Isabro Ventura “Charro” Ortega, at Home in the Clouds

Written on 08/21/2018
Jeane George Weigel

Photo: New York Times

We here in Truchas have suffered a terrible loss. Isabro Ventura “Charro” Ortega, a gifted woodcarver and our dear friend, passed away suddenly last Tuesday. Some who have been reading the blog since its beginning may recall him from a previous post written in 2011,

Photo: New Mexico Tourism

His leaving has cracked open a huge hole in our little village and our hearts along with it. And yet he’s left so much of himself behind that it’s almost as though he’s still with us and, of course, he is.

Photo: Santa Fe Reporter

In fact, he is everywhere. We just have to look: Down that road over there is an aged window frame notched in his familiar “Truchas style” as he called it.

Photo: Santa Fe Reporter

Across the field stands a doorway that has the mark of his hand, the new Truchas Mercantile is graced with several of his doors.

(c) Jo Farb Hernandez

All the local cemeteries, Truchas, Cordova, Chimayo, have countless crosses that he carved for free.

… the picture frames he delivered to me a few months ago…

… the window coverings he made that bedecked one of my old galleries…

… and are now beautifying my tool shed…

Lorey’s cabinets, Judith’s bench on her front porch, the chest he built to cover one artist’s electric box, similar to the one he was designing in his head for me as well, which he would get to after the Art Tour.

He was very busy making things to sell for that.

Photo: Michael Zanussi

Reminders made by Isabro decorate this village entire and many of its homes. Records of him are endless.

Photo: (c) Jo Farb Hernandez

But more than anything, he leaves us his biggest work in progress, his home. He told me recently that he was getting ready to plaster this, his living room…

Photo: New York Times

He’s been building it for 30 plus years, from the ground up, including making each and every adobe brick himself.

The Santa Fe New Mexican referred to it as “… his masterpiece” and I’m inclined to agree, though he hadn’t gotten to the finish coat on the exterior.

Photo: (c) Jo Farb Hernandez

I’m thinking that particular project wouldn’t have been as much fun as carving. So he carved.

Photo: Stephen Chambers Architect

A New York Times article titled, “A Castle Whittled by Hand,” stated that his was “… a home made with love and a small utility knife…” and that’s actually true.

Just about every piece of wood in the place has been chip carved in the traditional way with that utility knife, even the floors…

Photo: New York Times

The ceilings…

Photo: Stephen Chambers Architect

The walls…

Photo: New York Times

The railings…

The doors…

Photo: Stephen Chambers Architect

Well, you get the idea.

And the New York Times reporter was right about the love too. Isabro’s home is simply bursting with it…

This is his pantry!

Photo: (c) Jo Farb Hernandez

Isabro called it Casa de las Nubes, or House of the Clouds; what a Santa Fe Reporter writer referred to as, “…the mansion which hangs over the valley.”

Photo: New York Times

All very apt. For there it sits up high on the edge of the ridge that is Truchas, up here some 8000 feet above sea level on a shoulder of the Sangre de Christo mountains.

The second youngest of nine brothers and sisters, Isabro was born and raised here in Truchas.


One of the last times he came to my house, he was greeted by a band of wild turkeys and a flight of doves. His face lit with glee, a scrim of reverie suddenly diffusing his eyes.

He used to play out on the land my home sits on today you see. And he said he hadn’t seen the wild ones “downtown” (what passes for a downtown in Truchas anyway) for ages.

“It’s nice there’s still room for the untamed things to remain that way,” he added and sighed, recalling his own rowdy days as a kid playing on this very land with Rudy Rael and Jerry Fuentes.

And perhaps it’s a bit of a metaphor for how Isabro chose to live his own life. Untamed, different.


(c) Jo Farb Hernandez

Isabro remembered what Truchas used to be before the High Road was paved in the 1970s, before outsiders came in and started making changes. He granted there is both good and bad in the old ways and that some modifications had been necessary.

(c) Jo Farb Hernandez

He was raised in a house with no electricity and no plumbing. The children would go to the acequia each morning to dip water into buckets for the day’s uses. Imagine nine children in that small and simple home. I can’t even conceive of washing all those diapers!

Photo: Stephen Chambers Architect

“We were very poor,” he said, “but we were millionaires with love.”

Photo: Stephen Chambers Architect

Isabro seemed to embody the spirit of what used to be, bearing history and the generations, in his bones. He was of this place. He was ancient and he was a child. A force of nature.

In a way, he was almost holy.

Photo: Stephen Chambers Architect

I don’t know what belief system I trust anymore. There is so much suffering in this world that doesn’t square with a “loving God.” But Isabro had faith! He was fervently religious, a devout Penitente.

Photo: Stephen Chambers Architect

And I believe, as surely as I’m sitting here at my desk, that our friend and fellow artist, Isabro Ventura “Charro” Ortega, was lifted by the angels and resides now in the arms of his loving mother.

Photo: High Road Artisans Art Tour

“I don’t know,” Mr. Ortega says. “Whenever it’s done, it’s done. And if it’s not done, it’s not done. I’m working on it till death do me part.” New York Times

Love to you all,