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El Paso Museum of Art celebrates donation which makes its collection of retablos second-largest in U.S.
This exhibition honors the significant gift of Nancy Hamilton to the El Paso Museum of Art’s permanent collection.

EL PASO, TX.- The retablo is an important art form in Mexican Catholicism and folk art which comes from the human need to connect with the divine.

Visitors to the El Paso Museum of Art are able to view the most recent additions to its significant retablo collection during the Santos, Cristos y VÝrgenes: Highlights from the Hamilton Collection exhibition.

This exhibition honors the significant gift of Nancy Hamilton to the El Paso Museum of Art’s permanent collection late last year. Hamilton’s gift consists of around 500 objects including retablos, bultos, prints, postcards, nichos, altar objects, and frames. In order to showcase the majority of Ms. Hamilton’s retablo collection, this exhibition has been divided into three categories: Cristos, VÝrgenes, and Santos, representing 111 different subjects through 158 retablos. The exhibition showcases the differences and similarities between the portrayals of a span of various devotional subjects.

Many times when the image of a Christ, Virgin, or Saint was brought over from Spain to the New World the images were modified and familiarized to fit Mexican folk culture. The retablos capture the individuality of each retablo artist and the subject they depict. These devotional images demonstrate how different portrayals of the same subject include similar objects and symbolism but they also reveal how the artists took the liberty to paint the subject as their own unique representation. A special feature of this exhibition is the presence of retablos by known artists: Donaciano Aguilar, Agustin Barajas, and the “dyslexic” painter. Also included is a contemporary work by Mona Puente of Guadalajara.

The addition of retablos and ex-votos from the Hamilton gift make the EPMA the second largest retablo repository in the United States, with a collection of 900 retablos after New Mexico State University’s collection of 1700 retablos. This exhibition celebrates Ms. Hamilton’s professional contributions to the El Paso community as an important retablo collector and historian. Over the course of 50 years, Ms. Hamilton built her collection through flea market and antique store finds as well as visits to other collectors. From August 1991 through 2002 Ms. Hamilton edited and published the Retablo Newsletter for collectors, museums, and libraries.

The existing EPMA retablo collection has come from a variety of sources, but most importantly thanks to gifts from the following major patrons: Dorrance and Olga Roderick, Frank and Sara McKnight, as well as the McKnight couple’s children, Dr. Steven McKnight, Elizabeth McKnight Manning, and Nancy McKnight Howell. This retablo exhibition honoring Ms. Hamilton’s gift represents a continuation of this generosity within one of the most important realms of our institution’s collection and collecting mission.

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