2018 New Mexico Women to Watch Nominee

Cleo Romero

When Cleo Romero was a young girl, her father, Arturo Romero, whose family first settled in Pojoaque Valley in 1717, taught her carpenter skills. She thought about doing woodwork, but her real passion was tin work. Romero said she started working with tin in 2000 after taking a class at Northern New Mexico Community College. She had she worked 30 years in the banking business, rising from teller with First National Bank of Santa Fe to but her bank job didn’t give her much time to devote to her craft.

In the summer of 2004 and she was blessed with the opportunity to spend time with her father. “I started doing more and more tin work, but I didn’t think of myself as an artist,” she said. “My family kept encouraging me to apply for the Spanish Market. But I didn’t think I was good enough.” Her family kept telling her she was good enough to be in Spanish Market. Finally, they convinced her and in 2005 she applied for market, but was rejected. “The rejection posed a challenge,” she said. “I love challenges. I told myself I would continue my tin work and apply for Spanish Market again in 2006.” Her persistence paid off. Not only was she accepted in 2006, she won a first-place ribbon in tin works for her delicately crafted one-inch sconce.

Every year since then she has been awarded for her expertise. In 2007, she won an honorable mention for an octagon mirror. In the 2008 market, she won first place for a tin box that when opened had a rose inside. “I like to surprise people when they open my boxes,” she said. The Museum of Spanish Colonial Art purchased her rose box. She also won a second place award for a coffee table embellished with her tin work. This same piece placed third at the New Mexico State Fair. In the 2009 Spanish Market, she won another first place for a document box. Her honors have piled up, she also won first place at the New Mexico State Fair for a Mora octagon mirror, embellished with hand flowers, painted in oil, using a reverse painting technique. One of the few New Mexico artists using the reverse painting technique, which involves painting everything backwards on the back of a clear glass pane, Romero has now evolved to the point where she is teaching her craft. “I just taught a tinwork workshop at the Natural History Museum to teachers from all over the United States.”

Using a limited number of tools, including tin snips, hammer, nails and a screwdriver, her repertoire of tin works continues to expand.

“I get ideas from my dreams,” she said. “Most of my pieces I see in my mind before I create them.” Despite her awards and an ability to craft a variety of intricate works that includes: crucifixes, mirrors, chandeliers, tables, sconces, picture frames, baskets and flowers, she said she still has a difficult time believing her good fortune. “I still don’t believe it,” she said. “People call me an artist, but I don’t feel like they’re talking about me." Impassioned about her art, she said she often works late into the night; always with a sense of wonder. “My art allows me to feel a connection with my heart,” she said. “I’ve always had faith, but somehow my spirituality never touched my heart until I started working as an artist.”

To learn more about Cleo, visit her website.