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In the year 1885 Leucadio Guillen suffered from a sore eye. I called upon the Blessed Virgen del Sabinito and asked from the bottom of my heart, and after a few minutes he was well again, for which I give thanks.

The Bee-Sting Lips Painter..
El antiQuario reveals the identity of the prolific retablero, known up until now only as The Bee-Sting Lips Painter..

by Oscar Ibarra Corona

Mankind has a long believed that some divine and omnipotent Being
hovers in the heavens, watching over him and guiding him from harm¹s
way. For over 500 years in Mexico, this spiritual faith has
manifested itself into a richly varied output of religious art. Among
the most poignant pieces depicting man's sentimental trust in holy
beings are exvotos. These humble offerings of gratitude for celestial
favors received tell a story which may involve people, animals or
innate objects-- and the Divine intervention of a spirit or saint.
Exvotos combine narrative text and painted images to describe a
miraculous happening. While most early exvotos were painted on wood,
lienzo, paper, metal or glass-- diverse materials such as bone, gold,
bronze, silver, ivory and wax were also used. Towards the end of the
nineteenth century tin panels became the canvas of choice among the
working class. Inexpensive and readily available on nearly every
farm, tin revolutionized the production of religious art in lower
class Mexican society.
Exvotos from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries most often
narrate a miracle which occurred to a country person or family. A
farmer's wife gives thanks to the Virgen de Guadalupe for the quick
return of her husband's health after an injury occurred when he fell
off a horse. A father gives thanks that his eldest daughter escaped
harm after spilling a pot of boiling water while she was preparing
his coffee one morning. The paintings and stories have a home-spun
nature to them. Texts were written as the people spoke, with
grammatical errors and colloquialisms, and the artists usually
were not trained painters but rather common men and women with a deep
trust in god and a love for life.
Exvotos were often created by the recovered victim or one of his
family members, but it was not unusual for a person to have the piece
commissioned by a "retablero" or "milagrero." Artists such as
Hermenegildo Bustos, Jose Maria Estrada and Jose Maria Mares captured
not only the story of a miracle having taken place, but a piece of
the spirit of the Mexican people as well. They were not famous
painters in their time, but rather fellow members of the community
providing a service just as the blacksmith or woodcarver did.
One of the most prolific exvoto artists is a man whose name has been
in question among scholars and collectors for years. He is commonly
referred to as the "bee-sting lips" painter because of the
characteristic manner in which he painted his subjects lips. Not a
single piece of his work has been found with a signature. A
collection of his exvotos can be seen in San Juan de los Lagos,
Jalisco, in the church Nuestra Señora de San Juan. One of these
exvotos has the inscription "Ro. Margaritas" penciled on the lower
left-hand corner. Some have used this as a reference to identify the
painter as Rodrigo Margaritas, but several scholars are in
disagreement over whether this is the painter's actual identity. A
copy of this exvoto can be seen in the book "Dones y Promesas,"
published by the Fundación Cultural Televisa, A.C., plate number 291.
Respected art historian Raquel Tibol, in his book "Hermenegildo
Bustos, Pintor de Pueblo," mistakenly refers to an exvoto by the "bee-
sting lips" painter as being the work of Bustos (illustration 98),
and Ana Ortiz Angulo, author of "La Pintura Mexicana Independiente de
la Academia en el Siglo XIX," also erroneously credits illustration
number five in her book as "Probably by Hermenegildo Bustos, exvoto."
These oversights are not mentioned to tear down the research of
reputable art historians, but rather to give proper credit to an
important artist whose work is often confused with that of
Hermenegildo Bustos.
As an avid collector and informal scholar of retablos and ex-votos, I
have become as familiar with the characteristicly painted "bee-sting
lips" of this painter's subjects as I have with his style of
penmanship in the narrative texts. If one studies the the faces of
the exvotos shown here and compare the way this artist forms his
letters-- in particular the letters M, A, B and the lower case p--
there can be no doubt that all were created by the same hand.
I recently acquired an especially attractive exvoto which I was
positive was the work of the "bee-sting lips" painter. The faces and
penmanship clearly match his unique style. Imagine my utter surprise
to discover the following inscription on the back of the tin: "Echo
en Rancho de los Otates de mano de Concepción Abila año de 1894,"
Made in Rancho Otates by the hand of Concepción Abila in the year
One of Mexico's most prolific painters of retablos and ex-votos from
the 19th century is at last positively identified! This compelling
artist, who has been call the "bee-sting lips" painter, is not
Rodrigo Margaritas as some had mistakenly believed. He is no longer
anonymous, he is....
Concepción Abila!