NMSU Mexican Retablo Collection: New Acquisitions 2019-2023

NMSU mexican retablo postcard


NMSU Mexican Retablo Collection: New Acquisitions 2019-2023
University Art Museum
October 20th, 2023 - July 20th, 2024
Opening: October 20, 2023, 5:30-7:30pm

English | Espanol

Date: October 5, 2023

Contact: Eva Gabriella Flynn; Education and Outreach Coordinator, NMSU Art Museum, egflynn@nmsu.edu, 575-646-2185


NMSU Expands World-Renowned Retablo Collection with Over 300 New Acquisitions


Las Cruces, NM - The University Art Museum (UAM) is delighted to announce the exhibition NMSU Mexican Retablo Collection: New Acquisitions 2019-2023 in the Margie and Bobby Rankin Retablo Gallery. Opening on October 20, 2023, at 5:30 pm and running until July 20, 2024, this exhibit showcases recent donations to the NMSU Permanent Art Collection from Gloria F. Giffords and Family, the Estate of Augusta Sonnichsen Hemphill, and the Estate of Elizabeth Ann Nordeen.

The UAM is home to a remarkable collection of over 2,200 nineteenth-century Mexican retablos – religious images painted on tin plates––making it the largest collection of its kind in the United States. These retablos have their roots in European and Mexican art from the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries and can be traced back to religious images placed on church altars that were wood, copper, and canvas. Painted by both academically trained and self-taught artists, primarily from Central Mexico, these devotional works offer intimate insights into the religions and spiritual lives of people in this region.

The NMSU collection's journey began in 1963, thanks to generous donations related to sacred art from Dr. and Mrs. Andrew Babey, Pamela Babey, Dr. Reginald Fisher, Dr. and Mrs. Ezra K. Neidich, Mr. C. Andrew Sutherland, Mr. Fran E. Tolland, Ms. Helen McClure, and Mr. Victor E. Clarence. 

In 2019, the collection received a significant boost with a donation of over 200 objects, honoring the opening of the new museum in Devasthali Hall by renowned retablo scholar Gloria Giffords. Since then, it has continued to grow, thanks to contributions such as the Estate of Augusta Sonnichsen Hemphill, facilitated by her daughter Amy Leland. "My mom's connection to Mexican culture ran deep," says Leland. Hemphill always felt a strong love for Mexico. "She was raised bilingually, her mother’s family had businesses in Morelia, [in] Southern Mexico, and she studied and performed Mexican folk dance." Her retablo collection shows the deep connection and appreciation she had for Mexico’s culture as she “wanted to ensure its care in a museum after her passing.”

Grants received in 2021 from the Mellon Foundation and Thoma Foundation have allowed UAM’s new Collections Curator, Courtney Uldrich, to curate from these new retablo acquisitions and hire work-study students to assist in acquiring, photographing, digitizing, and storing these works in our state-of-the-art facilities. With further backing from a seed grant provided by NMSU's Office of Research, Creativity, and Economic Development, which funded the "NMSU Retablo Digitization” project.  This funding supports the hiring of a Graduate Assistant who will complete an inventory of the collection, digitization of the collection's physical documentation, including provenance and conservation records, and integration into the UAM’s online database. This project increases NMSU’s research footprint and provides professional development for graduate and undergraduate students. A tablet will be on display on-site in the Margie and Bobby Rankin Retablo Gallery for real-time access to the evolving collection, featuring their updated photographs and information. The aim is to showcase students' contributions and increase the collection's visibility while supporting research on these understudied artworks by students, curators, and academics worldwide.

These generous Mexican retablo donations enrich our local and global communities, support our collection exhibitions, and expand our capacity to train the next generation of museum professionals through student staffing. This exhibition is a celebration of the gifts that have been made to NMSU and the ways in which the retablos’ history continues to  impact our region.

Image Credit: Unknown Artist, San Miguel del Pozito, Oil on tin, 19th Century. Courtesy of the NMSU Permanent Art Collection and Gift of the Estate of Augusta Sonnichsen Hemphill. 

Check out our Virtual 3D Tour along with Mata Ortiz: Highlights from the Lysbeth Warren Anderson Collection: