Santa Fe Living Treasures – Elder Stories

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Conchita L. Lopez

Conchita L. Lopez


Honored October, 2007

Conchita L. Lopez

Conchita Lopez’s first great creative expression came when she was the mother of five young children--a role she elevated into an art. A skilled seamstress, she made most of their bright, fun clothes when they were little. She made Halloween costumes for them each year. She packed wonderful picnic baskets, filled with delicious surprises, and took her brood on outings that were adventures as well as feasts. As her children moved on into high school and began playing in the marching band, she wanted snappier uniforms than the customary blue jeans, white shirts and cowboy hats, so she spearheaded a “Band-Aid” drive that resulted in crisp tuxedos with an overlay vest, designed by a local artist.

In 1960 her family decided to enter the Santa Fe Christmas Lighting Contest. Conchita’s husband installed a big tree in their front yard. But when store-bought ornaments proved both expensive and fragile, Conchita chose instead to adorn the tree with absolutely unique decorations, fashioned with her own hands from used tin cans. With tin snips, pliers, punches and other tools, she cut, curled and shaped the pliable metal into stars, swirls and other designs, many illuminated with lights. Her efforts won an honorable mention, and also caught the eyes of neighbors, who wanted similar objects.

Soon Conchita was devoting five hours a day to her art, and getting better and better at it. She was an early exhibitor at Spanish Market, when all the vendors fit under the Plaza portal of First National Bank. Local shops started selling her tinwork, then stores in Albuquerque, Arizona and California. A story in Better Homes and Gardens featured her art on a national level. She expanded into more and more complex creations, and ultimately the Smithsonian Institution displayed her work in Washington, D.C., where she also gave tinworking demonstrations on the National Mall.

Yet always Conchita’s deepest commitment was to her family, and when her oldest son, Juan Quintana, developed multiple sclerosis, she became his constant support. As a boy Juan had helped her with her tinwork, and as a young man he worked as a home builder. But his balance grew so bad he had to leave the job. Still, he was determined to live in his own place, as independently as possible. So in her trademark bright orange Volkswagen, outfitted with a rack for a wheelchair, Conchita took her son to medical appointments, restaurants, visits with friends, musical performances and other places.

Though she cried many times alone, Conchita did everything in her power to make things fun and special for Juan. In time his condition deteriorated to the point where he had to move into an assisted-living facility called La Residencia. At once Conchita became a great favorite of the staff. She baked bizcochitos for them, gave them flowers and candy, and had an inexhaustible supply of smiles, hugs and thank-yous. Though he met an untimely death, Juan had a wonderful personality in his own right, and at the age of 29 became the youngest Living Treasure ever named--a great thrill for Conchita.

As years rolled by, Conchita served as a volunteer at both St. Vincent Cancer Treatment Center and Villa Therese Clinic. She drove patients for medical treatment, even when that treatment was in Albuquerque rather than Santa Fe. She became a tutor for underprivileged children at Salazar Elementary School. And when advancing age caused her to move to El Castillo retirement community, she plunged into the activities there, working in the theater group, directing benefit sales, helping any way possible.

In a tribute to her mother, a middle-aged daughter wrote: “She is so special in many, many ways--in the smiles, hugs, encouragement and fun she shows to everyone around her, living every day to the fullest. When I grow up I want to be just like her!”

Story by Richard McCord

Photo © 2007 Steve Northup