100 Colorado Creatives 4.0: Sylvia Montero

Sylvia Montero, “They Came on Ships.”EXPAND
Sylvia Montero, “They Came on Ships.”
Courtesy of Sylvia Montero
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#65: Sylvia Montero

For decades, Sylvia Montero has told the stories of her Colorado Chicano culture from an urban woman’s perspective, picking up a Rocky Mountain Women's Institute grant and national recognition along the way. She’s done this quietly, all the while serving her community as a teacher and visiting artist, and growing as an artist by mixing media and developing new techniques. Meet Sylvia Montero as she answers the 100CC questionnaire.

Sylvia Montero behind the camera in Cuba.EXPAND
Sylvia Montero behind the camera in Cuba.
Courtesy of Sylvia Montero

Westword: Which three people, dead or alive, would you like to invite to your next party, and why? 

Sylvia Montero: That is so hard for me to answer. I literally ask myself that very same question at least weekly. I kid you not. I have determined it depends on the day, so here goes: Tina Modotti — she really touched my life when I discovered her life story. When I saw her work, I knew I was on the right path. Frida Kahlo, and not because she is so popular. I would just like to talk politics with her and to tell her how we, as Latinos, still struggle in society. William Shakespeare – to me, the best psychologist there is. I discovered Shakespeare in seventh grade at what is now Skinner Middle School. I had a Jewish-American English teacher named Mrs. Levin. The very first day of class, she walked into a class of mostly Chicano students, and she just put us all in a trance as she read to us. She truly taught us how to understand his works. To this day, I think of her and how teachers truly make a difference in kids' lives. I love her for that.

What’s the best thing about the local creative community in your field — and the worst?

The best thing is that there are so many options for artists to obtain to enhance their careers. We have new and different locations and workspaces offered to us. I hope they stay affordable. The worst, I cannot say. I feel pretty blessed to be a professional artist.

Sylvia Montero, “Botanica Blues II.”EXPAND
Sylvia Montero, “Botanica Blues II.”
Courtesy of Sylvia Montero

What made you pick up a paintbrush in the first place? 

I cannot remember when I was not doing some type of art form. I truly believe art found me, that I did not find art. But that’s another story. I became a full-time artist in 1992. Prior to this time, I worked in the Denver community for several nonprofits. My son was born in 1990, and I went back to work on a part-time basis. Then a new director was hired, and she told me I either had to come back full-time or leave. I chose to leave. My husband said to me, “It's time for you to make your art for a living.” I have not looked back since.

What’s your best or favorite accomplishment as an artist?

I guess I would have to say one accomplishment in my artistic career has been meeting First Lady Hillary Clinton and giving her an image of my work. Exhibiting in Dr. George Rivera's international exhibitions is another one. But actually, when I am in a show with other Denver artists in the community, I feel so proud to be part of that. Exhibiting with my husband, Tony Ortega, and my son, Cipriano Ortega, is really wonderful, as well!

You’ve come this far in life. What’s still on your bucket list?

To surround myself with kind human beings!
To educate people through my art work about global warming, planet earth and the end of war.
To continue educating children on how important art is in our lives, and that every art museum is for them to enjoy.
To have a one-woman show that travels the country.
To take my husband on a honeymoon to Greece.
To create artwork with family.
To continue traveling.

Sylvia Montero, “Day of the Dead.”EXPAND
Sylvia Montero, “Day of the Dead.”
Courtesy of Sylvia Montero

Denver, love it or leave it? What keeps you here — or makes you want to leave? 

My father was born in Denver, and I am also a Denver native.  We have a great home here. I have lived in northwest Denver all my life. If I had to leave Denver, it would be because of environmental reasons. It seems we are already heading down that road.  

Who is your favorite Colorado Creative?

Well, I know I will sound biased, but that would be my husband, Tony Ortega. He is constantly creating!

Sylvia Montero, “Zapata y Villa.”EXPAND
Sylvia Montero, “Zapata y Villa.”
Courtesy of Sylvia Montero

What's on your agenda in the coming year?

I am going to keep on creating artwork and exhibiting my work, as usual.

Who do you think will get noticed in the local arts community in the coming year?

Time will tell. Whoever it is, I hope they are original!

See work by Sylvia Montero, alongside that of her husband, Tony Ortega, and son, Cipriano Ortega, as well as fellow artists Hunter Lawrence, Maria Lopez and Eugene Stewart-Huidobro, in COLLECTIVE, currently on view through November 18 at the Chicano Arts and Humanities Council, 772 Santa Fe Drive. Learn more online.

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