the struggles of crossing the border and living in the U.S. They are commissioned from local artists, usually anonymous, who work to represent a written and pictorial narrative of an individual migrant. Retablos are dedicated to specific manifestations of Jesus, the Virgin, or a saint and commemorate miraculous events. The retablos seen in the Miracles on the Border exhibition date from the twentieth century and were originally displayed on the wall of a church or shrine. Though small, the paintings are filled with emotion, often expressing some of the subjects’ greatest struggles as recorded both in first-person text inscriptions and in images. Above the inscriptions are depictions of both the subjects and the holy entity they are thanking. As a companion to the retablos, the Loeb has drawn from its permanent collection to present Highlights from the Loeb’s Mexican Art Collection, and exhibition of more than a dozen paintings, prints, drawings, and photographs by Mexican artists, as well as those born elsewhere but who were active in the country.

Docents, Chloe and Sergio, give the student org VRS (Vassar Refugee Solidarity) a tour of the exhibition.

Here at the Loeb, because of visitation constraints due to Covid-19 health and safety protocols, we have had to be creative in the ways we have showcased this spectacular exhibition. Most recently, we created a two-part video about the retablos to serve as an introductory tour (here) and a hands-on craft activity for school-age viewers (here). On October 21 we hosted a virtual faculty panel with Vassar professors Marcela Romero Rivera (Hispanic Studies), Kirsten Wesselhoeft (Religion), and David Tavárez (Anthropology & Latin American Studies), which can be viewed here. Furthermore, Vassar art librarian Tom Hill, who hosts the Library Cafe radio show on WVKR, did an interview with Professor Tavárez which can be found here. Student docents have been able to give in-person gallery tours to other Vassar student groups, such as the Vassar Refugee Solidarity organization, and have led virtual field trips about the exhibition for local K-12 students. And of course, visitors are welcome to come to the Loeb to see the exhibition in person during public hours, which are Saturdays 10am-5pm and Sundays 1pm-5pm through November 22. Then we will have special additional days for the public to view the exhibition in person from November 24 through December 13, when open hours will be as follows: Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays 10am-5pm; Thursdays 10am-8pm, and Sundays 1pm-5pm.

Students in a Poughkeepsie High School studio art class learn about the art and history of retablos in a virtual field trip led by Vassar student docent Ian Shelley in October.

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