Latin art collector from El Paso, UTEP librarian cried
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Juan Antonio Sandoval Jr., a retired UTEP librarian who over decades has acquired a personal treasure of more than 1,000 Mexican and Chicano works of art, passed away this week. He was 74 years old.
Sandoval was known as a major collector of Latin art, having amassed works by artists who rose to international fame.
Early last year, Sandoval donated its collection of 1,500 paintings, lithographs, photos and other works of art and 1,000 rare books to the Mexic-Arte Museum in Austin.
The Sandoval Collection is a new pillar in the expansion of what is billed as the official Mexican and Mexican American Museum of Texas, said Sylvia Orozco, executive director of the museum.
Sandoval, who would have turned 75 on Thursday, January 7, died Sunday at his home in Sunset Heights under hospice care after a long illness, Claudia Rivers, director of the special collections department at the University of Texas library, told El Paso and a longtime friend and colleague of Sandoval.
“Art has come to me”
“I’ve been a reluctant art collector my whole life,” said Sandoval, who was a collections librarian, in a 2014 UTEP News Service article.
“I didn’t go out of my way to buy art,” Sandoval said. “Art came to me and by buying art from people I knew or who were sent to me, I got lucky and built a legacy that I will leave to a deserving organization.
Sandoval was librarian at UTEP from 1981 until his retirement in 2019. He worked on special collections and also selected documents for the Chicano and archival collections.
“He had a great appreciation for art, artists, music and all of intellectual life,” Rivers said.
Sandoval was a “great supporter of students” and left a mark in the thousands of students he helped, as well as in the books he acquired for the library, she added.
Sandoval was a staple in UTEP, known for his knowledge and calm, dry wit, as well as commuting to work by bike from his home in Sunset Heights. He did not own a car.
Rivers explained that Sandoval chose Juan Antonio Sandoval II because he thought it sounded better than “junior”.
Sandoval was born in Colorado’s San Juan Valley region to a family of 10 children, ultimately preferring to live alone in his art-filled apartment.
“Having so many people in my life at all times (growing up) has given me the joy of living on my own,” Sandoval told UTEP student newspaper The Prospector in 2017.
“Living alone has given me the freedom to travel and above all to help others by buying their art,” he said.
Sandoval traveled often and spent weeks and months in what he considered a second home in Oaxaca, southern Mexico, friends said.
He received a BA from Adams State College in Colorado and an MA from the University of Denver. In 1981 he came to El Paso when he got a job at the UTEP library.
Sandoval bought his first piece of art in 1975 to encourage a friend, according to reports.
Sandoval’s art purchases were sometimes made to help financially struggling artist friends in the United States and Mexico, who went on to have successful careers.
Sandoval’s collection included lithographs by Luis Jiménez, drawings by José Cisneros and paintings by Marta Arat.
Sandoval was “a wonderful, kind, very insightful human being,” Orozco said. “He was in the right place at the right time with a lot of artwork that he was able to acquire.”
The Sandoval collection
Most of Sandoval’s huge collection, which once decorated the walls and rooms of his house, is now in the Mexic-Arte Museum.
“I met Juan in the 90s on a trip to El Paso and he invited me over to his home and he showed me his collection, which was very impressive,” said Orozco, the museum’s executive director. Orozco and Sandoval are now friends.
Pieces from Sandoval’s collection had been on display at the El Paso Art Museum over the years.
In 2019, Orozco said Sandoval had called her out of the blue after she hadn’t heard from him for about 20 years.
“He told us he was interested in donating his collection,” Orozco said, adding that the museum was very grateful.
The collection had tripled in size since Orozco had first seen it.
Orozco added: “This is a very important collection. It documents a certain period of the Chicano movement and Latin art of the 80s and 90s.”
Sandoval didn’t want his works to end up in a safe and wanted the public to enjoy them, Orozco said.
In January 2020, the collection was inventoried and transported from El Paso to Austin.
“Juan knew a lot about Latin, Chicano and political art and had access to all the art that meant so much to so many talented artists in the El Paso Borderland area,” Orozco said.
Sandoval’s collection, which some have estimated at over $ 1.5 million, was one of the largest art donations made to the Mexic-Arte Museum.
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The museum on Congress Avenue in downtown Austin was founded in 1984 to share Mexican art and culture with Texans. It is undergoing a $ 20 million renovation.
“Mexico, the Border and Beyond: Selections from the Juan Antonio Sandoval Jr. Collection Exhibition” opened at the museum on December 19 and will run until August 22.
Sandoval would have been happy to see art connoisseurs, young people and other museum visitors admire some of the works he has spent a lifetime collecting, Orozco said.
“He would be thrilled and we are thrilled and it makes all the difference in the world to see his art shared with the community,” said Orozco.
Daniel Borunda can be reached at 915-546-6102; [email protected]; @BorundaDaniel on Twitter.
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