Thursday, May 28, 2015

Picture This: A Spanish Colonial Family, Part 2


In my last post, I showed you the concept sketch for the illustration I'm working on, a painting of a Spanish era family at Santa Barbara Presidio in the late-18th or early-19th century.  That sketch was approved, I've now completed the finished drawing and am getting ready to paint it.  Here's how I got to this point.


A lot of research goes into a painting like this - that's a large part of why I like this work so much.  I seem to have a passion for finding out about what most people find irrelevant.  


For example, I include in this drawing a little boy learning how to ride on the back of a sheep. Last time, I included a casta painting that shows a boy doing this in 18th century New Spain (Mexico) and mentioned that this was the practice in early California as well.  A writer can just stop there and go no further, but as an illustrator I've got to draw that sheep. So what kind was it? 


Most scholars tell us that it was the churra sheep, first imported to the New World in the 16th century. They are now called churro in the United States and are raised to this day by the Navajo People in the American Southwest and by others who appreciate this historic breed (


I love how they look - half wild, their wide range of colors and the fact that both males and females have horns. The males' horns are, however, more impressive - much larger and often in multiple sets.  I've chosen to show the boy on a shorter-horned example, perhaps a ewe or young male. I'll also paint the sheep a tan color with brown face and legs, like ones on the left and right sides of the photo, above.


I'm not much of a gardener, but of course the produce shown in and around the older boy's basket has to be as authentic to the place and time as I can make it. Luckily my client, the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation, put me in touch with Jerry Sortomme, professor emeritus of Santa Barbara City College Environmental Horticulture program and project manager of La Huerta, the historic gardens at Mission Santa Barbara (  


I made a point of visiting La Huerta on a recent trip to Santa Barbara and Jerry was also kind enough to send me a list of historic varieties of fruits and vegetables grown at the mission garden. I had to assume that similar plants were found in the nearby presidio's gardens, too.  With that list, I went looking for period images of produce. Not surprisingly, casta paintings from 18th century Mexico were a tremendous help. 


I was pleased to find that some varieties grown in Mexico today are not that different from those seen more than 250 years ago.  For example, the pumpkin or squash seen in the casta painting above, resembles this one: 


And the corn (maize) this Baja Californian raven is eating, in a c. 1765 painting by Father Ignacio Tirsch, is similar to yellow corn today.  


The smaller fruit on the ground are prickly pear fruit, called tuna.


I included photos of ceramic bowls and pitchers last time, examples found by the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation. Now I needed a basket.   The Spanish probably did not make their own since all around them lived the Chumash People, Native Americans who wove superb baskets.  I chose as my model a simple flat-bottomed burden basket that is in the Ventura County Museum. 


In my next post, I'll describe my painting process and discuss the physical appearances and the clothing worn by my Spanish colonial family. 

A., B., and F. This is how my final drawing looks on the board.
C. This cartoon from the New Yorker magazine (2015) sums up how I imagine some people might view what interests me.
D. A churro ram I photographed some years ago at La Purisima Mission State Historic Park in California.
E. "Rick Scully and his flock of Navajo Churro Sheep" from "Navajo Churro Sheep," Wikipedia,
G. De Indio, y Mestiza. Coyote. Unknown artist, ca. 1760-1770. Philadelphia Museum of Art. From, Ilona Katzew, editor, New World Orders; Casta Painting and Colonial Latin America. New York: Americas Society Art Gallery, 1996.
H. Casta painting by Luis de Mena, ca. 1750. Museo de América, Madrid. From Ilona Katzew, Casta Painting; Images of Race in Eighteenth Century Mexico. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2004.
I. This variety of Mexican pumpkin resembles one grown there more than 250 years ago.
J.  Watercolor of a raven on an ear of yellow corn, c. 1765. From Doyce Nunis and Elspeth Schulz-Bischof, The Drawings of Ignacio Tirsch; a Jesuit Missionary in Baja California. Los Angeles: Dawson's Book Shop, 1972.
K. The fruit of the prickly pear cactus, called tuna
L. Chumash burden basket. From, Travis Hudson and Thomas C. Blackburn, The Material Culture of the Chumash Interaction Sphere, v. 1, A Ballena Press/Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History Cooperative Publication, 1979.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Picture This: A Spanish Colonial Family, Part 1


