A. Sandoval II is a reference librarian and subject specialist at the
UTEP library, but his main love has always been collecting art, books
and textiles. Over a 30-year period, he has amassed almost 1,000
pieces of art and 7,000 books, all stowed away in his home in Sunset
Expansive Regard: Selected Works from the Collection of Juan
Sandoval” is an exhibition, currently showing at the El Paso Museum
of Art, of select pieces from his collection. The exhibition will
continue in the Gateway Gallery through February 16, 2014.
some of the many historic and contemporary area artists represented in
Juan’s collection are Manuel Acosta, Marta Arat, Francisco Delgado,
Luis Jiménez, and Mauricio Olague.
Curator Christian Gerstheimer said, “This exhibition is just the tip
of the iceberg. I’ve known Juan for years, but this is the first
exhibition we’ve held to really show what his collection includes.
We wanted to show the diversity of Juan’s collection and the focus
on Mexican art from the El Paso region. It’s wonderful that we have
all this just in our backyard.”
sat down with Juan Sandoval to get a glimpse of the man behind the
collection. He talked about his love of the Mexican Culture, living a
life of simplicity, and his hate of uniforms. He even showed me an
invitation from the Smithsonian Museum to attend a private dinner with
other esteemed collectors from the country. He laughed at the part
that said “Formal Attire.” Juan does not own a suit. He believes
that all you need are a good a pair of black Levi jeans and a sturdy
pair of shoes.
are some of the highlights from the conversation.
Where did you grow up?
grew up in Southern Colorado in the largest intermountain valley in
the world, down in the San Luis Valley. It consisted of Apache people,
and then we were invaded by the Spaniards for 125 years, then by the
Mexicans for 25 years. We’re a mixture of so many different
cultures. As Carlos Fuentes once said to me in a private dinner,
“You have to embrace your genetic composition. You are what you
grew up speaking Spanish of the 16th century. In the first grade we
were beat and our mouths were taped shut because we only spoke
Spanish, so I was traumatized. But I was very fortunate because I
learned to speak Spanish perfectly after that. I went to Bucaramanga,
Columbia and studied Spanish there for a year.
When were you exposed to art?
father, who only had a 4th grade education, because his school burned
down, was actually an artist. He always drew; he would make all kinds
of things—sculptures and paintings. I didn’t have access to
museums. In the 8th grade, we had a nun, she would hold this art
session every other Friday. She would bring these reproductions of
great paintings and hang them on the blackboard. So, that is where I
got my art education and an appreciation for it.
What bought you to El Paso?
first job was in Southern Colorado as a social worker for four and
half years. Then I went to graduate school at Denver University. Then
I was offered three jobs: one in Washington, one in Oregon, and one in
Chicago. Since I don’t drive, I took the lowest paying job in
Eugene, Oregon, a city that supported a bicycle culture.
that, I saw an ad for the job here in El Paso, at the UTEP
Library, and that was in 1980-something. But never in my life did I
think I would actually stay here. I didn’t know anything about
But this job gave me access to the Mexican culture, an entry way into
Mexico. Every summer I go to Oaxaca, and I spend six weeks there. The
border has very little to do with Mexico, culturally and
I was in college, I bought a bunch of records by Mexican singers.
There was a song called “La Llorona”, and I didn’t realize it
was Zapotec. Listening to those songs invoked within me a love for
Mexican folk songs. Then in college, I realized I could sing. People
would say, “Juan, you have a God given gift.” The teachers made me
study Opera. I still sing once in awhile. I sang at the Cathedral in
Juarez for Easter. I sang “Ave Maria."
What led to collecting art?
always had creative friends, artists, musicians, actors. A lot of my
friends were always poor. I was the only one that ever had a job. I
remember my first piece. It was from my friend, Leona Wellington. My
first piece was from her. I bought it for, I think, $25. I discovered
that you could buy art very inexpensively. Most people are obsessed
with buying “sofa art”. Will it look good in my living room? Will
it match the colors of my drapes? That’s ridiculous. They could help
a lot of poor artists if they would just look to art shows, galleries,
or get to know the creative students at the schools.
say I have a good eye. And I’ve been very fortunate. But the only
reason I buy art is because I was really helping people survive.
