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Isabel Gonzales

Jemez Pueblo

Transcript of  an Interview conducted 11/18/02 in San Ildefonso Pueblo by Dolly Naranjo- Neikrug.

Embroidery Artists

Lydia Chinana

Mabel Fragua
Isabel Gonzales
Evelyn Bird Quintana
Romancita Sandoval
Shawn Tafoya

[The interviewers questions and remarks are in red italics.]

Tell me about yourself, your family, the community you come from....

I’m from Jemez pueblo and I’ve lived here about thirty, I guess going on thirty-one years, something like that. My mom used to teach, I mean, not teach, she used to work on belts, did embroidery, and as a child in grade school I would see her do it, you know, and I guess I kind of picked it up. As we were growing up, they also had a home enrichment program at Jemez where different ladies taught different arts, like weaving, pottery, kilt-making. The young girls were asked to go to different places to learn, you know, and that’s how I picked it up.

A long time ago, there used to be a Hopi man who came around to sell kilts and sashes. There were a few ladies at that time then who were doing what I am doing now. And I used to think, why is it that we have to buy..? It was good but still it would be good for us to learn ourselves and teach our own kids. I was sad about that when I got married, I moved, and at that time, I did cross stitch and I started back on my embroidery again. I kind of missed it here and there but I hate to go back to my mom or one of my relatives to show me again, and that’s how I started again. So...

My aunt used to make baskets, too, from yucca baskets and she tried to teach us , but we didn’t...we weren’t serious about it, because it’s a lot of work.

When you moved here to San Ildefonso, from Jemez, did you see a lot more people at Jemez still doing embroidery? Or were there more people doing it here, or more people there?

I think there were more people doing embroidery at Jemez. It’s a funny thing but when I moved up here, I didn’t know where San Ildefonso was. I mean, when I came here, I was dating my boyfriend (ahhh! should I say that?) at the time. I didn’t know, because I used to work in Santa Fe, and he brought me to his family during Thanksgiving, and I had no idea where San Ildefonso was. I was really surprised. We never come up this way, the only place we’d ever gone to feast was Taos, and my mom and dad used to take us up there when we were young kids. And I had never knew about these northern pueblos. Most of the southern pueblos, we went, but....

Jemez is farther away. When Jeanne and I went to feast last week to Jemez...

Oh! I didn’t know you were...if I had...

We didn’t know where you were...

I was at my mom’s....

We went up there, and I was surprised at all the Navajo people that were there, and I thought, ‘Sure! because it’s’s closer to that area, and farther away from this side.’ So when you were talking about the Hopi people, you know and the Hopi people’s embroidery or weaving, so they would also be close to Jemez.

Yes. And at the time that I moved here, I didn’t know who was embroidering. But I, uh, during that time I was kind of slowly doing my work. And I was staying with my in-laws for a while then we moved to Santa Fe. We lived here for just about a year I guess when we started building a home close to my in-laws and that’s when we moved back. But during that time I was doing pottery too, and mostly pottery from Jemez, then my father-in-law said he used to do pottery a long time ago, and he started back on it again. So I did a little bit of San Ildefonso pottery, too. I polished.

And who was your family?

The Gonzales family. Lorenzo. John, my brother-in-law. I was married to their brother, Raymond, but he’s deceased now, and there’s Robert, and within that family. And after Lorenzo started doing it, the rest of them started picking it up and that’s what they’re doing now. John and Jean, and Barbara...she made pottery too. So, like I said, I guess I didn’t know really who was doing embroidery here, but after a while then, I kind of got serious about my embroidery, because it was much easier to work with it than, doing both pottery and embroidery. Then I thought to myself. Tthere are always a lot of people always looking for traditional costumes, they outgrow I thought I’ll just stay with what I do best. Or try to anyway.

Do you support yourself with it?

Yes. This is my only income. Self-employed.

How much of the clothing or embroidery that you do is for sale and how much do you give for ceremony or for traditional use, for dances?

All the clothing and embroidery that I do are for sale. I embroider for a living. My work is traditional. People who purchase my work are from different pueblos and use them for traditional dances and ceremonies.Others use them for different occasions.

I know that you teach, and have taught a lot of people to embroider, and you’re still teaching. Why is that so important to you?

