Isabro Ventura “Charro” Ortega passes away
The man who hand-carved and painted La Casa de Las Nubes or The House of the Clouds passed away August 14 of an apparent heart attack at age 66.
Born and raised in the tiny mountain town of Trucas on the High Road to Taos in New Mexico, Isabro “Charro” Ventura Ortega left his hometown only to work and go to school. He was more intersted in staying at home, carving and painting the interior of his house - a two-story building perched on a rim road in Truchas, 8,000 feet above sea level that he named La Casa de Las Nubes.
Though Ortega began building his house in 1984, his masterpiece was still a work in progress when he died. The exterior, covered in the gray scratch-coat that comes before stucco, doesn't reveal the artistry it holds within. His first carving of a small santo led to more, as well as to small frames, noise-makers, and arrows. But he also returned to the Casa de las Nubes, innovatively carving window frames, niches, doors, ceiling, and even some floor treatments, each different, and each stunningly distinct. With some he added rusted cans, picked up on the road in front of his house, the cans that his own parents had used and tossed out; with others he added small twigs of willow, branches of mesquite cactus, or rounds of copper. He was able to make a living fabricating frames, small pieces of furniture, and doors for clients; he also taught carving classes in the summer for local children. Between commissions and teaching, he returned to work on his Casa. He was influenced by Spanish Colonial art and the iconography of the Catholic Church. Native American imagery shows up in the form of Kokopelli and kachina figures carved in doors or framing the mirror in his master bathroom.
Ortega, never married or had children. He left La Casa de las Nubes to his niece, Laurie Leyba Martinez. “I plan to keep it and honor his legacy,” she said. “Maybe turn it into a gallery so everyone can remember him. I plan to bury his ashes at his home so he’ll never have to leave his home, and make a shrine of him and his art. I don’t ever plan to sell it. It’s the last part of him that I have.”