Armando Sanchez is not a famous artist, but his art has been purchased by famous people— such as Mick Jagger and Maya Angelou. He met these personalities when he had an art gallery and studio at the San Antonio Market Square next door to Mi Tierra Restaurant where the Cortez family first started their restaurant empire. Ms. Angelou returned to buy numerous works from him over the years and introduced him to her friend, Oprah Winfrey.
Armando, a native of South San Antonio, grew up drawing and sketching and recalls that as a child in elementary school his teachers would ask him to use his artistic skills to help decorate the classroom for holiday events such as Thanksgiving and Halloween.
At age ten, his family moved to Detroit, where his father worked at the Ford Motor Company. Armando decided at that time that he wanted to be an artist. He tried to enroll in the Detroit Art and Craft School but was rejected because he was only twelve years old.
After three years in Detroit, his family returned to San Antonio, and he enrolled at Burbank High School where he took art classes in the mornings and spent the afternoons and evenings at the public library. At the library, he sat for hours studying the lives and works of famous artists. On many days he would stay until closing time.
One Burbank teacher noticed his art skills, in particular, his excellent lettering, and suggested that Armando works as a sign maker. The following year, Armando left Burbank before graduating and started working at the Schuler Sign Company. Not satisfied with just his lettering abilities, he sought out art classes at the Art Institute at the McNay and Coppini Academy of Fine Arts.
He credits the mentorship of another self-taught artist, Doro Perez, who also worked at the sign company, with giving him informal art lessons and creative tips as well as encouragement. Perez was an excellent landscape painter who often accompanied the very accomplished bluebonnet artist Porfirio Salinas on his plain air art activities in the countryside.
In his twenties, Armando also took art classes, mostly over three to six month periods of time. San Antonio artist Warren Hunter served as another excellent teacher and mentor. Hunter operated the Warren Hunter School of Art at La Villita, and Armando was one of his students.
A clothing store in front of the Majestic Theatre hired Armando during the early 1960s to handle all the signage on the glass windows. He left after five years to fill an artistic position at Randolph Air Force Base.
At Randolph, he was assigned to paint portraits of the Commanding Officers as well as canvas renderings of aircraft for the base headquarters. He loved the base art assignments but decided to leave to join the public relations firm owned by Lionel Sosa where he did artistic design work.
While working for the Sosa firm, he met Jorge Cortez, then CEO of Mi Tierra Restaurant, and began a life-long friendship with him. Cortez commissioned Armando in 1970 to paint a Zapata portrait which became the icon for the restaurant. His Zapata image graces the aprons and tee shirts at Mi Tierra and is sold in the thousands annually.
When President Bill Clinton visited San Antonio in the 1990s, the Cortez family presented the President with a tee-shirt with the Zapata image. On his jog the next morning along the Riverwalk, President Clinton wore the Zapata shirt designed by Armando and later signed a photo of himself wearing the shirt to Armando.
During the first three decades of his painting career, Armando’s restlessness took him from one job to another. In the early 1990s, he decided to try self-employment and opened a gallery and studio on Market Square. Since thousands of people came to the Square on a daily basis, he met many people and sold hundreds of his artwork. His specialties are Texas landscapes and portraits.
He recalls that a customer with a striking pink striped suit came in and asked Armando about an art piece selling for $600 dollars. After telling Armando that he only had $300, Armando suggested that he could take the painting in exchange for the money and his pink suit. The customer agreed and left his shop in his underwear.
Armando is best known as a watercolorist, but his outdoor and indoor murals at Mi Tierra and Pico de Gallo are also highly admired by the San Antonio community. One prominent mural features the famous Mexican singer Jorge Negrete. Another mural captures more than one hundred well-known personalities in San Antonio.
In the coming months, Armando will have a one-man retrospective show of his watercolor paintings at the Progreso Memorial Library in Uvalde. My wife Harriett and I are happy to be a part of that event, having donated fifty-two beautiful Armando watercolors from our collection of Mexican American art to the Library. We plan to keep readers informed about the date and time of this show in Uvalde.