It is so important. I want other people to learn and carry it on. When we had the Convocation ar SAR, It was an honor to have been selected for the SAR fellowship. With the help of the school I taught myself more about the aspects of embroidery and sharing my artistic ideals, as well as, doing research on the past an present textiles. I did not know what each person felt about meaning and the work that is involved. Some were self-taught and others taught by family memebers.

Well, my intention is to teach the basic embroidery so that it can go on from generation to generation. Like now, I know, my daughter’s doing it too. And then I got my family, my nieces, my sisters, involved. Yesterday, we were all sitting around the table, they brought their work and I was showing them where they made mistakes, so they can correct them, and do their own. I was joking, I said, Yeah, I want you guys to learn your own because one of these days I might not be here and who’s going to do that. That’s true! So they’re all making mantas. My sister just started. And then my niece, and then I have another sister. She tried doing a small one but she had a hard time. She kept making mistakes, so I told her, she can't give up. I say, you’re going to do another one, so maybe by then, you’ll learn the technique. But it’s a lot of counting. And then sometimes I’ll have students bring in an old piece that they might want to do that design. There’s two in my class that are doing mantas, and took the design from the old pieces.

But anyway, that’s my intention to teach. My kids sometimes say, But Mom you’re just giving away your secrets. Yeah but, a lot of times some are serious about it. Some will do it just for my class and won’t even touch it again, because you’ve got to put yourself down in order to get something accomplished. So a lot of them will do it, and a lot of them won’t.

I was thinking about you were talking about doing pottery as well as embroidery. Which one was...for you which was one was easier, or which one took more effort or energy? It seems like you do your embroidery so beautifully, and so effortlessly. Was pottery harder for you?

Well. Mmmm....I think it took, probably...well, see, pottery, you can do so many in one day. But still you have to sandpaper it, and paint it, and do the last minute touches or whatever. And then, it’s probably the same thing, but for embroidery, ummmm, I spin my own yarn, and that’s a lot of work. And then after spinning my yarn, I soak my yarn. I buy my material, but then you have to cut it out. Then I do different things to it, wash it, or whatever. For a kilt, it will take me, depending on what type of work I am doing. Smaller stuff will take me less time, but bigger stuff, like a manta, it will take me a whole month to complete it. Where with pottery, in a whole month, they could do a lot. See, but, I don’t know. Like I say, I guess I was meant to do embroidery.

I know that this doesn’t have to be part of the interview, but I want to say, my sisters and I get together and we sat one night every week to make our mantas....made a kilt, and then my sister Louisa was teaching us to do....and I think it was the best time I ever spent with my sisters.

Oh yeah.

Just to be sitting there and have tea or coffee.


And maybe that’s part of it too, is that you know that social activity, and maybe that went back a long time ago (y) when where people men and women would sit, and make things and sew. Because there’s such a good feeling about it. It must be like that for you with your class.

I look forward to my class. I get to meet new people, and then, like I said, we just sit there and we talk, at the same time we’re doing our work. And then, on the other hand at the same time, your mind’s working, on what you’re doing, but your still listening to what they’re saying.

When you look at the embroidery pieces, or the cross-stitching or anything, whatever you’re doing. How do you decide when it’s a good piece, or when you look at it and you know someone’s made mistakes, what do you consider a really good piece of embroidery?

I guess the way it’s sewn, how well the threads are spun, and by looking it on the back. ‘Cuz each count as you go in and come out, you form a pattern on the back. So that’s what I think would show quality work. And then sometimes when my students make a mistake, they don’t know, they say I made a mistake somewhere, but I can’t, I don’t know where it is. And then I’ll look at it and I’ll say, oh yeah, okay, here’s your mistake, see? And they’ll tell me, gosh how did you find it so fast? I don’t know, I’ve been doing it so long, it’s just easy. And then when I’m working, it’s just an automatic thing where I put my threads, I have to finish a piece for my sister’s boy, I mean, grandson. He’s six or seven years old now, and he’s part of a clan. And there was one that I, it’s a sash, and I was doing it, I started it, and I kind of made a mistake. I was trying to do a different kind of sewing, and I couldn’t do it...

[phone interruption]

I can’t remember what I was...

Oh you were talking about making a belt...and then you made a mistake

Oh yeah. Okay, so I sat here and I was looking at it. And then at the same time, I kind of had a headache, and I didn’t feel too good because I thought I was coming down with something. So I let it go. That night, I went to my class. After I came home, I sat down again, and said, oh what should I do? And then I said, I’ll just leave it alone, because, my mind, something’s not working. So I went to bed and I lay there and I thought about it and thought about it...

