Published February 16, 2021

Saints Alive, a collection of storied art conveying gratitude for whoever/whatever helped us get through the past year, is the working title for the Book Arts 2021 member collaboration.

Our project has two components, both inspired by folk art traditions in Central and South America:

  • Ex votos: Mexican paintings captioned with personal narratives that thank patron saints for their intercession in overcoming some personal misfortune are called ex voto (“from a vow”). They have evolved from scenes depicting salvation from a life-threatening illness or event to more quotidian escapes, like surviving a snake bite or being bopped on the head by a piñata stick.
    • Individual artists will each produce and edition one multicolor ex voto print, including narrative and art, to venerate “patron saints” who have interceded on their behalf during the pandemic or in some other recent difficult situation.
    • The edition will be the number of participants (currently 22) plus 10 for the VCB.
    • A template for these prints are posted here.
  • Retablos: The enclosure for the full collection of ex voto prints will be a portfolio designed to look and function like a Peruvian retablo. These small box-altars originally held 3-D tableaux of Christian events, such as the Nativity, but have evolved to depict scenes of the daily lives of the Andean people – shops, home industry, festivals, performances, and the like.
    • Proposed prototypes for this structure are posted here and will be workshopped with project participants in late fall.
    • Artists will craft their own retablo enclosures (one each).
    • Binders will craft a “deluxe” version for the VCB copies.

Project Guidelines

The Saints Alive! Project Committee has set the following guidelines to help unify the collection:

  • The title of each print will be “Patron Saint of ___.” The title does not have to appear on the print but will be listed in the colophon.
  • The saints themselves may appear in the image. In Mexican ex votos, they often appear as iconographic figures floating above the scene.
  • The trim size for the prints will be 7? x 10” with a vertical orientation (portrait style). Bleed, trim, and text dimensions are here.
  • Folk art in the Americas is vibrant. Project participants must use more than two and as many as six designated hues. Relief inks will be pre-mixed but can vary. Hand-coloring is permitted.
  • Prints may incorporate some digital elements or thin collage materials so long as they maintain the folk art style and palette and are primarily work made by hand.
  • The Project Committee has set October 1 as the date for sharing drafts of artists’ ex votos. Between now and then, participants should identify their patron saints, sketch vignettes, and draft narrative captions that tell the story and express gratitude.

Demos and workshops will be offered for members who want to learn multicolor relief printing methods such as reduction prints, or for those who want to do digital color separation for polymer plates (for letterpress). We also hope to identify a local expert who can teach us more about the use of perspective and other characteristics of folk art in the Americas.

Members of all skill levels can participate. As always with these collaborations, we help each other along the way.

If you plan to participate or want to be kept informed of the project’s progress, please send a message to Garrett <>. Please also send all other queries, ideas, and comments to Garrett to post on the project webpage or pass on to members of the project committee.

Thanks for your interest and participation!

Saints Alive! Project Committee
Kristin Adolfson, Bonnie Bernstein, Janet Eden, Lyall Harris, Nancy Kober, Yolanda Merrill and Michael Swanberg

Project Milestones

October 1, 2021 – Sharing drafts of artists’ ex-votos.
Participants should identify their patron saints, sketch vignettes, and draft narrative captions.

Saint’s Alive Card Template

PDF template for Saints Alive!
Bleed, trim, and text dimensions are here

Project Organization Notes

2021 Collaborative Project Pitch Guidelines

Project Proposals:

Proposal by Ramona Martinez

(a variant on Ramona’s original Saints proposal)
Proposal by Bonnie Bernstein

More Links of Interest:

Alan Birch’s Covid Saints Series

Retablos on Pinterest

Infinitas Gracias – Mexican Retablos And Ex-Voto Paintings

Understanding Ex Votos

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