San Juan Pueblo
Transcript of an Interview conducted 1//8/03 at the San Juan Cultural Center by Dolly Naranjo- Neikrug.
[The interviewers questions and remarks are in red italics.]
Evelyn Bird Quintana
0:00:Would you just tell me your name, where you’re from, your background, just something to get us started, about who you are?
Yes. My name is Ramoncita. My maiden name is Cruz. I come from San Juan Pueblo. I went to the day school here where I learned to embroider in about the sixth grade. We had a teacher, Mrs. Sarajinacarda, she was the one who started a women’s club here at the day school and started the, I guess embroidery was gone then, I guess it was about 1935, so she started a women’s club. And there were a couple of us who were in the fifth grade or so who joined, and she started an embroidery club, and that’s how I started embroidering.
Then I went to the Santa Fe Indian school in the 7th grade, and I took painting instead of (laugh) embroidery, and weaving. Well I did a little weaving there with Mable Marel but that didn’t go very far. Then I got married and forgot all about embroidery and other things.
And then when my first grand daughter Carol was born, I started making clothes for her and started embroidering again, so that was in 1962 and so I started again, and so I’ve been embroidering steady since 62.
And your parents, can I ask you if your sister is Mrs. Cruz...uh...and they have a house right in the middle of the pueblo, on the second side, or in the middle section?
There four of us sisters. Our oldest sister passed away in 1978. And then we lost the next oldest sister this past November. So there’s the two of us. And then we have an adopted sister who was married in Isleta. Her name is Racita Che Sharon, And then of course, Heronimo Montoya and myself, are left.
So Mrs. Cruz I know is not a sister, but because she is a Cruz, maybe she is related?
Who is that?
I’m trying to remember. Her son is Donald Cruz. Clarence is another son. And I can’t think of her first name.
No she’s from a different Cruz family. Her name was Maestas before, maiden name...and then what is her husband’s name? I think it was Santa Cruz. But no, we’re not the same.
Then the Heronima, who lived right across from the 8 Northern Pueblos building, right up the street, as you go up the street, towards the public school but on this side is the 8 Northern, and then on this side....she’s not living anymore, but...
Yes. I’m just trying to get the names straight.
You said you went to the day school here, and you started learning embroidery here, then you went to SF Indian school and started to do embroidery there. But I know you’ve been teaching and you’ve been working with people on embroidery. Could you tell me a little bit about that?
Well, I taught...I make the Tewa dresses, I learned from my mother, with the high collar and the pleats and stuff, tucks, and I taught that here and also embroidery here at the coop and then I taught embroidery at the..what is it...the Museum in Santa Fe...
The Indian Arts?
What about the IAIA?
I used to sub, when I was working for IAIA I did teach sewing there and embroidery. And most of my students were boys instead of girls. And they did some kilts, which they’ve kept you know for themselves, the kilts for dancing in the pueblos. So they’ve done that. So this same young man who did the coat, took embroidery from me too so he’s started a traditional Indian shirt you know with all of the four directions and all of that. I think that’s one that’s at the Indian Arts and Cultural Museum and also SAR. Those are some of the things I have in museums, also mantas.
And you are talking about some of the places you have, but mostly now you have you send out, you make things for collectors or museums. Could you mention them again?
Uh huh. Yeah like um all the museums in NM have my things, but the Wheelwright has the most. the black manta, the white manta, then the traditional shirt, and a kilt. And then the Indian Cultural Center has the traditional shirt and so does SAR. And then the Heard Museum, I can’t remember what they have, but Doctor....the president of the Heard Museum I can’t think of his name.. he’s a big collector and has several of my things. In fact, I just finished a black manta which was on order for three or four years, and I finally finished. And I wish, he took a picture of it, and I wish I had it here but I didn’t know you wanted some photos. But I have one at home. And then there’s one at the Wheelwright. The black manta. I’ve done only 3 black mantas, because it’s getting very hard on my eyes to work on black. And then also it’s very hard to find black material to embroider on. It’s not woven evenly.
Where do you find your materials to work on?
Well we get it here at the co-op from a mill in California, I don’t know what the place is. But we get our monk’s cloth and that’s what I work on.
and the black cloth?
Well the black, my son used to work...there in Pendleton, I used to visit them quite a bit, and I used to go to the mill and that’s where I got the black fabric. So I can’t find that anymore. So that’s how come I’m not doing black anymore. Also it’s getting a little much for my eyes.
Do you think that it’s doing as much embroidery work as you do that it’s hurt your eyes or your fingers?
No. I know when to quit! (laugh) That’s the main thing. When my eyes get tired, my fingers get tired, I take a rest. And I have a real good light, you know that I can put right down over my work so I can see good.
And where do you work mostly, at home?
