Joe Cajero, Jr. was born in 1970 in Santa Fe, New Mexico and raised in the Pueblo of Jemez. He is a descendant of a long line of Pueblo artists, including his father, a painter, and his mother, Esther, a potter. As a child, Cajero would often accompany her to Indian art shows throughout the Southwest. On the road as well as in her small shop in Old Town, Albuquerque, the young Cajero learned from his mother, the business of marketing ones art and was challenged to try a creative form he never guessed he'd be known for today, clay and bronze sculpture. While growing up, Cajero also had the privilege of spending many hours with his maternal great-grandmother Petra Romero, listening to the wonderful stories she would tell of times gone by. Her stories provided him with a solid foundation in his traditional culture and it continues to influence the work he does today.
Cajero knew early on he would be an artist and assumed he would follow in the lines of his father and become a painter. At fifteen years of age, while sitting in his mother's shop one day, bored, she convinced him to take a piece of clay and try to create something out of it. That something turned out to be a small bear figure. That first figure sold the same day before it had even dried. This was a good sign for a young artist. His mother encouraged him to continue work in clay. Cajero made several more bear figures and sold them. Eventually those bears began to stand upright and take on human characteristics. Hands emerged from claws and faces began to form. Cajero knew then, he had graduated to the next level.
In 1990, this next level took him to the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe after high school, where he studied two-dimensional art, with a few classes in traditional pottery making. His mentor and cousin, Felix Vigil, was teaching there at the time and provided the young artist with priceless insight, "He taught me how to look and where to look inside myself, so that I didn't have to draw from other artists in order to find inspiration. I admire the work of other artists, but I look only to myself to create." Although Cajero continues to make the smiling koshare figures he is internationally known for, he is not one for complacency. He constantly strives to satisfy his need for fresh ideas and subject matter by challenging himself to try new techniques and imagery. Cajero received his Associates of Fine Arts Degree from the Institute of American Indian Arts in May of 1992.
Cajero continues creating clay originals and limited edition bronze sculptures, including a few monumental commissions. He enjoys working with commercial clay and traditional Jemez clays, as well as, the process of selecting the patinas (colors), which are used in the finish of bronze sculptures. This has led to the opening of new creative doors for the artist. "It seems I've been developing my skills in clay to lead me to work in bronze, and working with bronze has enhanced my skills with natural clay." He is also creating a line of jewelry castings inspired by images taken from his bronze sculptures. Most recently, he has started painting on canvas again, rediscovering his first love, from where his career began. He is excited about the creative possibilities that each medium has to offer. Cajero resides with his wife in the small community of Placitas, New Mexico. In his free time he enjoys workouts, hiking, fishing and camping trips.