Santa Fe Living Treasures – Elder Stories

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Ben Ortega

Ben Ortega


Honored March, 1986

Ben Ortega

My favorite is Saint Frances because it was my first piece that got sold," Ben Ortega says of his woodcarvings. "I tell everybody that Saint Francis didn't want me to go to California.

His carvings are in collections world-wide, yet Ben never planned to be an artist. "I used to sit in the kitchen and make little faces. I made two Indians-small pieces-and then I carved a little Saint Francis. Mrs. Myrtle Stedman [the artist and builder] saw my carvings. She loved them so much I gave her the Indians. I used to work for her, picking apples and peaches when I was a little boy."

Born in Tesuque, New Mexico, in 1923 to Isador and Agnes Ortega, Ben and his two brothers and sister were raised by an aunt and uncle. "My mother died in an automobile accident when I was two," he said. "My father died when I was six."