Yeah, at home. After I retired, that’s what I did. I keep up with my embroidery and I sit there and right now I’m trying to finish a white manta for a couple in Texas who ordered it for the 8 Northern show that I’m trying to finish so I can do something else. But I do...when I was sick one of my great grandsons said to me, grandma I haven’t seen you sit there to sew and I said, well I don’t feel like doing anything. But after I lost my sister...everything just....she was 96 but still...we miss her. Cuz she went so fast. I think she just gave up. After that, it’s kinda hard to get over that, cuz she just passed away this last November 13, this last year.
Um. How much of your work, you were saying, your grandson said he doesn’t see you....how much of your work do you make for traditional use, like for people to use in the pueblos, or your relatives, or to sell to people in the community for traditional use. But how much goes to collectors or museums?
To collectors or museums...
Oh yes. A lot of it.
Like maybe 80 percent?
Yes. The man who was just here, just before Christmas, or so, and wanted to know if I could do a manta for him. And I said well I’m doing a manta right now. Call me after Christmas and see how far along I am on that before I start another one. So they find about my work and they’ll get in touch with me either here or at home. But I keep busy all year long doing my work for different people. I know there was a young man I used to work with at IAIA, used to, when there was a feast, he used to always ask me, How many of your kilts were dancing today? (laugh) because I have kilts in most of the pueblos.
When you’re watching the dances or the dancers at the pueblos, probably all of the pueblos, and you see the dancers going by, can you pick out your pieces right away?
Umhumm. I know my designs. And as I said, I’m the only one who does the finger weaving down below.
And tell me a bit about that traditional fingerweaving.
I usually get 19 strands of yarn, that heavy yarn, the worsted 4-ply and I measure the kilt, the length of the kilt, and then halve. So that’s where I, how much I use, and that’s 19 strands, so I start from the beginning, and then in and out you know like weaving, and it comes out even at the end. And that would be the length, the floor length. And that’s how I measure the yarn..
And who taught you to do the fingerweaving?
Well. I think I taught myself how to do that.
That’s amazing. Did your mother embroider?
No. She was a potter. And our dad used to tell us, your mother does beautiful pots and you girls don’t know how to make pottery. But I used to design pottery for her. She’d make the pottery and I’d design them for her and she’d do all the rest. When I got married and we came to Santa Fe and we’ve been there most of our lives, and so I never learned how to do pottery. I try to, when they have classes here, I try to take a class to learn, but I never keep up with it on my own. I always go back to my sewing, because I do a lot of the ribbon shirts, and like I said the Tewa dresses and different things, and that keeps me very busy. For fiestas, people come by to see if I have kilts or if I hafe a ribbon shirt, and most of the time I don’t. Mostly I do orders.
How do you, when you’re watching the dancers and seeing your pieces go by, it must really make you feel good. And when you see other people’s work, how do you judge your work compared to other people’s work?
I don’t. I can tell my work because I have, how many grandsons do I have? so I try to do kilts for all of them so they’ll have osme of my work. I did, last year, I did four kilts, becaues they were all taking part in the Turtle dance, so I wanted to make sure they all have kilts, or the Deer dance, so we’re not borrowing.
When you look at a piece of embroidery, what makes a piece good, or exceptional? What things do you look at when you look at a piece to know that this person who does this embroidery is really good?
I usually don’t judge. Indiviudals have their own style, and I have mine.
And your designs. Do you have designs and patterns that are just yours?
Well you know I usually graph my designs on graph paper. And when I‘m doing kilts or mantas, I have a lot of designs that I’ve graphed throughot the years so I have them all together. So I might change the diamonds for the mantas, the clouds or the kachina or whatever I’m doing or the thunderbird, or whatever I have, or the butterfly. Sometimes I change things here or there, the same way with the kilts, I have my own designs so I pick from one here and do this or the other. And come up with my own patterns.
And do you work mostly with traditional designs, or do you do contemporary?
I do contemporary. But I try to for the traditional wear, I try to keep up with the traditional designs, and keep up with the traditional yarns you know the red, black, and green, I try not to change that when I’m doing kilts and mantas. With the black, I just use the green and red. But the last black manta I did was the hardest I ever did because they wanted the indigo blue, the old kind, so that’s the last black manta I did. It came out beautiful.
Do you have pictures?
Yes, I have picture.
Can we see them sometime?
Sure, I havea lot of my things at home. If I had known I would have brought them.
I should have told you. But you’re in Santa Fe now so sometimes, we can come by.
Just give me a call.
In the vault, there is a traditional shirt that was embroidered during that convocation. Is that yours?
Yes that’s mine.
That’s beautiful. Really really beautiful.
I always show it to people when they come in.
Yes that’s what I donated for the convocation.
Very beautiful. Is there anything you want to tell us about your work, or anything?
I can’t think of anything right now.
Can we take a picture of you with what you are working on now?
Sure. Okay. I’m working on a white manta now, and I’m using..um, I finished one diamond, and I started on the second one, and I usually have five for a manta. I don’t like to carry that around, because it’s white and I like to work on that at home. You didn’t have to bring the pillowcase! It’s too bad I don’t have more black...
