How Claudio Jiménez Quispe of Peru Creates his Retablos

Using just simple ingredients and tools, this Master Artist creates amazing works of art




Basic ingredients to create master quality works of world renown art:

Potatoes, plaster (gypsum), wire and an innate skill is all it takes to create unique works of art called retablos.  Pigments / Paints and a natural lacquer made of a boiled combination of cow horns, hooves, bones and hide is also used along with brushes.  Simple tools that Claudio uses are limited to a small pointed stick (akin to a bamboo BBQ skewer), a paring knife and his hands!  No molds are ever used!  The boxes are crafted of cedar wood that is planked and then hand adzed. 

What are retablos?

Retablos were traditionally altar pieces in churches and used as portable shrines and boxes which contained Christian religious stories from the bible. They were often used to indoctrinate the indigenous Incan people of Peru and teach them stories from the bible. 

Peruvian Retablos differ from Mexican Retablos which are usually flat pieces of tin upon which a religious experience or painting is drawn.  Today, Retablo can mean either the closeable box or the individual figures crafted in the same manner. 

While originally religious themed, Claudio has diversified his retablos to tell stories, show everyday life, showcase the natural world and bring to light corruption, illegal logging and even war.

 What are the steps?


First, Claudio must have inspiration. He pours over books, magazines, visits aquariums and zoos, the forest and ocean and even visits prisons, traditional dances and ceremonies to get ideas for his retablos.


Use what you have! Potatoes are indigenous to Peru.  Their high starch makes an amazing medium when mixed with Gypsum or commercial plaster!  This medium, when mixed to the proper consistency, does not need to be sanded nor fired.  It allows for amazing detail and allows for many layers to be added, one on top other the other, with little or no glue.  It literarily sticks to itself!

Most likely somewhere along the line someone left a pot of potatoes cooking for too long then allowed them to dry - creating a pure starch that was found to be highly textural and stable, especially when mixed with a chalk-like substance.

Today Claudio uses small high starch potatoes with either gypsum or commercial plaster of Paris.

This creates a doughy mixture that is easily manipulated with simple tools (a sharpened wooden stick and a small paring knife).

It dries fast - so you have just a few minutes to work. It is impossible to craft a piece in one sitting, so you have to work on it over days.  Once fully dried (which can take weeks), it is rock hard and stable. It does not need firing nor do you have to sand the pieces.

The next necessary ingredient is wire. All of Claudio's figures have an internal skeleton of a simple twisted wire frame. The doughy mixture is molded on top of this framework.

Next comes skill!  No other retablo artisan has the artistic skill and experience that Claudio has. Believe it or not he doesn't wear glasses or any magnifiers to do insanely complicated and fine work! His artistry speaks for itself!

Claudio seals his creations after they have dried using a basic homemade lacquer-like polish that he creates by boiling cow horns, hooves, hide and bone.

Once sealed, Claudio paints the figures using pigments and paints that he mixes with the above lacquer compound.

The final touch is again giving several coats of the natural lacquer!


Again, using just simple tools including a sharpened wooden stick, his fingers and a small knife, Claudio creates amazing detail. The clothing may require the dough like material to be rolled out using a jar or pen, but otherwise all the pieces are crafted by hand. No molds are used and every piece is one-of-a-kind!