The Life and Art of Marta Sanchez: Impressions of Chicana Culture, Tradition, and Memory
In 1984 Marta Sanchez, a young Chicana artist from San Antonio, was selected for the “Mira” exhibit which was the first national Chicano/Latino art exhibition in America. Sponsored by Canadian Club, a beverage powerhouse in the United States and Canada, the exhibit toured several major cities and contributed to an increased awareness of Latino and Latina artists.
Marta Sanchez, an important Latina artist, has contributed to creating Latina and Chicana art over the past four decades while remaining engaged in teaching and social activism. Sanchez’s love of art began at age five when an aunt bought her an art reproduction print from a street vendor. Early in life she also collected and read comic books. This led her to begin teaching herself the art of drawing. Her appreciation of art grew as she ventured downtown on the city bus by herself at age nine to browse through the art bookshelves of the San Antonio Public Library. As a teenager, she attended Fox Tech High School where she excelled in Commercial Art classes. She took an interest in photo-realism and also learned the application of drawing by using the artistic grid.
Following high school graduation, Sanchez chose to enroll in the art program at Texas Women’s University in Denton where she had received partial scholarship assistance. After two years, she transferred to the University of Texas at Austin where she majored in Fine Arts. During her years in Austin, she worked part-time as a waitress at the famed Cisco’s Bakery on 6th Street on the Eastside of the city which reinforced her Chicana cultural roots.
Sanchez’s years at UT Austin were key to her development as a Chicana artist. On the UT campus, she met Santa Barraza, a talented young artist and graduate student in the University’s Masters in Fine Arts program. Sanchez also met Amado Peña who like Barraza, had studied at Texas A&M Kingsville. Barraza and Peña emerged as central figures in the development of Chicano art in Texas.
To find her voice as an artist, Sanchez gained inspiration from Austin’s many exhibitions, plays, and jazz
sessions. The Texas capital city also supported the emergence of local Chicano artists Raul Valdez, Luis
Guerra, and Jose Trevino during the early 1980s. Sanchez wrote: “My work slowly turned from being purely
artistic to becoming art that served a purpose as I evolved from being a student to an artist, to a Chicana artist.”
I taught in the History Department at UT Austin in the 1980s but never had a chance to meet Sanchez. I was aware, however, of the early efforts of several Chicanas in Austin, including Sylvia Orozco, and sisters, Cynthia and Libby Perez, to introduce Chicano art to a larger audience. The Perez sisters moved to Austin from San Antonio to attend the University of Texas. In 1981 the sisters opened a restaurant, Las Manitas, on Congress Avenue where they excelled in serving Mexican food and exhibiting Chicano art. Three years later, two graduates of the UT Austin Fine Arts Department, Sylvia Orozco and Sam Coronado, teamed up to open the Mexican American art center Mexic-Arte near Las Manitas. Sanchez had several of her art works shown at Las Manitas.
Sanchez developed as an artist while at UT Austin but decided by her senior year in college to also pursue a graduate degree that would prepare her to teach in the art field as well. The following year she enrolled in the Masters of Fine Arts program at Temple University in Philadelphia. At Temple University Sanchez also took the opportunity to participate in their education abroad program in Italy. She visited the ancient site of Pompei where she studied the Roman Retablos–art on flat tin plates, an ancient process that fascinated her.
As a result of growing up in San Antonio, Sanchez has been fascinated with railroads. Her family lived a few blocks from the large train yards of San Antonio’s Eastside, and she often watched trains come and go from her family porch. As a child, she also admired the train track patterns and the hundreds of trains gathered at the railyards daily. “There I would draw the landscape full of trains and wonder about their departures and arrivals.”
The railroads came to San Antonio 120 years before any artist took an interest in them. Sanchez wanted to change that. She considered the railroad key to San Antonio’s early economic development. Trains brought manufactured goods to the city and made possible the shipment of economic resources such as cattle and
agricultural products. Moreover, Mexican workers helped build the railroad lines and were dependent upon the trains as a means of moving to and from San Antonio.
In the late 1990s, Marta Sanchez returned to Austin for several weeks to engage in a train-yard art print series with artist and print master Sam Coronado. Coronado founded a silkscreen print studio in the mid-1980s and invited prominent artists to participate in his Coronado Studio Series print project.
Sanchez has been painting and teaching art in Pennsylvania for the past 30 years, but she is deeply committed to her Texas roots. She wrote: “Regardless of where I am living, I will always be the Chicana from San Antonio, Texas.”
Her work as an artist and teacher keeps her busy. Although she remains a very accomplished artist, she also earns a living as a museum teacher with the Philadelphia Museum of Art and as an art instructor at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia.
Sanchez approaches her artistic life with the idea of “sharing art, history, and activism.” She has many projects in the works, including preparing an egg cookbook based on cascarones. The recipes likely illustrated by her art will feature her Chicana history, culture, and traditions. She also continues her retablo paintings on tin metal and is currently finishing a historical painting portraying Mexican Bracero workers in the United States. Finally, she is working on a painting dedicated to the murdered children and teachers in Uvalde.
Copyright 2022 by Ricardo Romo. All photo credits as indicated.