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Manuel Robert Chavez

Manuel Robert Chavez

FULFILLING A PROMISE TO THE GREAT SPIRIT

Honored March, 1987

Manuel Robert 'Bob' Chavez

Eighteen hundred members of the New Mexico National Guard set out on the Bataan Death March, in April 1942, after US entry into the Second World War. Nine hundred came back alive. Bob Chavez, born and raised in Cochiti pueblo, was one of the survivors.

During his four years as a prisoner of war in the Philippines and Japan, he made a promise to the Great Spirit. He vowed that if he made it back to New Mexico, he would devote himself to his school, St. Catherine's Indian School, where he was a member of the first graduating class in 1935.

Back in New Mexico at war's end, Bob went to work as an airplane mechanic for Southwest Airlines and for the State Highway Department, in order to support his family, wife Mary, a childhood friend from Cochiti, and their children. And, drawing on his talents as an athlete and an artist, he began to make good on his wartime promise.


First he volunteered as a sports coach at St. Catherine's. In 1953, he introduced track into the curriculum and built a winning team. In 1955 he began teaching art classes in a basement studio he and his wife themselves constructed at the school. He volunteered all his free time on evenings and weekends as coach and teacher. He paid for supplies out of his own pocket, or by bartering paintings. Twice a year his students held shows and split the proceeds with the art program, to keep it going.

Bob never understood why his grandmother, from Cochiti, gave him a Hopi name. He didn't know what it meant, till he met a Hopi in Sheridan, Wyoming who told him that Ow-u-Te-wa means Echo of Spring. He wears his poetic name and his artistic reputation modestly. "Everyone says I'm an artist. I've never claimed to be an artist," he insists. His paintings took first prize at Indian Market first time out, in 1933, when he was all of eighteen. After the war, the dedicated teacher put his own artistic career on hold for years. He was in his forties before he returned to painting. Self-taught as an artist, he paints delicate watercolors depicting Pueblo life, its dances and ceremonies.