Collectors donate religious pieces for new display

Unknown Artist, "The Divine Face." Photo courtesy Lowe Art Museum

The Lowe Art Museum will unveil a year-long display called “Saintly Blessings: A Gift of Mexican Retablos” starting Saturday, after receiving a gift from prominent art collectors Joseph and Janet Shein.

The couple graciously donated 28 retablos, inspiring the new exhibit. Retablos are small religious scenes depicted on metal. Often used in the Mexican culture as a symbol of worship and prayer, the retablos will be featured in the Lowe’s Matus Focus Gallery.

“We wanted to say thank you [to our donors] and show the community our new holdings,” said Denise Gerson, associate director of the museum.

For believers, retablos are more than just images; they represent a saint’s spirit, which can be invoked through devotion and prayer. Although sometimes placed in churches or other places of worship, retablos typically make their way into living rooms across Mexico. They often represent a family’s favorite saint or image and are venerated on a daily basis.

Retablos have been recognized as a true art form and are in demand worldwide.

The 28 retablos are displayed in a small hallway reminiscent of a traditional Mexican home. Some of the pieces carry a frame also painted by the artist, while others just stand alone, letting the colors, and the saints they represent speak for themselves.

Just in time for Hispanic Heritage Month, the opening of the retablos exhibit offers the opportunity to learn about a Hispanic culture.

“One thing that’s really exciting about retablos is that [the artists] use everyday objects to make a wonderful work of art; anyone could make a Retablo,” said Michelle Maldonado, professor of religious studies at UM. “They are not ‘high art’ in the way we think of it. They tell a story of faith and culture very explicitly. Each retablo has a story behind it that is visual narrative and not a written one.”