People know that I collect art, and a lot of art tends to fall into my
knew this one artist from Chicago, and he would come into town. I
would get a call at three in the morning, “Juan, I need money for
gas” and he would sell me this artwork very inexpensively. The
director of the museum of art in Juarez would call also, “Juanito, I
have this artist who needs to get back to Mexico City. Can you come
help him?” And there I am, at 3 a.m., peddling my bike to Juarez,
buying art very cheap to help a person get bus fare. In Oaxaca, there
was some art work I really, really did not want. But the guy said,
“I really have to buy shoes for my son,” so I bought the painting.
Three days later I saw him at the plaza, and he told me “You don’t
know how much you have helped me.”
never earned that much money, but when you have a little bit of
discretionary income, it never hurts to help others. What does
embarrass me is that a lot of people give me their artwork because
they want to be in my collection.
have over 1,000 pieces. I could be exaggerating, but I don’t think
Where do you keep it all?
heard of Mr. and Mrs. Vogel? She was a librarian and he was a postal
worker. They didn’t have much money, but they bought art. They now
own one of the most important contemporary art collections. They tried
to take the art out of their apartment with one truck. I think it took
five or six trucks. And they’re still buying art. Anyway, they tell
me that’s what I’m like.
have art work from the floor to the ceiling. If I knew how, I would
attach the works to the ceilings. Once I find a place for something,
there it stays. Can you imagine having 800 pieces on the walls or
having to move all that? Anyway, it makes for a very interesting
Are you still collecting?
when I go to Oaxaca. I take my textile collection to decorate my
apartment. I also take my folding bicycle. Would you believe I go by
bus? I have so much luggage.
shows me a photo of his luggage at a bus stop in Mexico City. There
are at least eight luggage pieces stacked one on top of another.)
Have you ever owned a car?
when I was a social worker; for four and half years I owned a car. But
I’ve always been on bicycles.
When I go to Oaxaca, people know me. “Ay,
llego el coleccionista!”
very interesting. When you’re old, chaparro,
they don’t pay much attention. They don’t notice me when I go into
the galleries. So, I carry articles that have appeared about me in the
past. So, I show the gallery owner the articles, and then they’re
like , “Oh, can I give you a glass of wine?”
it’s not a good idea to be known by the galleristas. It’s very
funny. Once they knew me as the “coleccionista," the prices
started going higher and higher and higher.
Dominguez Espinal, he’s a print maker. Before he goes to the
galleries, he gives me some prints. He was able to get a scholarship
to study in Albuquerque. I made payments to him every month in $200
(increments). I spent $4,000 on his prints, but now its worth like
like Luis Jimenez. He always gave me good prices, but after he died,
the prices went up. He was very nice and very creative. In my opinion,
he is the most important artist to come out of El Paso.
Delgado is an artist who, in my opinion, has ascended the position
that Luis Jimenez had. I was able to buy his work when he was starting
out, and it’s paid off. People say I have expensive taste. But
I’ve just been lucky.
Do you focus on certain themes for the art you collect?
idea of pigeonholing an artist is bad, like “Chicano.” I hate all
these labels. An artist is an artist. My collection is very eclectic.
I don’t focus on labels. I just buy what’s around me. If I lived
somewhere else, I would focus on art from that area.
How do you find these artists?
liberal art school students, art shows, and people always seek me out.
Since I don’t have much money, I make arrangements to make payments.
What draws you to buying a piece of art?
of the time, I was just helping friends out, since I was always a
little more fortunate with money. But now, I’m trying to build a
collection that can be left to some organization, if I ever find one
that worthy. I decided that I would build a collection that would be
appropriate for young people. Because where I came from, we had
bought these three paintings of a woman in Chihuahua once. As I got in
the car, the taxi driver said, “What ugly paintings! I have better
ones.” So he ran home and came back with his paintings, and they
were very well done, very well executed, but they looked like they had
come out of Playboy. I liked the ones I had better. They’re more
I first bought my first Luis Jimenez, and people would say, “Ewe.
