A Mexican Artist Documented Spanish History

The images of Spanish soldiers and Franciscan friars at the El Camino Real State Monument were created by Jose Cisneros. His art there depicts an era of the first trail to make its way north to Santa Fe in 1598. In addition to Spanish colonial art, Cisneros’ work also illustrates 17th century life. His works depicts cowboys with their wagon trains. Later he included people from the east who traded along one of America’s oldest trade routes. At the Fray Angelico Chavez History Library in Santa Fe 22 of his images on tile are on permanent display.

Self-taught Artist

With no formal instruction, the self-taught pen-and-ink illustrator created thousands of illustrations. Cisneros received more than 80 awards and citations for his artwork. In 2002 he received the National Humanities Medal. Cisneros was born in 1910 during the Mexican Revolution. His hometown of Villa Ocampo was located in the northern part of the state of Durango. The revolutionaries supported their cause through looting. His family was forced to leave after the bandits took everything they owned.

Pen and Ink Illustrator

The Arlington National Cemetery uses his rendition of a military horseman in the certificate that it awards all of graduates of the U.S. Army Caisson Platoon. During World War II Cisneros received a commendation from Cmdr. Gen. James St. Polk for his artwork of soldiers on horseback. But there is an irony to his equine creations: Throughout his long life Cisneros never rode a horse.

Color-blind Artist

Another contradiction in the work of Cisneros was the fact that he was color-blind. Although much of his work appeared in color, he always depended on the name of each color to create his illustrations. Cisneros drew from the great books of history of Italy, Spain and other parts of Europe when recreating the fashion of a particular era. But more than anything, it was through his own imagination that Cisneros provided New Mexico with a snapshot of its early history.

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