By Michael Abeyta

Josephine Lobato, a Westminster woman, has been awarded the nation’s highest honor in the folk and traditional arts. She was selected as a National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellowship recipient for her work preserving the stories of her community through embroidery.

WESTMINSTER, Colo. (CBS4) – The San Luis Valley is home to the first European settlement in Colorado. Mostly untouched over time, the culture of Colorado’s first settlers lives in the minds and stories of its people, like Josephine Lobato.

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“I just try to remember what a truck like that looks like,” she says as she draws a truck from the 1920s.

She loves to tell stories of the old days, some of them folk tales like “La Llorona” or “El Milagro de San Acacio.” Other times it’s memories of real-life events, like the Land Rights Wars or when the mill caught fire in San Luis. She knows stories like these are disappearing and she wants to preserve them for her family. So she turned to a traditional New Mexican stitching method called Colcha and started bringing her memories to life on tapestries.

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She stitches elaborate scenes from the San Luis Valley’s past. She has done one about Fort Garland, La Llorona, the mill fire, El Milagro, all of the churches in Costilla County and picking potatoes in Center, Colorado. Her latest work is the post office in Chama, Colorado.

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“I can sit here all day and do this,” she says.

Her work was discovered by Suzanne MacAulay, who holds a doctorate in Folklore at the University of Colorado Colorado Springs. Two years ago, she nominated Lobato for the National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellowship. This past month, Lobato got a call she thought was too good to be true.

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“I was surprised when (Sen.) Michael Bennet called me,” she says. “He said ‘Don’t hang up on me, it’s not a scam.'”

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Colorado’s senior senator told her she got the fellowship for 2019. She will get a $25,000 award, a trip to Washington DC and one of her Colchas will hang in the Smithsonian. That means her culture will live forever as a part of American history. She says it’s a huge honor.

“I’m only the second person in Colorado to get the award, so it does mean a lot,” she says.

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If you think you might want to get your hands on one of Lobato’s works, you are out of luck. They all belong to Lobato and her family and she will not sell them.

Michael Abeyta

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