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juan antonio sandoval II

"I decided to build a collection of Latino and Hispanic art which could be left as a cultural legacy…"

Juan Antonio Sandoval was a collector. In his signature black button-down, black Levi 501 jeans, and white sneakers, Sandoval collected books, people, trinkets, music, and experiences. Either through charity, serendipity, or a bit of tenacity, Sandoval accumulated the largest Chicane & Latin American art collection in the Southwest and, some would argue, the United States. 

Born in 1946, in the San Juan Valley of southern Colorado, Juan Sandoval was one of eleven children. He attended Adams State College, where he bought his first piece of art for $25—formally beginning his collection in 1964. While at Adams State, he traveled to Bucaramanga, Columbia, as part of the study abroad program. There, Sandoval learned to speak Spanish. He then earned his master's in Library Science from the University of Denver before moving to El Paso in 1981 to accept a librarian position at the University of Texas at El Paso. He would remain a librarian focusing on special collections and Chicane archives. Sandoval would stay there until his retirement in 2019.

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Sandoval amassed one of the country's largest Chicane & Latine art collections during that time, becoming an internationally renowned authority. A reluctant collector, Sandoval was often at the right place at the right time and managed to add works by the likes of Luis Jiménez, Manuel Acosta, Gaspar Enriquez, Marta Arat, Jose Cisneros, amongst other Chicane artists to his ever-increasing assemblage. Though his collection would cover various genres and themes, he would focus on art that explored the Border, immigration, the Chicano Movement, and Latine identity. So important was his assemblage, Sandoval lent parts of his collection to various museums across the United States, including the Smithsonian.

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Sandoval's collection extended far beyond that of art. His home displayed Talavera pottery from Puebla, Mexico, indigenous tapestries, alebrijes from Oaxaca (his second home), trinkets he purchased during his myriad travels, and several thousand books. With a librarian's penchant for texts, Sandoval's book collection covered everything from Japanese bachelor etiquette to queer history. His home (spanning several apartments in the Sunset Heights neighborhood of El Paso through the years) was a meeting house for artists, writers, and scholars; where art, philosophy, idle gossip, and drinks were shared. 

With an art collection numbering over a thousand pieces valued at $1.5million, Sandoval hoped to leave behind his legacy in El Paso. Still, without a venue dedicated to Chicane/Latine culture in the city, Sandoval donated his entire art collection and a large number of his rare books to Mexic-Arte in Austin, Texas. "Mexico, the Border, and Beyond:  Selections From The Juan Antonio Sandoval Jr. Collection Exhibition" is currently on exhibit and showcases the breadth of his work alongside a replica of his home library. Sandoval also donated over seven thousand of his books to activist and bibliophile Jud Burgess upon his passing in January of 2021. Burgess, co-owner of Brave Books, an independent bookstore located in central El Paso, alongside his wife, Laurie, was surprised by the donation that contained a limited edition James Joyce and other several hundred rare editions.

Beloved by students and artists alike, Juan Antonio Sandoval left behind a legacy that will last generations. His Chicane & Latine art collection is considered one of the world's finest. Impressively, it was purchased on a modest librarian's income, proving wealth does not always outclass a great eye and some luck.