1972: Password salutes José Cisneros

In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, the El Paso County Historical Society is looking back at past Password articles.

Hispanic Heritage Month is observed from Sept. 15 through Oct. 14, According to the Library of Congress. It began in “1968 as Hispanic Heritage Week under President Lyndon Johnson.”

Password salutes José B. Cisneros

By: Helen Hicks

“Es viejo el que deja de aprender!” (Is an old man who quits learning?) ln the 1972 Fall issue of PASSWORD José Cisneros ended his article, “Art By and For The Bilingual,” with those words. How well this dicho expresses the philosophy of this ever young artist.

Born in Durango, Mexico, on April 18, 1910, José Cisneros came to El Paso del Norte at age fifteen. His home was Juarez from 1925 until 1934 at which time he moved to El Paso. His only formal education was acquired at Lydia Patterson Institute in El Paso but his thirst for knowledge, especially in the fields of art and history could not be quenched. Reading, researching and drawing became a way of life.

South Texas Cowboy- 1880 from Riders of the Border, José Cisneros

In 1937, while Tom Lea1 wa~ working on a mural at the Federal Courthouse in El Paso, José took him some drawings for evaluation. Lea was so impressed by the talent displayed by Cisneros that he took him to Carl Hertzog’ who was beginning his career as a designer and publisher of books. Hertzog asked José to do sonic drawings, including maps which he does with the appropriate decoration and calligraphic lettering, for a book in progress. Overwhelmed with the beauty and excellence of the work presented to him, Mr. Hertzog knew he had found his illustrator. Dozens of books, mainly on the Southwest, were the result of that meeting.

The late Dr. Cleofas Calleros, noted Southwestern historian, and José were very close friends. Together they worked on many fine books. Several years ago, while on a quiet, unhurried morning visit to Dr. Calleros, I was privileged to be shown some of the treasures of his library and workshop. In one of the most beautiful tributes ever paid to a man, Dr. Calleros said: “I make the books but José… José puts the soul in them.” Today the “Calleros Collection” is permanently housed in the El Paso Public Library. The collection contains their combined efforts in exquisitely done, handmade books.

In 1969 Cisneros was awarded a residence fellowship by the University of Texas at Austin and spent six months at the Paisano Ranch of J. Frank Dobie. During that period he completed many of the drawings for Riders of the Border3 which had five showings in 1971 and is still going strong throughout the country. The “Riders” series of drawings starts with the Spanish Conquistadors of the early sixteenth century and ends with the border cowboys of today. José is a life member of the El Paso County Historical Society and it was he who designed the cover emblem used on PASSWORD. Fellow members and all El Paso salutes you – José Cisneros.


  1. Helen Hicks, “Password Salutes Tom Lea,” PASSWORD, vol. xvii, no. 3 (Fall, 1972), 137-38.
  2. Dr. Carl Hertzog, retired director of the Texas Western Press, UTEP.
  3. Reviewed in Password, vol. xvi, No. 3 (Fall, 1971 ), 123-25.

Since 1954 the El Paso County Historical Society has been a driving force in the historic scene of El Paso. EPCHS strives to foster research into the history of the El Paso area; acquire and make available to the public historic materials; publish and encourage historical writing pertaining to the area; and to develop public consciousness of our rich heritage.