I'm working on an illustration of a Spanish colonial family of the late-18th to early-19th century for the Santa Barbara Presidio State Historic Park in California.  The presidio, or fort, dates back to 1782.  The Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation commissioned my illustration for a new series of interpretive signage.  I thought I'd take this opportunity to explain how I approach an assignment like this. 

The purpose of the illustration is to show a more or less typical colonial family, each holding, wearing or doing something that tells us about their lives.  


So the mother, wrapped in her rebozo, holds her smallest child while saying goodbye to her husband, a soldier.  


Their daughter pours milk, that she collected herself, into a bowl for a cat.  Cats arrived in California with the earliest Spanish settlers and were valuable in keeping down the rodent population. 


The oldest son has a basket full of corn and squash from the garden plots outside the fort. 


And, my favorite, the youngest son is sitting astride a sheep, which is how families in Mexico and the Spanish Borderlands taught their children to ride.  

With the goal of the illustration in mind, I drew a concept sketch, shown at the top of this article.  I did not use models or other references for this sketch - it's simply based on my visual memory. The purpose of the sketch is to convey the poses, costumes, activities and mood of the illustration without going to the trouble of using models or finding other visual materials that might have to be changed if the client does not like my concept. Luckily, they did. 



I've now gone on to the "tight" drawing - for which I did pose models and found detailed references - such as the ceramic bowl and pitcher the girl will hold.  The Santa Barbara Trust's staff archaeologist sent me these photos - examples of things actually used at the presidio in the Spanish era. 

Next time, I'll show the tight drawing and some more of the research that went into it. 

*My thanks to Jarrell C. Jackman, Executive Director; Michael H. Imwalle, Archaeologist; and Anne Petersen, Associate Director for Historical Research, Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation for all their past kindnesses and their generous assistance with this assignment.

A. This is my concept sketch for the illustration, drawn in pencil and from the imagination - without models or other references.

B. Drawn by José Cardero in 1791, this detail from a larger view of Mission San Carlos (Carmel) in California shows a man - perhaps a soldier - talking to two Spanish women. This is one of my references for the clothing shown in my illustration, including the women's striped rebozos (shawls). Museo de America, Madrid.

C. Californio women are seen milking cows near the Presidio of Monterey, California, from a watercolor  made during the Beechey Expedition, 1826. Bancroft Library, University of California.

D. There are no contemporary images of gardens in 18th century Alta California, but here is a view of Mission San José del Cabo, in Baja California, 1767. The gardens are the fenced area to left of the picture.  Painting by Father Ignacio Tirsch, original in the National Library of the Czech Republic, Prague. See Garden History Girl,

E. A Mexican casta painting shows a boy learning to ride on a sheep. Nineteenth century eyewitnesses tell us that this was done in California as well.  See Ilona Katzew's Casta Painting (2004), Plate 167. Anonymous, Collection of Malú and Alejandra Escandón, Mexico City.

F. and G. Terra cotta bowls and pitchers. Though the pitchers are actually chocolate pots, their general size, shape and material match the one shown in fig. C., above.

According to the Santa Barbara Presidio website (,
"El Presidio de Santa Bárbara State Historic Park is operated by the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation under an operating agreement with California State Parks.  The Santa Barbara Trust’s mission is to preserve, restore, reconstruct and interpret historic sites in Santa Barbara County.  It engages in archaeological and historical research and publication to expand knowledge about Santa Barbara's history. The Santa Barbara Trust works closely with California State Parks, the City of Santa Barbara, the County of Santa Barbara and various cultural and educational constituencies to attract and inform a broad audience through its restoration projects, exhibits, living history demonstrations, public events and lectures, and public school programs.  For more information about the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation, visit its website at"

Monday, May 11, 2015

Meeting an Old Friend Unexpectedly

Robe, ca. 1700–1740. Eastern Plains artist, probably Illinois, Mid-Mississippi River basin. Native tanned leather, pigment. Paris (France), Musée du quai Branly, 71.1878.32.134

My wife and I visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art last Saturday to see the exhibit The Plains Indians: Artists of Earth and Sky on its last day before closing.  The exhibit was superb, and included many pieces from European collections that are seldom or never seen in this country.

