Art Lesson Plan: Thanks Painting - Art of Mexico

Thanks Paintings

Submitted by: Jesse Rachel Cukierkorn
Unit: Art of Mexico - Painting
Lesson: Ex Voto Tradition from an Inter-cultural Perspective - Thanks Paintings
Grade level: Middle school (adaptable to other grades)
Time allotment: 10 class periods


  • Create a personal painting of thanks

  • Understand importance of devotional art in Mexico

  • Critically view art work from another culture

  • Evaluate self and peer work


Time, Emotion, Memory



Line, Color, Space


Previous Lesson(s)

  • Elements of art review

  • Building perspective

  • Warm and cool color review

1 2




Prang Watercolor Pan Sets., water containers, variety of Brushes., cut Mat board. or Tag board., digital slide show. Student Idea Web (worksheet)



Mexican Folk Retablos. - The first part of the book is given to an analysis of folk retablo painting. The second part concentrates on iconography. The third part examines ex-votos, small images painted to commemorate the donor's gratitude for a favor.


Art and Faith in Mexico: The Nineteenth-Century Retablo Tradition. - In addition to the essays, the book includes restoration philosophy and conservation methods, a glossary, chronology, maps, and a comprehensive section on the art and iconography of each object in the New Mexico State University Art Gallery collection.



Ex voto - inscribed with a testimonial in which gratitude is offered to a patron saint for a miracle received. 
EX VOTOS  "An ex voto is a votive painting hung on a church wall to commemorate the recovery of the donor from some grave danger.  The painting illustrates a written text that relates the circumstances of the cure or rescue. These written commentaries are often so full of regional dialect and phonetic spelling that it is impossible to translate them and still maintain their flavor. Prior to the nineteenth century, ex votos were painted on canvas for the wealthy. After the end of the eighteenth century, tin became the most popular material for ex votos which allowed the masses access to them."


Retablo - a religious painting on tin, produced primarily in Mexico in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Icon - image of holy person: a holy picture, carving, or statue of Jesus Christ, the Virgin Mary, or a saint, especially an oil painting on a wooden panel, used in worship in the Eastern Orthodox churches.


Internet Resources:

17th and 18th century Ex-Votos

Definition and examples:

Good background information: Retablos and Ex-Voto Exhibit

Ex-Voto Usage

Colonial Arts Retablos

Ex-votos – history:

See contemporary artist Cynthia Korzekwa: Cardboard Retablos also see her Triptychs 
select images appropriate for your students. Cardboard Retablos site has many links at the bottom of each page.



Strategies - Interdisciplinary Connections - Class Charting - Evaluation Criteria
Student Interviews - Individual Planning Web - Written critique

1. Examine: What is an ex voto painting? What can you determine about what people thought, believed, or did in the culture in which the artwork was made? What can you determine about what the artwork depicts, if anything?

- Group students to examine digital slide show reproductions, have them record list of characteristics of the paintings on worksheet.

- Groups report out to class and as a group chart similar findings to create a class characterization of the ex voto painting.

2. View:

- History of ex voto art and teach importance of devotional art in Mexican culture.

- Have students research online for presentation.

3. Plan:

  • Student-teacher interviews

  • Students complete a planning worksheet with teacher guided scenarios and examples.

  • Students plan compositions based on interview and brainstorm

4. Production:

- Teacher demonstration - use of paint, brushes

- Students translate their best composition onto small boards in paint.

5. View:

- Groups of students reexamine ex votos with translated texts in order to determine connection between the text and the image.

- Class chart findings

6. Write:

- Students first draft, then print a few sentences on the bottom of their paintings.

7. Review and Assess:

- In pairs students will be asked to choose and discuss from the display of peers work, two pieces that are successful.

- Students will address in writing the key questions in reference to their peers work and their own.


Alternate lesson idea:

1. Cut cardboard to desired size (suggest 8 ½" x 11 ½" or 21.5 x 29 cm) ). Cut aluminum tooling foil ½ inch (1.3 cm) larger than cardboard (suggest 9 x 12 or 23 x 30.5 cm).
2. Score edges of Tooling Foil. ¼" (.64 cm) all around. Clip corners - Fold foil around cardboard.
3. Draw Thanks painting composition on 9" x 12" (23 x 30.5 cm) Newsprint.. Tape to foil - Transfer to foil by tracing over lines with ball point pen.
4. Trace over lines on foil with Ultra-Fine Point Markers..
5. Paint with Acrylic Paint. thinned with Acrylic Gloss Medium. (colors should be transparent).
6. Write thanks message at bottom of painting with ultra fine point permanent marker.


Ex Votos Examples

Figure 4:2 (Top image)
Anonymous Mexican artist, 1974
Collage and Watercolor on Tin
Collection of ex votos, Santuario de Plateros
Zacatecas, Mexico


Figure 4.3 (bottom image)
Mid-Nineteenth Century


Rafael Luján montado en un macho bruto, lo condujo hasta la orilla de un barranco, sin poderlo contener, en cuyo peligroso transe, invocó al señor de Sacromonte, el que lo libró de una muerte segura, pues su sombrero voló hasta el fondo del precipio. Por tan singular milagro pone el presente retablo en accion de gracias.


Bottom image translation:
Translation by Giffords (1992): Rafael Lujan mounted on an unbroken mule which conducted him to the edge of a cliff, without being able to control it, he invoked the Lord of Sacromonte in this dangerous situation. The Lord of Sacromonte saved him from a sure death, since his hat was blown to the bottom of the precipice. For this unique miracle this retablo is presented as an act of gratitude.



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