Large Collection of José Cisneros Work on Display at UTEP Library

World-class illustrator José Cisneros will be best remembered for his vivid pen-and-ink sketches, which brought Southwest history to life. 

José CisnerosModest about his own work, he came to be known as one of the most important artists in the Southwest and beyond.

In commemoration of Cisneros’ death on Nov. 14 at age 99, a memorial exhibit is now on display on the third floor of the UTEP Library, overlooking the atrium. The original pen-and-ink drawings, books, photographs and letters were drawn from the Carl Hertzog papers, the W.H. Timmons papers, and the Texas Western Press records.  The material was previously archived in the C.L. Sonnichsen Special Collections Department on the sixth floor of the library, where more of Cisneros’ work can be found.

There is also a bronze bust of Cisneros made by well-known sculptor John Houser. 

Cisneros died of natural causes, according to his family.

The University of Texas at El Paso features what is believed to be the largest known collection of his work– 100 original illustrations on display from his book, Riders Across the Centuries: Horsemen of the Spanish Borderlands.  The detailed and colorful sketches of Spanish conquistadores line the walls of the fourth floor in the UTEP library – a collection that he regarded as his finest lifetime achievement. 

Portrait by José Cisneros – Don Hernán Cortés – Conquistador de Mexico – c. 1526Former UTEP President Haskell Monroe and former UTEP professor and author John O. West were instrumental in acquiring the artwork when the library opened 25 years ago.

Visitors are welcome to view the exhibit on the third and fourth floors of the UTEP library. The library is open from 7 a.m. to 1 a.m. Monday through Thursday; 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday; 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday; and noon to 1 a.m. Sunday.

The highly detailed illustrations document the stories of the Paso del Norte region for the past four centuries. Cisneros focused on real-life characters and concentrated on the movements and anatomy of the horse, which he regarded as the most beautiful animal in creation.

Riders Across the Centuries: Horsemen of the Spanish Borderlands received the National Cowboy Hall of Fame Wrangler Award in 1985, and his preservation of history through art earned Cisneros the National Humanities Medal in 2002.

Modest and self-effacing, he was shy about discussing his own work, but that did not stop other critics and art lovers from being effuse in their praise.

“José Cisneros is a dear friend, a magnificent artist and an important historian of the Southwest,” First Lady Laura Bush said when President George W. Bush presented him with the National Humanities Medial in 2002. “President Bush and I are proud to own several paintings by José.”

King Juan Carlos of Spain knighted Cisneros for his contribution to the understanding of Spanish history in the New World through his illustrations.

West, the former UTEP English professor who wrote José Cisneros: An Artist’s Journey, once described the artist as one of the treasures of the region.

“The remarkable thing is that he never stopped growing,” West told the El Paso Times. “He wants to leave a good understanding of the past of this area.”

Cisneros was born in Villa Ocampo in the state of Durango, Mexico, in 1910. Fascinated with the history of his native Mexico from an early age, he taught himself to read when he was 11 and published his first work, a short essay and a line drawing, in a small Mexican publication when he was 14.

The self-taught artist was color-blind from birth, and his lesser known talents included sculpting, woodwork, murals and stained glass.
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