On our way out of the exhibit, we passed through the gift shop where I encountered an old friend. 

Copies of my Plains Indian Coloring book were on display. I was flattered to see that they were placed next to the exhibit catalog.  This was one of the first books I wrote and illustrated at the beginning of my career.

As always, it's pleasant to meet an old friend unexpectedly.

Friday, May 1, 2015

Revisiting the Past in Pictures, Words and Objects

By combining eyewitness images with period documents and artifacts we can improve our understanding of what the past really looked like.  This can be done for any time or place in history when you have a conjunction of pictures, words and/or objects.  In this post, I’ll use all three to examine the dress of late-18th century Spanish California.


In September of 1791, José Cardero, a young, self-taught artist, added two sketches at Monterey, California to a growing portfolio of images he’d made on the Spanish scientific expedition led by Alejandro Malaspina.


Those portraits, and other pictures Cardero made during his visit, are our best pictorial evidence of how the men and women of early Spanish California dressed. And though they were made at the presidio, or fort, at Monterey and the nearby Mission San Carlos, the clothing and hairstyles are typical of what you would have found elsewhere in California at that same time.[1] 

We know this because details of their clothing are confirmed and sometimes explained by contemporary documents, especially the lists of supplies sent every year by sea from New Spain (Mexico) to California.

Unfortunately, the supply lists for Monterey have not been published, but those for the Santa Barbara Presidio have been, in a wonderful Spanish/English edition by the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation.  In addition, the Trust has conducted extensive archaeological investigations at their site, and a few of the pictures I’ll include come from this work.[2] 


The couple, usually identified as a soldier and his wife, are probably wearing their best clothing, judging by the the woman's fabrics, ribbons, and lace and the fact that he sports a highly-decorated cuera, or leather armor.  We might even think that this is an officer and his lady, but the truth is that we just don’t know. The saw-edged bars above the man's coat cuffs look like rank insignia, but not much is known about how presidial soldiers indicated rank on their uniforms.

The woman’s bodice appears to be sleeveless (displaying the full, lace and ribbon trimmed sleeves of her chemise), fitting tightly to her torso and laced up the front.  It is trimmed at the bottom with some kind of tabs - perhaps gathered ribbon.  The lace at the bottom of the bodice is harder to explain.  Is this attached to the bodice or, since her sleeves are also trimmed, is her chemise shortened and worn outside the waistband of her skirt to show the lace?  Other details: she wears two forms of fichu - a black scarf and then a band with ruffled edge. The woman’s skirt could be of damask or printed fabric.  Both Chinese silk (saya saya) and printed cotton (indianilla) appear in the Santa Barbara Presidio supply lists.

My very great thanks to the Ministry of Education, Culture, and Sport, Kingdom of Spain; Museo de America, Madrid; and the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation for their generous assistance.

Excerpts from Supply Lists, Presidio of Santa Barbara, California
Invoice, San Blas, March 10, 1792.
150 pairs of side-lacing shoes (150,, pares de Zapatos de abotinar)*

Invoice: Mexico, February 24, 1788
4 pieces of superior printed cotton from Barcelona (4 Piezas Indianillas Superiores de Barcelona)

Invoice: Mexico, January 25, 1789.
8 dozen assorted medium grade neckerchiefs, mostly black (8,, Doz[ena]s Mascad[a]s de ½ m[ar]ca Surtidas abundando negras)


7 dozen crimson stockings, embroidered on the side (7,, Dozenas de Medias Carmesi Bordadas àl Canto)

