San Jose
Retablo, 7x14"
© Catherine Robles-Shaw

Artist Statement
Catherine Robles Shaw

As a Santera, I hope to preserve some of the unique traditions of my Hispanic culture. Retablos are the storytellers of my ancestors. They are a natural extension of the beauty and simplicity of our Spanish lives. My husband, Michael, and I aspire to represent our work with as much historic accuracy as possible. My first exposure to this art form came when, as a child, I visited the churches in the San Luis Valley, near the home of my parents in Mogate, Colorado. After we visited old churches in Chimayo and Northern New Mexico, I came to realize the meaning behind the Retablos which had been in our family. In 1991, being self-taught, I began making retablos for my family and friends. I entered my work to be juried in the Spanish Market of 1995 and was accepted.

Retablos are made by handcrafting wooden plaques primarily of pine and aspen. The pieces are cut and adzed as was the method of woodworking in the 18th and 19th centuries, prior to the time that saws were used. Gesso is prepared from gypsum and rabbit skin glue that is applied to the wood as a substrate for painting. A variety of natural watercolors come from plant, insect abstracts, and mineral colored soils. Piñon shellac from nuggets of piñon tree sap are dissolved in (mala) grain alcohol, and filtered for clarity. The finished pieces are then dried, waxed, and prepared for wall mounting.

My work has been well-received in museums and galleries, including: Millicent Rogers Museum, Taos Mosaic in Taos, Museo de las Americas, Manos Folk Art in Denver, Marisol Imports in Boulder, Galleria Ortiz in San Antonio, Fireworks Gallery in Alamosa, John Isaac Antiques in Albuquerque, El Portero Trading Post in Chimayo, New Mexico; and retablos reside in permanent collections at Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, The Harwood Museum in Taos, Taylor Museum, and Regis University in Denver.


Born in Denver, Colorado in 1952, Catherine Robles-Shaw's family roots are from Mogote in the San Luis Valley. Her heritage is from Coñejos County. The Santero tradition in her family goes back several generations, and she has learned to carve bultos from her cousin Rubel Jaramillo, another Santero from Las Mesitas, Colorado. She makes her livelihood solely from her Santero art. She has lived in Denver, a rustic cabin outside of Nederland, Colorado as well as her home in Boulder. She is married to Michael W. Shaw and has two daughters: Roxanne and Dusty Dawn.

Exhibitions and shows include: San Acacia Gallery, San Acacia, New Mexico; National Christian Fine Art Exhibition, Farmington, New Mexico; Treasures and Traditions Exhibition, Loveland, Colorado; Spanish and Indian Market, Colorado Springs; Spanish Market, Santa Fe; Chili Harvest, Denver; Kit Carson Festival, Taos; Santos Sacred Art of Colorado, Regis University, Denver; Aurora History Museum; Loveland Center for the Arts; Taos Inn; the Hacienda Martinez; Eastern New Mexico University, Portales, New Mexico; Summer Show, Raton, New Mexico; and Winter Market, Santa Fe.

Her work is mentioned in Our Saints Among Us, by Paul Rhetts and Barbe Awalt, Regis University: 30 Years of Collecting, by Father Thomas J. Steele, and a 1998 book by Chuck and Jan Rosenak, Santeros and Santeras. She has been mentioned in numerous newspaper articles and in magazine publications over the past five years.

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All text and images © Catherine Robles-Shaw.