Why do you buy that ugly stuff? It shows the worst aspect of women?”
But Luis Jimenez dealt with the real McCoy. His figures are full
figured men and women. They’re not beautiful, but they’re very
actually quite wealthy, in terms of culture. But all I own is paper
which has appreciated.
Have you thought about what you’re going to do with your collection
in the future?
a saying: “You spend half of your life collecting things, and then
you spend the other half getting rid of it.”
year, city hall reps Ortega and Susie Byrd came to my apartment. They
were impressed. Then they sent some Hispanic millionaires, and a lot
of them are in the 70’s. They were impressed. They talked about El
Paso building a museum, or acquiring a building downtown to house the
Campbell, a professor of Anthropology at UTEP,
once said in an interview, “I do think though that if people put
their minds to it, philanthropists, businesses, banks, UTEP,
there would be a way to establish a Juan Sandoval Museum for his
years ago, this one woman visited my apartment, and said that she was
almost in tears from all the art. It had that much of an impact on
What keeps you in El Paso?
I tell people jokingly that we have too many Mexicans here. I like
diversity, like New York or San Francisco. Here in El Paso, give me a
break: Chico’s Tacos? Don’t people have any taste here? Are they
really the best tacos all over?
What do you think about your collection showing at the El Paso Museum
didn’t even know I had some of those pieces. I didn’t pick them.
The curator, Patrick, did a few visits, picking one each time he came.
It’s amazing, because you get older, and you forget what you have.
There should be a law in art where the artists sign their name
legibly. Because many things I have, I can’t decipher whose works
lot of artists give me their works because they want to be in my
collection. I get calls from people. Like I got one from Adair Margo
that some people were interested in my Marta Arat (pieces), but I
couldn’t sell them. I feel like I would be betraying her, because
she gave those to me to be in my collection.
could make a lot of money from selling. But I live on my humble UTEP
salary. I don’t have a car. I don’t live in the best place. No
year I was born, the temperature dropped to 56 below zero. I don’t
feel the cold. I’m never cold. So, I don’t use heat. And that
helps with the savings. In the winter, I just put on my t-shirt and
I’m comfortable. Without those costs, and without a car, that’s
how I’m able to afford to buy art work.
Anything you would like to see in El Paso in the future?
would like it if the city became more bike-friendly. We’re going to
be seeing more and more bikes here. We have a bunch of bicyclists
here. I’m always the oldest one. Aquí
in El Paso, if you’re old and grey haired, they just feel sorry for
thing I’m upset about is the Luis Jimenez sculpture of “Los
Lagartos.” That sculpture should be inside, in a museum. It’s part
of the patrimony of El Paso. It should be protected more. A lot of
people here in El Paso just don’t understand what they have.
hope El Paso learns how to grow. We have to start stressing literacy
in the elementary and the high schools.
very well armed with language, and people try to shut me up. Don’t
worry. When I get older, when I retire, I’ll speak my truths.
You should definitely write a memoir.
Natalicio said I should also. I have so many interesting stories.
There’s the one where two students of mine showed up to my door with
two little goat heads, asking me to freeze them, so I could cook them
later. Anyway, I told Natalicio about the story. She said I need to
write them all down.
Any last words before we go?
art, why live? People don’t realize that artists are people that
have the most important influence in our lives. Look at the clothes
you’re wearing. Some textile designer designed that. Do you realize
that every little fiber on your pants, in the fabric, was designed by
someone? Everything is art.
interview was condensed and edited from a conversation on October 7 at
the University of Texas at El Paso and written comments received from
on October 10, 2013 at 4:40 p.m.
you enjoyed this story and would like to read more stories like this, please
make a tax-deductible donation
to Newspaper Tree today.
Tree members or sponsors may be quoted or mentioned in our reporting. View
a complete list of financial supporters.
© 2013 - Newspaper Tree