The Spanish Caribbean in the late 18th century was filled with cattle ranching, tobacco crops and religious tabernacles.
The Appleton Museum of Art is now offering a rare glimpse into how farmers and tropical crop tradesman became purveyors of fine art for the Catholic church in the touring exhibit “Power & Piety: Spanish Colonial Art.”
The Spanish Colonial Caribbean once served as a major hub for trans-Atlantic commerce and trade for crops such as tobacco, sugar cane and cocoa. When tradesman realized that the church was willing to pay them far more for the production and sale of fine art, the commercial exchange of Latin American art became a predominant source of wealth for the region.
“There are about 56 pieces in the show, and the neat thing is that it gives us a very comprehensive look at Spanish Colonial art,” said Appleton Curator Patricia Tomlinson. “It is not just paintings; it is silver work and furniture made out of the fine hardwoods that you would see coming out of the Amazonian rainforest, such as mahogany. It is a really nice, comprehensive look at all of the artwork that people were utilizing in their homes and churches at that time.”
Tomlinson adores this work and knows its context well. Prior to her curatorial position at the Appleton, she served as the New World Curator at the Denver Museum of Art for eight years, which showcased Pre-Colombian and Spanish Colonial Art.
She said the Spanish Caribbean was predominantly Catholic at the time and the arts were heavily inspired and rooted in piety and devotion to the church. This collection showcases the daily life and religious practices of colonial Latin America.
“There were small tabernacles that would fold up to about the size of a book and you could take those with you so no matter where you were, you could worship.”
The display is drawn from the Patricia Phelps de Cisneros Collection – a component of the FundaciÃ³n Cisneros, founded to enhance the appreciation of art from Latin America. It was co-organized by the Museum of Biblical Art in New York City and Art Services International in Alexandria, Virginia.
Phelps de Cisneros is from Venezuela, “so part of the foundation is there, as well as in New York,” Tomlinson said. “She is wonderfully philanthropic and she is dedicated to having her art out in the world. She dedicates her life to doing public good and teaching with her art and art ed.”
The exhibition will be on display through Feb. 26.
“We work very hard to get world-class exhibitions such as this to the Appleton for everyone to enjoy. We really hope that people are able to come and see this exhibit before it goes away,” said Tomlinson.