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Turn to Jesus (Article)

Inklings from the Holy Spirit
How Regnum Christi member Ann Burt found a way to use her artistic talents to share her faith.

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Joan of Arc, Ann's favorite saint, was her first retablo project.

Raleigh, NC. June 30, 2010. There are times when an inspiration feels like the pieces of a puzzle coming together. For Ann Burt, a Regnum Christi member based in Raleigh, NC, discovering her calling to create retablo art was one of those times.

The Icons of the Poor

Retablo art is a form of devotional painting that originated in Mexico after the Spanish conquest. During the 18th and 19th century, peddlers would go door-to-door selling the humble works of art, created on tin or wood, to people who could not afford fine works of art, but who wanted some visual reminder of their faith in their homes. The paintings, created by untrained artists, were often primitive depictions of Our Lady, Jesus, or the saints.

It was on a trip to Albuquerque, New Mexico, that Ann first encountered these visual reminders of the faith. Coming from the East coast, she was struck by the omnipresence of the faith.

“It’s a very spiritual place. I think to someone who lives there, it’s normal to live with all these beautiful shrines and images everywhere. But when someone like me comes to visit, it’s just amazing. I fell totally in love with the devotion that these people have
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Ann's retablo version of Our Lady of Guadalupe..
in their whole lives,” she said.

She began collecting retablos as a hobby, simply because the rustic little paintings with their depictions of Mary and the saints delighted and edified her. To her, each retablo told a story, like an icon, conveying an intangible faith through a tangible artistic medium.

A Humble Connection

And that connection between faith and art was something that she had not yet made in her own personal life. Despite her re-conversion to the Catholic faith almost 30 years ago, her career as an independent artist for the past 20 years, and her membership in a Catholic artists’ guild, she had never created works of art that reflected her Catholic faith.

“I’ve been an artist my whole life, doing murals and specialty, high-end wall treatments in people’s homes—nothing to do with retablos. But over time, in my spiritual journey, I was asking the Lord, ‘I have this talent you’ve given me and I’m not sure I’m using it the way you want me to. What can I do to use it the way you want?’”

The retablos were the answer to her prayer.

“It was like a puzzle fitting together,” she said. “I’ve always had a connection to
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Ann Burt, the artist.
particular saints, and the retablos were a way to share that devotion.”

Just last September, she began making her first retablos, starting with her favorite saint: Joan of Arc. Before painting, she does extensive research on the saint’s life.

“I have pages and pages of their story. In order to paint them, you have to really know them, because the retablo tells a story in one image, like an icon,” she said.

The image of Joan of Arc, for example, is packed with symbolism, depicting the flag that she carried into battle, her coat of arms, and the names of the voices that she heard (St Margaret, St Michael, St Catherine). She’s holding her sword, and is flanked by angels representing the voices.

Ann paints the original retablo with great care, and then makes smaller print copies, which she then mounts on a wooden plaque and sells online through Unlike the original retablos out West, each one comes with a summarized history of the saint on the back side of the plaque.

“The story of the saint is on the back in the hope that whoever gets it will be drawn into the holiness, qualities, and godliness of this person. My
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The archangel St Gabriel, the "Holy Messenger" who brought the message of the Annunciation to Our Lady.
hope is that the devotion will spark more curiosity and help people go further into the faith,” she said.

“They are like inklings from the Holy Spirit: these are our human role models that we have on this Earth.”

Finding Her Niche

Figuring out how to use one’s talents at the service of the faith is often a trial-and-error process. In most cases, we learn by doing, and it’s by correcting our mistakes that we find the right way forward. For Ann, the process was no different.

When she first started painting retablos, she mimicked the style she saw out West, deliberately aiming for the primitive art style of the original untrained artists. But it didn’t go over very well on the East coast.

“People didn’t get it,” she said, noting that some commented that it looked like a kid had painted them. Ann realized that the primitive retablo style, which fit so well in the southwest’s culture of simple, heartfelt faith, did not have the same resonance outside of its natural context.

So she decided to adopt a more realistic style, one more true to her own talents and inclinations as a trained artist. Success followed almost immediately.

“People can relate better to the
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St Joseph, the "Righteous Man," with Jesus as a small child.
images,” she said, noting that the new style is more detailed.

“As an artist, you don’t want to copy other people’s work. You want to be comfortable in something that’s your own and unique. I think I’ve found that. I feel like I’ve found my niche.”

For Ann Burt, art is a vehicle to express and share her faith with others. But there is no limit the talents that Our Lord has sprinkled among the members of his Church, no limit to the many creative ways we can bring the faith to life for other people.

“In the Father’s house, there are many mansions”— and many ways to belong and serve. And perhaps finding our niche in the mission begins with just one question: “Lord, I have this talent that you have given me. How can I use it to serve you?”


Interested in retablo art? Visit Ann’s online store at

For readers with artistic talents and inclinations, there is also a Catholic artists’ guild with an online blogspot at



Related links web site
New Gate Tours
Institute for the Psychological Sciences
Magdala Center
Notre Dame of Jerusalem Center
Pontifical Regina Apostolorum College

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