Santa Fe New Mexican


Often working late into the night to complete a design, Cleo Romero has loved creating with tin since she learned about the tools and skills from her father. In earlier eras, when materials were scarce, artists repurposed tin food and oil cans into household decorations like punched tin frames, nichos to hold carved saints, candleholders, and crosses. These days, punched tin artists rely on sheet metal and soldered joinery. “I’m passionate about my art and always have a sense of wonder when I’m finished. My art allows me to connect with my heart. I always had faith, but somehow spirituality never really touched my heart until I started working as an artist,” she says. That discovery process began when she took a Northern New Mexico Community College class in 2000. “I started on a dare, because I never considered myself to be an artist. I was a banker for 30 years!” Since her first class, she’s won multiple awards, including a first place in tinwork in 2006, the first Traditional Spanish Market in which she participated. Although her goal is producing works faithful to the traditions of her Spanish ancestors, Romero nonetheless injects her own creativity into inventive, unique designs that become heirlooms. Her punch-decorated mirrors, sconces, and boxes often include reverse paintings on glass or small reflective accents. Adding either embellishment enters her works into the innovations category. “Mirrors are kind of dull by themselves. But when you add something on a mirror, it becomes more a piece of art than just a mirror to me,” Romero says. “Reverse painting is difficult but is, in fact, traditional and goes back to the Rio Arriba Tin Workshop and Isleta Tin Workshop in the late 1800s. I’m always looking for new tools and trying new things,” she says. Romero’s ancestors settled in the Nambe area in the late 1500s, and she occasionally teaches tinwork in area schools and through the Los Maestros del Norte program. This nonprofit introduces Northern New Mexico youth to traditional Spanish colonial arts with classes and workshops often held at the Chimayó Museum. “It gives me extreme pride to be able to go into schools and teach kids and give them the history of how this tradition came to be. I also tell them how tinwork and these traditional arts were revived during the Great Depression,” she says.