Pueblo artist hailed for ‘breathtaking’ works

March 5, 2019

Ira Wilson was working in a gift shop at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center in Albuquerque when his boss introduced him to Ramoncita Sandoval. The artist was stopping by to speak about her work and demonstrate how she embroidered a manta, a rectangular textile that is used as a blanket or worn as a dress.

The introduction was brief, but for Wilson and so many others, Sandoval’s work became unforgettable — and perhaps, irreplaceable.

The traditional Pueblo embroidery artist died Feb. 27 and was buried at St. John the Baptist Church in Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo on Saturday. She was 95. According to a paid obituary, Sandoval moved to Chandler, Ariz., in 2012 to live with family members and died at a Phoenix.

Her admirers say her attention to detail, natural themes and passion for teaching her craft that was passed on to younger generations.

“After I met her I would see her pieces everywhere. It was really breathtaking how distinct her embroidery was,” said Wilson, now the executive director of the Southwestern Association for Indian Arts, which organizes the annual Santa Fe Indian Market. “You can tell her work by how clean the patterns on her mantas are. You can spot it from afar. I would see so many dancers with her kilts and different embroidered pieces and instantly know that’s her work. She always stood out.”

Sandoval was born on March 19, 1923, as the youngest of Pablo and Crucita Cruz’s five daughters and grew up in San Juan Pueblo, now Ohkay Owingeh. In a 2003 interview with the School for Advanced Research, Sandoval said that while she first learned to embroider in sixth grade in 1935, she did not seriously take up the craft until her first granddaughter was born in 1962.

One of Sandoval’s traditional mantas is currently on display at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C. Around Santa Fe, Sandoval was dedicated to sharing her work with local students. She taught Pueblo sewing and embroidery at Santa Fe Indian School in the 1980s and was a co-founder of the Oke Owengee Crafts Co-op.

“She was a very accomplished and knowledgeable artist in traditional Pueblo tradition embroidery,” said Diane Bird, Museum of Indian Arts and Culture archivist. “That is a skill that you do not learn overnight, but she was generous in sharing those skills so that other people like myself could learn from her.

“If you were interested in learning, she would teach you.”

Bird’s mother made embroidered clothing but sent her daughter to learn from Sandoval.

“She said, ‘Go to Mrs. Sandoval. She is the best teacher you could have,’ ” Bird said.

Sandoval often incorporated themes from nature such as water, trees, rain or the mountains into her work.

“Her work is so precise and beautiful. It capture all the feeling of the Pueblo world,” Bird said. “She was the epitome of a Pueblo woman.”