Capturing Wild Women in a Retablo

I went to Mexico a few days before my December writing retreat to learn to create retablos with Judy Dykstra-Brown. I’d met Judy at our writing retreat the year before and was enchanted by her art—walls of her beach house hung with a small portion of her retablo collection. Judy creates visual stories in these small niches whose ancestry is in the Mexican “laminas,” small oil paintings on tin, wood, or copper which are used in home altars. Before I left for Mexico, Judy suggested I think what story I wanted to tell with my retablo and to bring items that I could include in the niche.

2015 was a year of the Wild Women. My book, Wild Women, Wild Voices was released in April, and much of the year centered around the book, completing the final steps before publication, the actual release, and in many months following, promoting it, celebrating it, and celebrating wild women in general. My “story” would be Wild Women and my retablo would be in honor of the book and what the idea of Wild Women means to me.

We worked off and on for two days at Judy’s home in San Juan Cosala, creating the retablo. I’m a very shy artist, not an artist at all really, and Judy is beyond talented and professional. I would learn from a master.

Before: We started here, with some of the items I brought, a tray of embellishments from Judy’s studio, a bouquet of paint brushes, and a blank retablo. A generous artist, Judy let me have at it as we dug through drawers and boxes and bins of items in her studio—birds and flowers and tiny vases and tiny people, bones and hearts of every material, musical instruments, animals, oh my—I was sent into complete overwhelm by the infinite choices.
beforeThe painting began. Layer after layer until the colors came right. This took time. Like a writer, an artist must choose and choose again and revise and edit and again once more.

paintingAfter: It wasn’t until we’d returned from our three-day writing retreat at the beach in Cuyultan, that the Wild Women retablo was finally complete. The central figure is an African angel, brought back from South Africa by my friend Jill Hall, who was with me all along the journey of writing and publishing the book.
retabloDetail: Judy created this tiny replica of the cover of Wild Women, Wild Voices. I love the collage of images of the tiny wild woman holding up the book, the egg and emerging from the egg, the bird, which flies into the image of the tree on the book cover. Pen nibs bloom out of the tiny vase of flowers. The words were among the last items placed on the retablo. They came from a set of Magnetic Poetry on Judy’s refrigerator. “Yes,” is definitely a Wild Woman word. And so is “more.”
tiny WWWVDetail: This tiny red dress was among the items on my bulletin board during the writing of the book, and one I’d taken to Mexico with me. When Judy saw the red dress she knew it had to have a central place on the retablo. It is the jewel in the Wild Woman’s crown. The tiny scroll is a miniature copy of Kim Addonzinio’s poem, “What Do Women Want,” which I’d read to Judy when she fell in love with the red dress. Addonzinio’s poem begins, “I want that red dress/I want it flimsy and cheap” and it goes on from there.
The Red Dress & poemDetail: Judy often places “secrets” on the back of her retablos and I wanted to, too. I found this red high heel among the embellishments in Judy’s studio. It seemed the perfect “secret.”
secret on the backThere are other stories I want to “tell” in retablos, and people I want to honor by creating a niche to remember them.

IMG_3469I am so grateful to Judy Dykstra-Brown for her inspiration, her encouragement, and her infinite patience. Here are few pictures of just a few of Judy’s amazing retablos. As I said in the beginning of this post, I was enchanted by her art. I think you will be too. You can see more of her retablos, read some of her poetry and prose on her blog — Life Lessons.



10 thoughts on “Capturing Wild Women in a Retablo

  1. How fun to read about your experience in making the retablo, Judy. I had as much fun as you did as you are such an avid learner and creative thinker! You are welcome to come make retablos at my house any day! I love the place you found for the red high heel. I once had a pair just like that, although they spent more time in the shoe rack in my closet than on my feet. Still, a pair of shoes like that influences your life whether you wear them or not. I also had a black feather boa and a sequined cloche that I never wore at all, but they looked great hanging on the screen beside the bed. There is more than one way to be a wild woman! See you next year. We need to plan. I’m in La Manzanilla for two months now. I’ve been dancing twice this week. Something in the sea air brings it out. Everyone’s wild here!! xo Judy

    • Thanks for visiting here, Judy and for your comments about the Wild Woman retablo, and especially, thank you again for your generosity in hosting me and teaching me about more than creating retablos. As for those red high heels… Any woman (or man) who’s ever owned a pair, envied a pair, or hankered after a pair, has a story to tell.

      Love that you’re in La Manzanilla again and that you’re posting blogs and photos from there and making art from what you find and sharing that with us, too.

      See you later in the year in Ajijic! (more to come)

  2. I thought that angel looked familiar! So glad it found a good place to rest. Love the red dress (real and poem) and heels (real and secret one). Might I suggest a little red lace too? Wild Women forever!

    • Love it, Jill! Maybe I’ll add another secret to the back of the retablo. Ahooooo. Thanks for your comment and for being such a delightful wild woman.

    • Dear Judy,
      Thanks for sharing this with all of us… is really enchanting….and it is inspiring…I only hope that I will become inspired to create this year….are you having any writing classes?
      Arlene Kosakoff

      • Hi Arlene, thanks for stopping by with a comment. I’m glad you liked the retablo. It was so much fun to make, and especially working with someone else. You said you hope that you will become inspired to create this year; maybe working with someone else can give that inspiration a little spark to light its fire.
        I will be doing some writing classes online this year, as well as the “live” ones in San Diego and a few other places (I’ll let you know about those when they’re confirmed). The online ones won’t probably start until later in the Spring, but this will be the year I do it! I hope it’s going to be a “do it” year for you, too.

  3. Love the retablo you created. I have seen many when I make my annual trek to Taos, New Mexico every year and have often been inspired to make one of my own……this is still on my bucket list. I will be going to Taos the last week in May and the first week in June. Come join me if you can.
    Sue Gilbert
    Westminster, Colorado

    • Ah, wouldn’t I love to join you in Taos anytime! (well, maybe except winter; I’m a SoCal girl, afterall.) I hope you’ll move making your retablo up toward the top of your bucketlist. It was a great experience. Of course, I had the best teacher. Thanks for posting, Sue.

Comments are closed.