Virgil Ortiz was born into the Oak Clan of Cochiti Pueblo in May 1969. His parents were Seferina and Guadalupe Ortiz, his grandmother was Laurencita Herrera. Both Seferina and Laurencita were well-known potters and Virgil grew up watching them work with clay. During those years, Virgil's mother also taught him and all six of his siblings how to find and process the clay and how to find and prepare the native plants used in the making and decorating of Cochiti Pueblo pottery. She taught them how to work the clay, create different shapes and forms, paint designs and ground fire their pieces when they were done.
Virgil became interested at an early age, making his first storyteller when he was only 6. He went from that to Santa Fe Indian Market where his first entry to the jury earned him a 1st Place ribbon (Student, 18 years or younger) in 1983 when he was 14. After that he earned ribbons almost every year until he stopped showing at Santa Fe Indian Market in 2001.
Virgil likes to make everything from traditional jars to outlandish circus figures to science fiction figures. The forms he draws on range from circus performers to opera divas to religious figures to the Conquistadors. The designs he likes to paint are also a mix of traditional and non-traditional, integrating Pueblo history and culture with apocalyptic themes, science fiction and stories of his own. In 2017, Virgil provided 31 figures for a solo exhibit at the Denver Art Museum called “Revolt 1680/2180: Virgil Ortiz.” It was the high point of his story line relating to the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, the first true American Revolution. In 1680, after decades of religious persecution and physical abuse the Pueblo people rose up and threw the Spanish out of Nuevo Mexico.
Virgil's artistic interests have also branched well beyond the world of pottery into designing textiles, fashions and jewelry, fashion photography and video production. Virgil also lately created a series of figures that became 3D models for an animated Disney feature film.
"Clay is the core of my creations," he says. "My work centers on preserving traditional Cochiti culture and art forms. It's important to recognize that Pueblo communities are very much alive and have a level of vitality that speaks to generations of strength, persistence, brilliance and thriving energy."