12 pieces of number 80 ribbon from Genoa, 32 varas, pearl and crimson (12,, P[ie]as Liston n[úmer]o 80,, de Genova de 32 v[ara]s Nacar, y Carmesi)

9 pieces [ribbon] number 40, blue and green, from Granada for lack of it from Genoa (9,, id[em] n[umer]o 40,, azul, y verde de Gran[a]da por falta del de Genova)

Invoice: Mexico, December 29, 1790
30 dozen shoes for men and women, the latter 6 and 7 point (30 dozen[a] Zap[ato]s para homb[r]e y Muger estos de 6,, y 7,, puntos)

90 pieces of fine, narrow genuine Brittany linen (90 Piezas Bretañas ang[osta]s lex[itimas] finas)

10 pieces of Chinese silk (10 piezas Sayasayas)


6 bundles of blue glass beads (6,, Maz[o]s de Abalorio Azul)

6 bundles of large garnet beads (6,, d[i]chos Granate gordo)

12 varas of fine wide lace from Lorraine (12,, varas de Encaxe fino ancho de Lorena)

2 pieces of gold cloth ribbon (2 p[ie]zas liston de Tela de Oro)

2 pieces of watered ribbon, 1 pearl and the other black (2 d[i]chas Id[em] de Aguas 1 nacar y otra negra)

6 dozen fine black hats with low, flat crowns and silk lining (6. Dozenas Somb[rero]s neg[ro]s copa chata forro de seda)

90 pieces of fine, narrow genuine Brittany linen (90 Piezas Bretañas ang[osta]s lex[itimas] finas)



80 pairs of breeches of reinforced blue wool velvet, lined with common cotton fabric, pockets of dressed deerskin, and yellow buttons with loops (80 Pares calsones de Tripe azul reforzado, forrados en Manta Bolsas de Vadana y Boton Amarillo de Aza)


60 blue chupas of cloth from Puruagua with cuffs and collar of 2nd grade scarlet cloth, plain yellow metal button, lined with common cotton fabric, sizes 2 and 3 (60,, Chupas de Paño az[ul] de Puroagua con buelta y collarín de paño grana de 2a. boton de metal Amarillo lisos forrad[o]s en manta de 2a. y 3a. talla)

10 pieces of Chinese silk (10 piezas Sayasayas)

Requisition: Santa Barbara, December 5, 1791

50 bundles of large green and dark blue glass beads (50,, mazes de Abalorio gordo verde y az[u] obscuro)


30 pesos in imitation pearls (30,, p[esos?] en perlas de papelillo)

*I differ with the translation given in the Santa Barbara Trust publication.  Zapatos abotinados were described by later eyewitnesses as side-lacing shoes or ankle boots worn by horsemen.


A. "Soldier's Wife, Monterey," by José Cardero, 1791. Museo de America,
B. "Soldier of Monterey," by José Cardero, 1791. Museo de America,
C. José Cardero also painted the plaza at Mission San Carlos de Borromeo de Carmelo (Carmel Mission), California, 1791.  This detail shows what is probably a soldier without his cuera (civilian and military dress were nearly identical) and two women. Museo de America
D. A pair of embroidered stocking, Spanish, 18th century. Museo del Traje, Madrid.
E. Assorted glass beads excavated at site of the Presidio of Santa Barbara, California by the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation (SBTHP).
F. Brass button, back and front, roughly 3/4 of an inch in diameter. Note the loop (aza) on the back (SBTHP).
G. A decorated buckle (SBTHP)
H. Imitation pearls (SBTHP)


[1] California’s three other presidios were San Francisco, Santa Barbara and San Diego.
[2] Giorgio Perissinotto, Catherine E. Rudolph and Elaine Miller, Documenting Everyday Life in Early Spanish California; The Santa Barbara Presidio Memorias y Facturas, 1779-1810 (Santa Barbara, California: The Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation, 1998).  The supply lists for Monterey are not published, but are located in the Archivo General de la Nación in Mexico City.