Monica Sosaya Halford
Santa Fe, NM
Monica Sosaya Halford. Hope Chest, 2012. wood, gesso, watercolor. entire piece: 14 × 30 × 17 in. (35.6 × 76.2 × 43.2 cm). Coutesy of Maria Goler Baca
She is the Master of Tradition and the “Grand Dame” of Santa Fe New Mexico’s Traditional Spanish Market. At 86 Monica Sosaya Halford is the oldest working artist to participate in Spanish Market. A multiple award winner, she is dedicated to sharing and preserving the rich, artistic culture of her proud heritage.
Monica comes from a long established New Mexico family; some of her ancestors arrived with Don Juan de Onate in 1598. Monica grew up in a home on Sosaya street that her father built. Her art education included lessons from Jozef Barkos, one of Santa Fe’s noted Los Cinco Pintores, and studies in interior design at California College of Arts and Crafts in Berkley. After high school graduation, during the Korean War, Monica joined the Navy WAVES. She was a flight attendant on military planes and was a cartoonist for the local Navy Squadron newspaper. She helped redesign the community facility at the Alameda Naval Base.
Monica is the acknowledged master of the traditional colonial Spanish embroidery called “Colcha.” That art form flourishes today because of her dedication in keeping the tradition alive. She paints retablos, and is recognized as an innovator painting on doors, can tops and ceiling tin tiles. She uses glass and animal hides as her canvas. Monica’s subjects span from serious, devotional art to playful, contemporary works; she says, “every year I try to create new techniques and mediums while still honoring the traditional modes.” She paints the traditional Matachines which have been a source of fascination since first seeing them at Los Golondrinas. Monica has been the poster artist for Spanish Market, and her artwork has been featured on items used for fundraising. Every year she donates a portion of her market sales to charity.
The Museum of International Folk Art, the Museum of Spanish Colonial Arts, and National Hispanic Cultural Center have Monica’s work. Private collectors from all over the country attend Spanish Market to purchase her creations. She says, “I hope the piece people buy brings them happiness.”
Monica has been honored the Mayor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts, the Governor’s Award in the Arts, and the Spanish Life Time Achievement Award. A born teacher, Monica has taught at the Folk Art Museum, the Community College, and the Hispanic Cultural Center. She has mentored young people whose art has become popular and sought after at Spanish Market. Years ago Monica helped inspire and create with the children of Acequia Madre School beautiful screens and trunks, items which are cherished and used today. It is through her mentoring Monica has conveyed and instilled a sense of worth and history in these children.
It has been said that her friends and family are the oxygen that sustains her. Monica’s granddaughter exemplifies the deep and broad reaching influence she has on her, as well as the other children’s lives she has touched. Her granddaughter writes,” being with her we learned responsibilities that set us up for future successes… we learned how to be self sufficient, clean, honest, hard-working human beings because these values were instilled in us through Grandma. I love my grandma. She makes me laugh, brings me pride, and shows us love. Her profound passion for her Spanish roots is deeply instilled in me…I see a role model when I think of her; someone to admire, love and follow.”
Selfless when it comes to the needs of others, Monica has helped the Garcia Street Club, the Diabetes Association, and St.John’s college. As a board member of the Villa Theresa Clinic, a clinic that provides medical care for Santa Fe youth who are unable to afford it, Monica was a major fundraiser. She worked on the “Pack to School” project which provided backpacks filled with school supplies for children. She shopped for the supplies, hosted volunteers to pack the bags, and then personally distributed them.
A gregarious spirit, likes to be around people and eat tasty treats, she dances, laughs and loves and enjoys life, a happy spirit, sparkling eyes and ambiance, authentic, wise, kind, …these are just some of the words friends used to describe Monica. Monica supports fellow and budding artists; she invites them to show and sell their crafts at her annual Amigos Party given in her home. One friend claims, “To share any event with Monica, you can be sure you will share pure joy and love.”
Monica’s accomplishments and generosity are legendary. She has given so much of herself and asks nothing in return. Her caring and giving nature shine through her work. She has preserved and shared her culture and faith. We are truly grateful for all she has given to our community.
Story by Nancy Dahl