DENVER, CO.-(EFE) A Hispanic artist in Colorado makes pictures and carvings of religious subjects strictly according to an artistic tradition handed down from generation to generation.
"This art recounts the history of my ancestors, who used it in their homes and their chapels to teach about the Bible and the saints. Though each piece is unique, carved and painted by hand, many people no longer read the meaning enclosed in these creations," Catherine Robles Shaw, a creator of religious images who inherited her art from her great-great-grandparents, told Efe.
Robles Shaw, 57, lives in the small mountain town of Nederland, where her husband Mike designed a home especially so the artist could both create her works and exhibit them there.
Since 1995 Robles Shaw has produced more than 400 pieces and the walls of her home are decorated with hundreds of works of art, made not just by her but by her daughter Roxanne and her granddaughter Jordan, 3, who already spends several hours a week helping her grandma make "saints."
The artist traces her ancestors back to Pedro Serrano de Sandoval, who lived in Spain until 1480. One of his sons, Hernan Martin, arrived in Mexico in the early 16th century, and by 1626 Serrano's descendents were living in what is today New Mexico.
In the mid-19th century, part of the family moved to southern Colorado, where Sorida Jaramillo, Catherine's mother, was born in 1927.
"Out of respect for those generations we don't update or change our art. All of us are connected to the future through the visions and thinking of the past. Our ancestors were immortal models that are still valid in our culture," she said.
Every week Robles Shaw works at least 60 hours on her art, though not always painting or carving, since a great part of her time is spent preparing the materials.
An example is the varnish she uses to finish her works, which comes from pine seeds that have to be left drying for several months.
Because of her commitment to the past, Robles Shaw only uses certain kinds of wood - pine or poplar - from fallen trees, for which the curing process takes up to six months.
Obtaining her paints also demands the same amount of dedication and patience. Red, for example, comes from certain insects that live in Mexican cactus. Green is from a particular dust in the mountains of New Mexico. And the yellowish shades come from earth in the Grand Canyon.
Despite her devotion to creating religious art, which Robles Shaw considers "the calling" of her life, the artist acknowledges that her creations are "misinterpreted all the time."
"When that happens, I have to patiently explain the process and tradition involved in creating this art that comes from the Spanish colonial period and that has become mixed with the cultures of these regions since the art has been practiced," she said.
For that reason, she said, her mission is "to preserve this tradition of Hispanic culture, because the saints, altarpieces and other works are a natural extension of the beauty and simplicity of the lives of our Spanish ancestors.
But the works also include Mayan elements, as in the work where the well-known image of Our Lady of Guadalupe appears with the gravestone of the classic-Maya-period ruler, Lord Pacal Votan.
"After starting and experiencing many things in my life, as an adult I discovered the significance of this religious art, a hidden gem of our history. So my creations are as historically correct as they can possibly be," she said. EFE