The Most Popular Woman in Tucson

She is not who you might think. Her image can be found everywhere, in restaurants, in art galleries, on building facades and in living rooms.

Artistic representations of the woman, Our Lady of Guadalupe, have claimed the walls, gardens, windows and even trees in Tucson, some on untraditional media, and this year is the 120th anniversary of the coronation of her image.

Our Lady of Guadalupe is a 16th-century representation of the Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ. The Virgin Mary was allowed by God to present herself to different people in different times to remind them to be faithful, explained Father Ed Sarrazin, parochial vicar at the historic Mission San Xavier del Bac, a few miles south of Tucson.

“The Mexican people have a great devotion to La Virgen de Guadalupe,” said Steff Koeneman, director of communications at the Roman Catholic Diocese of Tucson. “When they move here, they bring that devotion with them.” Her influence has extended throughout the Southwest and a great number of Catholics consider her a significant object of faith.

Ettore DeGrazia, a local Impressionist artist, was an apprentice to the Mexican artist Diego Rivera. Mr. DeGrazia produced more than 50 pieces of Our Lady art throughout his life, including paintings, ceramics and silver sculptures, said Lance Laber, the executive director of the DeGrazia Gallery in the Sun, in Tucson.

The Chapel of Our Lord of the Miracles is a small space in the backyard of a house in downtown Tucson. There, on a trunk of a tree, the virgin is painted in bright colors and has coins for eyes. In San Xavier del Bac, a striking tile mural in the back corridor of its museum has an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, her dark skin and starry mantle surrounded by sun rays. Visitors to the mission bring flowers or light candles at her shrine, asking for her blessings.

Other cultural expressions dedicated to her include music, dance and walking processions. “She is close to my heart,” said Susan Palomino Campos, who sang as an offering to the Lady after a recent afternoon Mass at St. Augustine Cathedral, a Tucson church completed in 1868. “I can relate to her because she is morena, you know, she is dark-skinned.”

 "Coatlique Tonanzin" is the work of Tucson artists Jacob Robles. Materials used: acrylic paint, spray paint, paint marker.
"Coatlique Tonanzin" is the work of Tucson artists Jacob Robles. Materials used: acrylic paint, spray paint, paint marker. PHOTO COURTESY OF THE ARTIST

Our Lady of Guadalupe’s influence on artists has continued through generations. Jacob Robles, 24, who was born and raised in Tucson, considers himself a community artist.

He paints murals, graffiti, t-shirts and canvases. One of his renditions of Our Lady of Guadalupe depicts her with traditional Mexican attire and braids.

“I wanted to paint a Virgen de Guadalupe that was more decolonized,” Mr. Robles said. “I wanted to bring the native in her, ’cause a lot of us kind of see her like the Mother Earth,” he said.