Born in 1923 in Tesuque, New Mexico, Ortega lived there all his life, except for the three years he spent serving with the 240th Combat Engineers in World War II.
Upon returning home, he learned cabinet making and machine shop in Santa Fe for two years, and then planned to go to California with some classmates, to find work. Around this time he began carving in wood, as he had done from childhood, small religious figures, a Saint Francis, and a Madonna. Both sold immediately at a benefit sale for the Santa Fe Opera, and an artist was born. Commissions followed, and Ortega is now known for a signature carving style which emphasizes the natural grain of the wood in graceful lines and delicate features, reflecting the strong
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