Upstairs in the Adams State University Luther Bean Museum, a display dedicated to the Spanish Colonial art of retablos and bultos stands out from its surroundings – due to a recent redesign by Paul Steward.
During the 2011-2012 academic year, as a museum intern, Paul Steward took an interest in the retablos and bultos and began a project including extensive research and eventual redesign of the display. Steward spent hours reading, visiting northern New Mexico museums, and taking notes. He presented his idea for the redesign, including using two cases, rather than one, to the museum’s advisory committee and saw the project through to completion in December 2013.
“I wanted to redesign the objects to relate to each other through size, artists, and by saints. The retablos with Jesus, Mary, Joseph and Saint Michael are all near each other,” Steward said. Along with placing the objects according to categories, Steward also included descriptive labels and a flip book with detailed information on each object and artist biographies for visitors to read while viewing the cases. “I spent a lot of time with the process and the exhibit,” Steward said. “It was very rewarding.”
Colonel Charles Woodard and his wife, Beryl, donated the objects in 1965. The retablos and bultos were originally housed in the Adams State College Museum. When that space, located in the Education and Social Science Building, now known as McDaniel Hall, was converted for additional classrooms, in the early 80s, the collection transferred over to the Luther Bean Museum, located on the second floor of Richardson Hall.
The religious art, dating back to the late 18th century, includes paintings of Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe, Our Lady of Guadalupe; San Francisco de Asís, St. Frances of Assisi, and San Ysidoro Labradór, St. Isidor the Plowman, patron saint of farmers. The display offers visitors and patrons the opportunity to view retablos and bultos created by José Benito Ortega, Pedro Antonio Fresquís, Molleno, Rafael J. Aragón, and José Aragón.
During his research, Steward read correspondence, from the early 70s, between the Adams State Museum Curator Dorothy Wilson and Elizabeth Boyd. Boyd was a member of the Spanish Colonial Arts Society, Inc.; curated at the Spanish Colonial Arts Museum in New Mexico, and is a published author on santos, retablos, and bultos. “Elizabeth Boyd had years of experience studying retablos and could tell which artist made one just by looking at it.”
Steward said he was drawn to the retablo display case because they represent art, religion, and the conquest of the New World. Along with reading the files in the museum about the retablos, Steward also explored Taos Museums and the San Luis area. “The project really opened my eyes,” he said. “Almost everywhere I go, from skiing to supermarkets, I see representations of the Catholic saints.”
The Luther Bean Museum is managed by an advisory committee including Tawney Becker, Adams State grant specialist. Becker shared her knowledge and experience gained from working as a curatorial assistant for the Harvard Art Museums Busch-Reisinger Museum and the Library of Congress. “Tawney helped a ton,” Steward said. “She knows so much about handling museum objects, where to seek information for research, and the proper care of museum collections.”
Steward finished his degree in history in May of 2012 and is now pursuing a second bachelor of arts to become a social studies high school teacher.
The Luther Bean Museum is open from 2 p.m. until 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. For more information about the museum call 719-587-7151 or visit adams.edu/lutherbean.