Culture Boxes: The Art of Retablos

By Hughes, Kathy | School Arts, February 2005 | Go to article overview

Culture Boxes: The Art of Retablos


Hughes, Kathy, School Arts


My inspiration for this lesson for my fifth and sixth grade students came from an article on Peruvian-style retablos in the December 1998 issue of SchoolArts. I wanted a multicultural theme for a three-dimensional assignment that incorporated many art-making and higher-order thinking skills.

I prepared a packet or kit for each student--a large plastic bag all of the pieces they would need to construct their retablo. I pre-cut each piece out of foam board, although older students could cut the foam board themselves using T-squares and X-Acto knives. I also included a write-up on the history of retablo making and several worksheets.

Researching and Planning

Students researched a variety of cultures and civilizations before choosing one as the basis for their retablo. The school library provided a good source for reference material. To develop ideas, students used a reproducible worksheet I created, asking them to complete sentences about the culture they chose. (See examples on the bottom of the next page.) I emphasized that the colors and images should reflect the culture they had chosen. They were encouraged to work out their plan on paper before beginning to paint. We reviewed the elements and principles of design and talked about the importance of creating a piece that showed unity and balance. Textural qualities were also brought up as some students wanted to glue things to the outside.

Making the Retablo

Students used acrylics to paint each piece of foam board on both sides prior to gluing. I was in charge of the hot glue gun while each student assisted in holding the pieces together during construction. I found that it worked best if we held each piece where it was to go before using the glue, just to make sure it fit. That way, trimming could be done if needed. The actual gluing together took very little time and students were quite excited to see their work take form. The doors were put on last, and we used pieces of canvas or leather as hinges.

Making the Figures

Authentic retablos have figures that sit inside. The figures on the bottom represent scenes from daily life; those on the top show saints. Keeping this in mind, students created human and animal figures, and other objects out of soft, lightweight modeling clay which dries without heating.

After painting their small sculptures, students placed them inside the retablos. …

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