[phone interruption]

I was telling my niece, I need to get this done. I thought about it during the night. I said, well, I prayed to my aunt, my aunt’s daughter Angelita, and to the ones who have gone, I said, my prayer, I said, I don’t know, I don’t know a lot of people who do embroidery work, but give me the strength and the power to do whatever I have to do. And the next morning, I sat down all ready to do it. And you won’t believe it: I started, and I just went through like that, I did it! Caught on, and I finished it. So...

How nice! That’s wonderful.

Yeah, and it took me just two days? Because I worked on it, and knew I had to do it, because its his first time. And I had to get it done.

when I first manta, maybe 26 years ago, and now I look at it and I think, oh my goodness! I went to, I was looking for a manta to borrow, because I was dancing. I think I was out late because everyone had already moved out....and I finally found one, so I was happy, but then afterwards, I went back to San Juan to the lady I had borrowed the manta from. And she helped me to make a manta, but I, but you know she just showed me how and then I did it on my own, and now I can see my threads are real heavy and...and I didn’t know it at the time but I was doing the Pueblo stitch, where you go over and under. Was that a stitch that was taught to you? Or did, when you were taught to embroider, how did your mother teach you? Did she say, this was the stitch....

That’s how I was taught. I teach my students, even my kids, whoever, the way I was taught. There’s a lot of people who might do it different ways. Like my sister said last week, she met some lady that she was pulling her threads to make it thinner, she wasn’t spinning her threads, she was just doing it, just like that. But I said, well, there are a lot of people who do it different ways. That’s their way. And what I do, I was taught the way they did it so that’s how I’m gonna do it the way I do it


You know, I’m not gonna say and correct, them, that’s not the way. That’s the way I guess they were taught. My feeling is I’m going to show them the way we were taught.

The reason we spin our yarn is so that it’ll last longer. Especially among our pueblo people, we wear them and we wash them. And I want, they whatever they have to last longer. And then it depends on what ply. I usually go with four ply. I re-spin all my yarns till where I know where all the tension is. So what I do with my students, I have them count to a certain count, and to make sure they’re all even, by counting. I really don’t count, but I just, have them do it so it will be all even all the way through..

I just have one last question. Because we’re pueblo people, the community, and the way we, the things we were taught, and the way we see everyday life, is just really important. How can you feel like you put that into your work? How do you put yourself and community and how you believe into your work, your embroidery?

Well, um...I our Indian ways. Everyday, I go out and ask, before I start my work, wherever I’m going. Even if I go on the road, like today, later, I’ll be going to Jemez, and I’ll say a prayer to help find a good way to get home, when I’m down there, I’ll do the same thing, to get back to my family because I’m always going back and forth, and I travel through the back roads, and my family, they’re always concerned, they always say, you going to be okay? And I say, I’ll be all right. So I ask, whoever you are, whoever’s under me, watching me, take me home safe, let me do my work. Because what I do, is very important to our own ways, also because that’s what we wear when we do our traditional dances, and our traditional ceremonies, whatever it can be. The same way with the Hopis. Because I went there too, and taught classes there too. I just went there once, but still a lot of people you know want to learn, and they want me to go back.

But the thing, you see, it’s hard for me to be going back and forth, because during the day, I take care of my own grandkids, too. And when things are going on around here in the community, I go help out. And then in Jemez, I’m running back and forth between both communities. So I...I teach my kids to be involved with the community, not just here but at home, and to help, even though we may not be relatives with certain people around here. I say at least go over and help or take something over. Because in turn, you’ll get the same reward later on. It might not be now, it might be later, it might be something else. That’s how I was taught. so that’s how I try to teach my kids. I always tell them, no matter who it is, you might cross someone on your path, I say, even though they may not say anything to you, always greet everybody, say "hi" whatever, greet anybody, because that’s the way I am. I try to be friendly with everybody. Even if I’m in the car, I kids say, who was it? and I say, I don’t know! I’m just..[laugh]... I talk a lot and I laugh a lot, so people know me by that. So that’s how I try to tell my kids. It doesn’t matter where you are, it might not be here, it might be somewhere else, but I know a lot of people through my shows, and they always say hey, I heard you laughing away. [laugh] I say, yeah...

