Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Madonnas in Print



 This blog, American Madonnas, is a place to learn, reflect and share.  We’re always looking for books for our virtual library that shed a particularly strong light on the history or spiritual roots of Marian veneration in the Americas. Here are a couple you might want to make note of:

La Conquistadora: The Virgin Mary at War and Peace in the Old World and the New
Amy G. Remensnyder
Oxford University Press/2013

This book covers a lot of ground but will be of particular interest to those interested in the storied La Conquistadora of Santa Fe, New Mexico. Professor Remensnyder, who teaches medieval history at Brown University, has made a thorough investigation of the La Conquistadora lineage, tracing its origins to ancient Spain, rendering the story in very accessible prose. The book includes chapters dedicated specifically to New Mexico’s beloved Madonna.

American Madonna: Crossing Borders with the Virgin Mary
Deirdre Cornell
Orbis Books/2010

Deirdre Cornell has given us a wonderful weave of stories comprised of her own faith journey, the extraordinary lives of Mexican immigrants in the United States, and the events in Mexico shaping the immigrant experience. This is done through a sensitive and compelling examination of three important Marian venerations: The Virgen of Guadalupe, The Virgin of Juquila (in Santa Catarina Juquila, a small mountain village in a remote part of the state of Oaxaca), and Our Lady of Solitude (in the city of Oaxaca). Drawing from her personal experiences and extensive research, Cornell has given us a little volume that is courageous, poignant, and always grounded in spiritual integrity. I have savored it twice and have started lending it out to friends. I can’t wait to get it back and read it again.

 Felipe O’Riley

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Guadalupe and Conquistadora Madonnas as Symbols of Reconciliation

Native American Indigenous Symbols Intertwine with 

The Virgen of Guadalupe and La Conquistadora  

 




When I paint a retablo of a Madonna, the way I create my images is very internal as I mostly feel as though the image comes through me more than it comes from me. If I have any kind of preparatory sketch, it is usually very cursory and I often don't rely on it as I build the image. Inherent in this process is surprise, serendipity and destruction.

Detail - La Conquistadora
Destruction, in tandem with construction, is a necessary part of creating. Often, destroying the parts of the painting that don't work opens up a passage in the process that results in new images replacing them. Because I don't work with a strict plan I often riff with the image of the Madonna, following tangents of feeling and thought that reveal to me a new vision of the Divine Feminine in the Madonna's image.

The result of my process is that I often learn more about my image after I've painted it. Both from myself and from others.

Quite a few people have shared their experiences of seeing my Madonnas. Several have said they saw my series of Madonnas as being symbols of reconciliation between cultures and genders. For example, La Conquistadora's personage is intertwined with the Dine tribes' Spider Woman and the Puebloan's Corn Maiden.

One aspect of creating images of the Devine Feminine is my effort to rebalance the perception of God/Creation as being solely male. Another aspect is the reconciliation between cultures. Each North American Madonna I make is layered with symbols of her Native American counterparts.

Cristina Acosta
www.AmericanMadonnas.com
www.CristinaAcosta.com





Thursday, September 27, 2012

Guadalupe Shrine is Portable for Feast Day Processions

Antique Mexican mahogany shrine to the Guadalupe with painting by Cristina Acosta

Antique Mexican Shrine: Guadalupe as a Symbol of Cultural Identity


Sometimes things happen that seem so mysteriously destined that I'm amazed at the richness of this universe. In about 2004 a man called my business number and asked if I had any interior design need for furnishings. He was a semi-retired fine carpenter and furniture maker and was looking for new business contacts.

The man told me he was in Albany, a city in Oregon's Willamette Valley about 2 1/2 hours from my home in Bend, on the east side of the Cascade Range. I was curious as to why he would call someone out of his geographic area. When I asked him, he said that he had just started experimenting with calling people and that I was the first Hispanic name he saw under the Designer category in the phone book. As he was Chicano (Mexican-American) he said he hoped I would be nice because my name was Spanish. (My late father was also Chicano, hence my Spanish name.)

Once he told me he was practicing his business skills on me, we both relaxed and chatted a bit, talking about what it was like to be among the very few Mexican-Americans in Oregon during the 1980's. I told him about the series of retablo paintings of Madonnas that I was working on.

He then told me that he had something he needed to get rid of before he retired, and that I might be the perfect person for it. He said that he had a Catholic Church confessional from a church that had been closed. Though he was vague as to how he came by the piece, he'd had it for over 30 years and asked if I would like to buy it. Without photos I said no, though it sounded interesting. After our conversation, I sent him a postcard of one of my retablos, La Conquistadora / the Corn Maiden / Dine Spider Woman.

The next month, and for about 6 months afterward, the man would check in with me to see if I'd like to buy his confessional. I never saw a photo and always said no.

