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Mexican Period Art
Spanish Colonial and Mexican Period Art

Most non-utilitarian art, particularly painting, had previously been created for churches, missions and home altars. The earliest churches, based on Franciscan missions in Mexico, were initially decorated with wall paintings and hide paintings.

Altar screens and retablos replaced these as they became more readily available in the 1700s and 1800s, when religious art was brought up from Mexico. Altar screens were built in tiers and could be taken apart and reassembled for easy transport. They were made in the Academic centers of Durango, Zacatecas, Chihuahua, and Mexico City.

It was 1750 before the distinctive New Mexican religious carvings became popular. Artists known as santeros made bultos and retablos. A retablo is a realistic image, usually painted on a rectangular board. A santo or bulto is a three-dimensional image carved from wood. Woods of choice were pine and cottonwood because of their availability and their ease of carving.

Supplies, including woodworking tools, cloth, clothing, Majolica pottery from Puebla and church furnishings arrived in supply caravans that began as early as 1609. Most of the furniture, utilitarian objects, and art of the seventeenth century and earlier did not survive the Pueblo Revolt.

Straw became another artistic medium. Wooden crosses and boxes were painted in colors of black, scarlet, or blue, followed by a pine varnish. Then small pieces of flattened straw were applied in decorative patterns and sealed with a coating of the same pine varnish.

When tin cans became readily available, tin work became popular as an art form. Beautiful handmade tin work framed mirrors and paintings. Tin work, also used in lighting fixtures, was versatile as well as decorative.

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