'It's keeping those traditions, that spirit alive'
It's been nine years since filigree jeweler Racheal Roybal-Montoya last saw a woman win Best of Show at Santa Fe's Traditional Spanish Market. So when she found out she won this year's first-place prize, the news was that much sweeter.
"It's a big deal ... no matter where you are at, men are always in the spotlight," she said. "To be able to turn it toward us women - it's empowering."
Roybal-Montoya's filigree necklace, Santa Cruz, was showcased over the July 27-28 weekend at the 68th annual event on Santa Fe Plaza, alongside artwork from more than 200 New Mexico and Colorado artists. Taos County artists - such as Lorrie Garcia of Peñasco, Luis E. Barela of Ranchos de Taos and Gustavo Victor Goler of Taos - also took home top category prizes from the market.
To win Best of Show is not only a personal honor, Roybal-Montoya said, but also a way to inspire future generations of women - including her 9-year-old daughter Natalia Montoya - to carry the ancient art form forward. "It's important to preserve those traditions that our ancestors brought. ... Otherwise you see people just floating without roots," said Roybal-Montoya, born and raised in Pojoaque and now a resident of Arroyo Seco.
"It's keeping those traditions, that spirit alive," said Roybal-Montoya, 39, who has been making jewelry for the past 18 years. After she enrolled in a variety of jewelry classes at Santa Fe Community College in the early 2000s, her interest was piqued in filigree - a technique that uses thin-gauge silver or gold to create intricate lattice-like designs, nicknamed "Spanish lace."
After having no luck finding a filigree instructor, she said she started reading books, doing online research and collecting antique filigree to learn the craft independently at the age of 24. Although she only knows of one distant relative who did filigree, she said she believes "I have it in my blood."
In 2010, Roybal-Montoya said she entered her first Spanish Market.
Over the years, she has won numerous awards at the event, including first place in the 2017 precious metals category. She also won first place in the collaboration category last year, when she co-created a pendant with a jewelry box alongside retablo painter Andrew Montoya. This year, Roybal-Montoya submitted two pieces to the market's precious metals category: Santa Cruz and Flor de las Flores. Santa Cruz - a sterling silver necklace linked together with minispheres, featuring a large holy cross pendant in the center, inlaid with a piece of Egyptian turquoise - serves as a symbol for the Holy Cross Catholic Church in Santa Cruz, near Española. That's where Roybal-Montoya and her husband, Jim Montoya, married in 2002. The piece is being sold for $5,000, she said.
"When I work on the pieces, I feel a lot," Roybal-Montoya said. "I have family on my mind, life on my mind." Loved ones attest that Roybal-Montoya's jewelry is a passion of hers.
"She puts a lot of her heart into every piece," Jim Montoya said.
"When I held [Santa Cruz], it felt really good. It has emotion," he added. "She makes [her jewelry] come to life. They have a voice of their own."
Santa Cruz took at least one year of brainstorming before she actually started the work. It took at least a month of work - after she got home from a full-time job as a business research specialist for Wildflower International - to complete the piece, she said. Winning Best of Show, she said, came as a total shock. "I was like, 'You're joking, right?' " she said with a laugh, noting the last woman to win a Best of Show was Julia Gomez in 2010, who created a complex embroidery piece. "As an artist, you always hope your work gets recognized, but when it happens ... it's just amazing."
Roybal-Montoya said this weekend she will revel in the opportunity to spend time with her "extended family of artist friends," as well as her mom, Paula Roybal, and aunt, Yvonne Ebelacker - both of whom also participate at the market in the weaving category.
Roybal-Montoya said she looks forward to "just taking a deep breath" when the market concludes and continuing to teach her daughter various jewelry forms.
Next year, Natalia Montoya said she plans to compete in the market's youth category for jewelry, and eventually follow in her mom's footsteps. "I've always tried to do stuff like her," Natalia said.
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