Josephine Lobato National Endowment for the Arts Colorado’ 2019 NEA National Heritage Fellow

The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) today announced Josephine Lobato as one of their 2019 National Heritage Fellows.

The National Heritage Fellowships—the nation’s highest honor in the folk and traditional arts—recognize recipients’ artistic excellence and support their continuing contributions to the country’s traditional arts heritage.

“We are thrilled to have a Colorado artist among the recipients of this prestigious award,” said Margaret Hunt, Director of Colorado Creative Industries for the Colorado Office of Economic Development & International Trade. “With all of the amazing growth in Colorado, it’s important for us to honor our tradition bearers and honor the diverse expressions and historical richness of our cultural heritage.”

Josie LabatoJosephine Lobato expresses her San Juan Valley history and culture through the art of colcha embroidery. This colcha form of embroidery is a traditional Spanish colonial style of needlework which entails the creation of intricate textiles that describe aspects of culture such as everyday life or mythical legends, and oftentimes recreating events from the present and past. These beautiful textiles can be used as coverlets but also have intrinsic value in their artistic elements.

By Suzanne P. MacAulay, Ph.D., Folklorist

For more than 30 years, Josephine Lobato has created embroidered renditions of cultural memories, enactments, and folk histories. Her tenacity and passion have sustained her as the sole Colorado practitioner of Spanish colonial style needlework known as colcha embroidery. Lobato inventively uses only one stitch, the colcha stitch, a couching stitch (one of the oldest stitches in the world) associated with the settler culture of the Southwest to create pictorial narratives about Hispanic life in the San Luis Valley in southcentral Colorado.

Women of Lobato’s pre-World War II generation learned domestic crafts as part of growing up in the Valley. Lobato knew how to embroider as a young girl but had never encountered colcha embroidery in the revitalized form of a pictorial narrative until she attended a stitching workshop offered by the San Luis Sangre de Cristo Parish in 1988 when she was in her early 50s. That encounter literally changed her life. The significance of Lobato’s epiphany during the workshop, and her subsequent devotion to creating colcha embroideries, recall folklorist Henry Glassie’s observation that “medium is a biographical accident.” Lobato’s discovery was the perfect confluence of craft with an innate desire to express herself artistically. At that time her artistic awakening marked a critical entry point into an imaginative world colored by her life experience and her hunger for cultural history.

Lobato’s embroidered visual narratives with their range of historical and ethnic imagery validate her as both a chronicler of Hispano life and a cultural commentator or “tour guide” to her own culture. Her pictorial themes, such as the charter legend of El Milagro de San Acacio or the land rights protest in La Sierra,reveal the ethical and moral underpinnings of Hispano society as well as reinforce essential aspects of cultural identity shared by a rural Hispanic population living in the San Luis Valley.

Josie Labato_2In the current resurgence of interest in colcha embroidery, stitching groups from San Luis and Taos, New Mexico, credit Lobato, her artistic innovations and prolific creative output, as inspiration for these women to pick up needles and stitch. Lobato has received two master-apprentice awards from Colorado Creative Industries to work with novice embroiderers, including her daughter, Rita Crespin, who continues the tradition. In addition to all the women Lobato has influenced, she also taught her granddaughter, Jacinta Lobato, and her great granddaughter, also Jacinta Lobato. She taught them not only techniques but inspired them to search for culturally embedded content and imagery. In 1998 Lobato earned the Colorado Heritage Award for her work.


Fellowship recipients are nominated by the public, often by members of their own communities, and then judged by a panel of experts in the folk and traditional arts. The panel’s recommendations are reviewed by the National Council on the Arts, which sends its recommendations to the Arts Endowment chairman, who makes the final decision.

Previous NEA fellows from Colorado include Francis Whitaker (1997) of Carbondale for Ornamental Iron Work and Eppie Archuleta (1985), a Hispanic Weaver also from the San Luis Valley.

For a complete list of 2019 NEA National Heritage Fellows, visit

About Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade

The Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade (OEDIT) works with partners to create a positive business climate that encourages dynamic economic development and sustainable job growth. Under the leadership of Governor Jared Polis, we strive to advance the State’s economy through financial and technical assistance that fosters local and regional economic development activities throughout Colorado. OEDIT offers a host of programs and services tailored to support business development at every level including business retention services, business relocation services, and business funding and incentives. Our office includes the Global Business Development division; Colorado Tourism Office; Colorado Outdoor Recreation Industry Office; Colorado Creative Industries; Business Financing & Incentives division; the Colorado Small Business Development Network; Colorado Office of Film, TV & Media; the Minority Business Office; and the Colorado Innovation Network. Learn more at