I know it! I’m making a manta...and I have the traditional colors. And I was thinking I wish I had some black yarn that she could just sew with a little bit.
That’s what I was telling her, I wish I had brought the manta I’m working on ‘cuz I’m working on the diamonds now, I’ve finished the top and the bottom. And I have a manta I made a while back, and they thought it was a dragonfly, and that’s what they want , he said, I want those three diamonds and a dragonfly, so I’ve been trying to get that done so I can start soemthing else. But it takes so much time, you knwo.
And if I make a mistake, I have to rip it. I always think, oh they’re not going to know, but then I don’t feel right myself, so there I go, rip it. I knwo, one time I was embroidering here with one of the ladies, she’s long gone. And she said, do you rip too? And I said, I’m only human! I said, I make mistakes. She made me laugh.
She must have thought you were somebody who never made a mistake....
I know but she saw me sitting there ripping, and she said do you rip too? And I said of course, when I make a mistake, I have to rip. I always think to myself, they’re not going to know, but I know it’s a mistake so I have to rip it out and make it right.
Besides the embroidery and you mention the ribbon shirts and the Tewa dresses with the tucks and the pleats, what else?
I do contemporary clothing, so a lot of people order contemporary clothing from me, like embroidered shirts I do that.
Do you weave, as well, the traditional belts?
No. I used to, but I don’t have time for it. I usually just keep up with my embroidery. But around feast days people say can you make a ribbon shirt today, in fact I just had a black ribbon shirt ordered today. But I siad well, when I finish this manta, then I’ll do that. But right now, I’m finishing that first before I take any more orders. That’s my big project that I’ve been working on since I finsihed that black manta and delivered it. Albridge, Dr. Martha and Don Albridge, they’re the ones who collect. They have a lot of my things.They’re from Phoenix. They invited me to their house when I delivered the black manta, and they were so pleased with it. And they wanted to show me their collection, cuz they have a collection of Laurencita and Evelyn Bird and Isabel. They are big collectors of embroidery.
So that must be his real interest.
They’ve bought from me since way way back because they showed me things I forgot I did until they showed me.
This is beautiful.
Thank you. I usually keep up with the you know the rain, the cloud, the mountain, the cliffs, and then the lightening, how it goes around. So those are the traditional colors. So I keep up with it.
Well thank you very much.
Give me a call. I’m usually home except on Wednesdays or when I pick up my grandson at school. Since I lost my husband, one of my grandsons stays with me so I won’t be alone, so he goes to the SF Indian school so I take him in the mornings and pick him up in the afternoons.
Do you ever think about moving home?
Well, it’s kinda hard to come back home since we’ve lived in that same house for 47 years, I know my neighbors, we’ve moved in that same neighborhood altogether. We saw all our kids grow up and get married, and be grandparents, and it’s kinda hard to move back. But we’re up here every Wednesday and every feast, and Christmas and every dance.
Where is your husband from?
He’s Navajo, from ontorio.
You don’t have to do this, I’m just being a curious cat. Where did you meet him, at the Indian school? And you just started working there?
Yeah. Started working there and he was working there. And so we’ve been in Santa Fe, we would have been married 61 years, last December. So we were together for a long time.
And then how many kids did you have?
Two, two boys, and they’re both gone. One was killed in a car accident, and that’s my grand daughter’s dad, so I practically raised her. And...she used to model for me when I...we used to do the Santa Fe and the Fiesta fashion show, and I showed a lot of my clothing, my contemporary clothing. I did coats and pant suits, and all that, but right now I’m stuck with doing kilts and mantas.
Well you probably have enough orders to keep you busy forever.
Keeps me busy and out of mischief. That’s what Ido.
Did you ever get into much mischief?
No. I got married real young so (laugh) so I couldn’t get into mischief at all.
Do you have a house here?
My husband and I built a home next to my parents house, and my other granddaughter and her husband and kids are living there. And then I got a HUD house and that’s where Carol and her husband are living so, I’m still in Santa Fe. I’m stuck there I guess. Everybody asks, when are you moving back? Well, I say I hate to sell my house and I hate to rent either, buecause they don’t take care of your house. And I have good neighbors and we’ve been there for so long that we know each others kids and grandkids, and all, so it’s hard to get a way when you’re good neighbors.
Well if you’re happy there.
I do the same thing but I have my HUD house in Santa Clara. But I live in Santa Fe. and I work at the School, at SAR, and every week, I come home on Wednesdays, Wednesdays are my night at home. But on Thursdays sometimes I stay, and then but Friday we spend in Santa Fe, and then Saturday and Sunday we spend at Santa Clara, and Monday’s we’re back in Santa Fe.
Well that’s just like us. There’s days we’re here everyday, it depends on what’s going on, weddings or deaths or whatever and then we’re up here. So we stay at our folks’ home, there’s an old home we keep up on the pueblo and that’s where we feast too. And that’s where we come and stay.
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