Then one Saturday morning he was parked at my studio in a work van with a friend. I was stunned that he had driven over 2 hours over a mountain pass and hadn't called to even see if I would be there.

Stepping behind his van I looked in to see the "confessional" and was struck with amazement. The sections of cabinetry and plastic ziploc bag of "extra parts" looked like nothing but scraps of old wood and a lot of work, but I could see that what I was looking at was an altar.

That was it -- I wasn't exactly sure what I was looking at, but I really wanted that pile of cabinetry. The man and I went back and forth on a price, and I bought the cabinet.
La Guadalupe with Child, by Cristina Acosta

I was so filled with amazement at the synchronicity and magical quality of life. I cleaned the pieces of wood with citrus thinner and with help,  put the puzzle of pieces together until it was a complete shrine. I asked everyone I thought might know, if they knew anything about the cabinet. Nobody did, but I felt that it was a shrine for the Guadalupe. So, I had my artisan woodworker friend, Terry Scoville, make me 2 wood panels to fit the "holes" left in the cabinet where someone had removed something (presumably a painting) years ago.

I wanted to create an intimate and loving image of the Guadalupe that would reflect the intimacy of the shrine cabinet, so I painted an image of the Guadalupe with Child in oils, 22kt. gold leaf, wax and antique ceramic mosaic on a birch panel.

My shrine to Our Lady of Guadalupe is my constant reminder of the strange and often ironic, abundant beauty of life. I often light beeswax candles I put in the cabinet and enjoy the way the oil colors and gold leaf shimmer with the flickering light.

A couple of years later, while traveling in Taxco, Mexico I saw identical woodwork on two confessional chairs in the Cathedral at the top of the hill and knew that the shrine had "found" me. The man from Albany, Oregon had indeed found the "right" home for what he thought was a confessional, but in reality was a Shrine to the Guadalupe.

For the Procession of the Guadalupe, the top part of the cabinet (with the portrait of the Guadalupe) is removed from the stand (or bottom section) and is carried at the head of a procession on Dec. 12th. Sometimes the curtain is across her image during part of the procession, other times not -- it depends upon the local traditions. During the rest of the year, the top part sits on the cabinet in a church. She may also "get out" on other days of the years, depending upon her congregation.

Catholic traditions include Feast Days which are specially designated days for a Saint or Holy Person. December 12th is the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. In Mexico, this feast is one of the holiest days of the year. Though the concept is not sanctioned by the Catholic Church, some people consider the Guadalupe to be the Christian version of the Aztec Mother Earth goddess Tonantzin. The Our Lady of Guadalupe festival is much more of a tradition in Mexico than in the U.S., though in areas with a lot of Hispanics there are often processions to celebrate the day. Images of Our Lady of Guadalupe are often considered Chicano art, Catholic religious art or Hispanic art -- To Hispanics of Mexican-American ancestry, the image of the Guadalupe is a symbol that goes beyond religious affiliations to become an icon of identity.

I was raised very Catholic and consider myself a Chicana or Latina. Despite the spiritually seismic shifts I've experienced that re-shaped my beliefs, I love to paint Madonnas and think of them as expressions of the Divine Feminine. Someday I hope to be walking with my Guadalupe shrine in a Feast Day Procession.

Cristina Acosta
www.CristinaAcosta.com
www.AmericanMadonnas.com

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Faith and history meet in La Conquistadora


  A North American Madonna, La Conquistadora is the embodiment of living history and spirituality.

Faith is a vital aspect of the human journey, its threads inseparable from the weft and weave of history’s fabric. As with any tapestry, it’s not always clear or obvious how the threads form their parts of the whole pattern, hence there is mystery as well as history. Strongly held spiritual beliefs are integral to how people view themselves individually and collectively; such beliefs have often defined the landscape where one group meets another. Faith has repeatedly informed social development and geopolitical decision-making with enormous historic ramifications. Spirituality is often the source of courage, forbearance, inspiration and sheer stamina that allow people to confront crisis or overcome hardship, also with transcendent implications.

The role of faith in the world view and daily lives of Spanish colonists in New Spain and New Mexico is perhaps a perfect example of the intertwining of faith and history. It affords a great opportunity to see that studies of and reflections on the physical manifestations of faith, the objects of ritual and veneration, the tools used to plant, nurture and periodically re-new faith, are more than simple academic exercises, more than quaint cultural explorations.

These are the perspectives that make the history of La Conquistadora compelling and relevant. Here is a cherished, tangible image of deep religious significance that has been manifestly part of the community of Santa Fe (and thus of New Mexico generally) almost since its inception. As such, it is a classic embodiment of living history. 

The history of La Conquistadora 

is both a symbol of Spanish colonial history and heritage,

and of contemporary spirituality.

Felipe O'Riley
www.AmericanMadonnas.com