Is there something you’re working on now? You were talking about that 70-year-old piece? Can you show us that/

Yeah, I’ll show you that.

[leaves to get piece]

A sampler of stitches with the kilt, on the edges, and then the manta...and the butterflies. Oh how beautiful! that’s really nice to have...oh Isabel that’s beautiful That’s beautiful.

A lot, I do it on my own, as I start...

so this is ...spun down....this side is as beautiful as the other side. That’s gorgeous.

Show the other side, and then the front.

This is for my niece that’s going to be getting married here. And that’s the shirt...

That her husband is going to wear? And is this your own design?

She wanted this the way it is there, and I put in my there, they’re both the same pattern.

and this design, did you make this up?

I made this up.

because I hadn’t seen this before, so I thought it must be your pattern...that’s really beautiful.

Then these are more contemporary [unintell.....]

This is also what we’re doing now.....

Sometimes I do different in more traditional patterns, they’re a little bit longer, the tassels. I did this when I was in Canada, I just did it. I didn’t know they had the same colors, for the indigenous games. I didn’t know what to do, so I thought I’ll just take it with me so I’ll finish it up there. And here when we got there for the opening ceremonies, they had the same colors!

so it was like somebody sent you the colors. This was for the Olympics?

And then I have another manta, it belongs to somebody, I have that too, that one has a different....

With these the red and the black, the green...

It would take me two years...

this is another one

Oh this is beautiful

See this is more like the solid designs. I have to...this is the daughter's, and the mother wants the same pattern, so I brought it so I can do the same pattern.

this is different

This is the corn, they belong to the corn clan, and they wanted that so that’s what I did. A lot of my mantas, I put a butterfly, because it’s my symbol. I love butterflies.

I do too.

As a child we used to herd sheep close to San Ysidro, me, my sister and my brother. There were a lot of butterflies over there. While we were herding, waiting, we’d be over there catching butterflies, different colors We’d catch them and let them go, and that’s what we did! And since then, I’ve always liked butterflies.

They’re so pretty. Who they’re for and who’s gonna wear what.

The family don’t even know yet!

Who’s that for?

My niece. I have five orders to do yet. I have materials, that the orders are I said to my nieces, and my sister, okay....we’re not doing anything Saturday, this coming Saturday. I said, okay, we’ll meet here at mom’s again, and sew all day. Because they have to be ready too, before next fall.

Do you ever sew together, with your sisters, or your daughter, or your nieces, or...your family, do you ever sew together on one pie

Oh no.....I was saying....for instance this one, you should put it on one of your big cloth or whatever, and just keep doing it, until you have a whole manta, you know of different designs, because, before, let’s see I started in maybe ‘68, I was in grade school, 64, 60....this one girl was just talking about it just before feast, she said, I think you’re the only one that picked up, you know, of all the girls that’re the only one that picked up...because I was trying to finish one for feast, and I remember because when we used to go to school at the mission, that was 7th or 8th grade, we made pillow cases, but I did it in cross stitch, and I remember we took it to the fair, and I got first place.

that’s wonderful. Your things are beautiful Isabel. Magnificent.

When you’re watching dances, do you look at mantas and look at patterns, and then I bet you can look at dancers and notice if one is yours, if they’ve borrowed one...

Yeah, uh huh, because even on my kilts, my kilt designs are a little bit wider. And I have my symbol, the three, you call the warrior marks, and those are always to the knee part, so that each part will dance. Only if they want it a certain way, I’ll do it. But most of the time it’s all the same. And for Jemez, I do braids at the bottom because that’s how ours are. And a lot of places they just have the borders or like the Hopis they don’t have braids at all. It depends, for the shows , I try to do different things, because somebody might like one.

and who are most of your customers?

During markets, it’s usually collectors, or people who have heard about my work, or even, um...this past year a lot of my work went out to different states, like Michigan places like that. California, mostly out of state. And, a couple I sold to, not here from the pueblo, but pueblo Indians, kilts. Even kilts, I sell to different people, non-Indians, because they put it in their household, some people sent me pictures where they have it hanging.

what you do is a work of art..

Yes, it is a work of art. Very time consuming art. I tell my sisters, you’ve gotta make me a manta now [laugh]. Of all the ones that I’ve done, I don’t even own one.

