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Luis B Ortega

Birth place or City of origin:
State of origin: CA
Last known City:
Last known State: CA
Start/Birth date: 1897
Death/End date: 1995

Luis B. Ortega is known as the world’s best and foremost rawhide braider. A fifth generation Californian, Ortega traced his ancestry to the states first Spanish settler, Jose Francisco de Ortega who was credited with discovering San Francisco Bay by land in 1789. In 1905, at 10 years of age, he was introduced to the art of rawhide braiding by a 110-year old Tulare Indian while still a youth on the Bar S Ranch near Santa Barbara. His mentor had mastered the crafts under the tutelage of the Santa Ynez Mission Friars, perpetuating a tradition of instructions begun 200 years earlier. But Ortega moved well beyond the bounds of the California braiding tradition, advancing from the usual 6 and 8-strand to create 16 and 24 strand masterpieces unrivaled in their intricacy and beauty. Ultimately, his talents were recognized by western-artist Edward Borein, who directed Ortega into the full-time production of hand-braided rawhide and leather items. Ortega, who braided for many California ranchers, ultimately separated his work from others through his skill and aesthetic touch. But it was his wife, Rose, who was his greatest ally. She traveled the horse circuit with him, inspiring him to write his two books and acting as his charming “publicist.” The extraordinary precision and delicacy of an Ortega piece makes it instantly recognizable and his work is displayed in museums across the West, including twenty-four pieces in the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum. In his later years, Luis turned to writing as well as braiding producing two books and numerous articles. But it is his braiding work that is his singular achievement for his has set the ultimate standards, made an art of an ancient craft, while remaining utterly faithful to the aesthetics of working tools. Every piece of his work is totally usable (though most seldom are), an achievement that every artist hopes for – beauty transcending utility. He died in 1995, with Rose following several years later. He holds the enviable distinction of being the only leather braider in the world to be designated a national treasure by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) in Washington, DC (1986) and is represented in all major Western Museums in the United States.


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