Peruvian retablos are Andean folk art wooden cabinets that display scenes of everyday life or those of religious significance, using brightly colored figures of people and objects. This example is especially intricate, with two different scenes on two levels and twenty-one people. The tiny figures are made of a dough of boiled potatoes and gypsum powder, hand formed and shaped by the retablistas (retablo artists) with a wooden pick.
This retablo is titled at the top "AYACUCHO-PERU," which is the city where it was made, famous for its retablos. The scene on the upper level is entitled "CARNAVAL AYACUCHANO;" the Carnaval is a 3 day long festival held in Ayacucho in February. The scene shows musicians playing various instruments and dancers in vividly colored traditional costumes, all celebrating their joy in life. Above them are three carnaval masks surrounded by multicolored party streamers.
The lower level's title is "COSECHA DE TUNAS....." a phrase which translates to harvesting prickly pear cactus fruit (tunas). Using long branches with the ends shaped like V's, the men are dislodging the fruit from the cacti, which are then gathered into two coiled baskets. The painted background shows blue sky and fluffy white clouds. The triangular gable at the very top has a molded flower; the doors are painted inside and out with flowers and leaves and the top and sides are painted with cobalt blue leaves on vines. The back and bottom have been simply painted white.
The "little house" measures 14 inches tall to the peak of the gable. It's about 15 inches wide with the doors standing open and 8 1/2 inches across with them closed. Front to back it's 3 inches deep and it weighs 3 pounds. The exterior left front door has lost some paint in the very center but otherwise the piece is in excellent condition (the paint is definitely water-based; dry dusting is the only cleaning method that should be used).
The retablos being made now in Peru are often simplified in both form and content; detailed new ones cost hundreds of dollars. The complexity of this older one is fascinating. It's a wonderful piece of indigenous folk art from the highlands of Peru.