You don’t have one for yourself?

I don’t have one for myself.

But when you’re dancing....

I try to, like, before, I’ve worked on one, and then people will come, and say I really need it, or maybe for a certain ceremony....and there it goes...I don’t know...It seems to me like, whatever I like, and do doesn’t matter, it can be a household item, whatever, I buy it, I like it, and then I give it away...

when I think about it, I don’t have any of my own pottery in the house, I don’t keep it, you know, because it gets I know what you mean.

I could have all my, drapes, everything embroidered, but I don’t. In fact there’s a lady now who wants a bedspread, she said I’m in no rush, but if you can do embroidery for me on a bedspread, I want that

that would be amazing

I don’t know. I have so much to do, I take one day at a time. Like now, I was working for that, and now, when I come back this week, I start another thing, on top of what my orders, I do like little things for like, my shows. and then during Christmas people order Christmas stockings, so then whatever I’m doing, I take time to do those things.

Well thanks

come by whenever you’re around

I was looking at that and I thought oh my goodness, you have something else. And then when you were talking, you were saying “home” and you meant, I thought, that’s what...when I say home I mean San Ildefonso...

Because after I lost my husband, people thought I would be moving back, I said, no I don’t think...

And I talk fluently in Jemez, to my kids so they understand, and I tried Tewa, but they told me, don’t even talk Tewa.

And then my oldest boy is married to a Navajo

and they didn’t, none of them went back?

No we only go when we have things going on. They can carry on a conversation and people are surprised at how well they speak Jemez.

I am, I would have thought they would have learned Tewa

but my in-laws, they really didn’ father-in-law spoke Tewa, and he was married to, his wife was Winnebago.

So they were already not talking...

My husband, he would talk Tewa, he was the only one who spoke Tewa. And he was learning Jemez....I told my kids, you need to listen. In some ways, it’s’s a little bit different. I can understand some of it but not.....

When they start going fast...

I even told the ....start teaching Tewa over here, even to the older people....I had suggested that you know so I could go again...A lot of people around here don’t speak Tewa anymore, and we are losing it, one of these days we’re gonna lose it, and I tell my kids, I don’t want you guys to lose any of it.

Do you think Jemez is more traditional than here?

I think it’s about even. Here the dances are more traditional, and then over there, even for.....but here we have to do it very traditional...and then down there certain things are, you have to...I guess I would say it’s about even, but in different ways. But even down there there are a lot of kids speaking English...certain words...and I say, talk in Jemez! talk in Jemez! You guys have no excuse because you live down there and it’s an everyday thing, and a lot of the younger kids talk in Jemez, and it’s good. But there’s just more English, now. We’re all here. My daughter-in-law is Navajo, and all I talk to them is Jemez so she’s picking it up. She knows what we’re talking about. And my son is constantly talking to everyone in Jemez...[unintell] Oh yeah! we know what you’re talking about!

[fade to black] still audio


so I have a lot of stuff over there.

Did you see this, 5/32, Angelita Cajero.

That’s my maiden name, Cajero. She died when she was just in high school, just a teenager.

She was very talented.

So every time I have difficulties, I always ask her. She’s taught me a lot.

this is nice.


When we were in Jemez the other day, the horses, I saw a manta, really beautiful...

Pumpkin and Turquoise clans have theirown. For the pumpkin clan, the horse is usually dressed with traditional attire. The turquoise clan is different, more black, Spanish attire...

Did you go to the shrine? I made the manta that's on the shrine!

No, we didn’t know! If we had known....


By Isabel Gonzales

In February of 1995 a group of distinguished ladies and one male were guests at the School for Advanced Research for a convocation on Pueblo embroidery.
     It was an honor to have been selected for the Katrin Lamon Fellowhip. With the help of the School I taught myself more about the aspects of embroidery and sharing our artistic ideas and doing research on the past and present textiles. I did not know what each person thought about meanings and the work that is involved. Some were self taught and others taught by family members.
     Pueblo embroidery should be kept traditional- all the different colors used, the geometric patterns, and motifs. Embroidery is one artistic expression utilized by the Pueblo Indian people of the Southwest. From the time of the Convocation I have worked hard and taught others the traditional way of Pueblo embroidery. I hope to hand down my own experience to the fixture generations and scholars.

Artist Profile | Embroidery | Transcript | Video       
 School for Advanced Research