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Carving is something that came naturally to Joseph Ortega and his family. As the youngest child of Ben and Isabel Ortega, he spent most of his formative years around many woodcarvers.
Ben Ortega Sr., his father, was a world renowned master woodcarver and Santero. Santeros are artists who make Santos—images of saints, and are one of the oldest living traditions of religious devotion practiced by people in the Southwest. Ben Ortega Sr. began his career in 1961 when a figure of St. Fransis de Assisi, that he had made for fun, became a collected item by dealers all around the world. His brothers are well know carvers of Santos. At the age of twenty, Joseph had began to carve his own wooden figures. Joseph has produced carvings of small coyotes, rabbits, roosters, chickens, and obviously Santos of St. Francis and San Pasqual. Joe deftly carves religious and animal based subject matter. This clear continuity is the hallmark of past and future woodcarvers of New Mexico.