Return Home  

This page celebrates the poetry and artwork of Carlos Cortez, IWW member from 1947—2005. Here is an interview, and below are additional works. Be sure to read Sun Sets On Red Cloud below.

When we scattered Joe Hill's ashes at the Columbine Mine Massacre Monument in Colorado, we invited fellow worker Cortez to do the honor.

Carlos Cortez scattering Joe Hill's ashes

The artwork and creative methodology that Carlos Cortez employed in his artistic endeavors are a rare gift that we will treasure, always. Carlos used the old methods such as wood block and linocut to create precious glimpses of the struggles of working people and their families.

He believed that art should serve a purpose, and that purpose more often than not was the liberation of the working class.



Carlos Cortez


    Crystal-Gazing the Amber Fluid
By Carlos Cortez

Sitting at this bar
Thinking of places
In my glass of beer
I see
Thru the smoke-filled haze Of this room
Like a crystal vision
A ribbon of cement
Black line down the middle
Perdition bent
Like a galloping snake
On the make
Thru treeless prairies
And bottomless passes
Ever in motion
Over a moonkissed desert
Toward golden California
Stopped only
By a big blue ocean,
Give me the song
If you can
Of a greyhound motor's
Crawling along
Some old ten-mile grade
Where life can be complete...

    We are not affiliated with ART-ACT, the Anti-Racist T-shirt Art Contest Tour which sells T-shirts and from whom we borrowed the text accompanying the next four images. But we heartily recommend the work of the artist!  
  This print created from a piece of floor tile, portrays campesinos (farm workers) toiling among the endlless rows of vegetables. The Industrial Worker, newsletter of the Industrial Workers of the World, originally published this illustration. Because the small workers newspaper could not afford to have illustrations photo-engraved, they were for many years printed on a flatbed press for which Carlos made linoblocks.

Field Workers

To buy (off-site):

  Carlos Cortez volunteered illustrations for the IWW - Industrial Workers of the World. Joe Hill was an organizer for the IWW. He was an arbetarsangaren, which means a "labor songwriter" in Swedish. He wrote "Casey Jones, the Union Scab" and "Eye in the Sky." He is a martyr in the labor movement. Industrialists hauled him into court in Utah on trumped-up charges and executed him. Joe was a union organizer, cartoonist, poet, musician composer, and itinerant worker. Across the bottom of the print is the Swedish phrase "Don't mourn, organize!" which was taken from one of the last letters Hill wrote. His words proclaim the IWW's guiding principle of the general strike for industrial freedom. Instead of a revolution to take over the machinery of government, the workers advocate a strike to take over the machinery of production because they feel that is where the real power exists.

Joe Hill

To buy (off-site):

  At the Taller Mexicano de Grabado, a Mexican graphic workshop, Cortez (among others) were approached by a group of women from Guatemala whose collective experiences he depicts in this work. The women's husbands had disappeared from Guatemala, that is, taken by a death squad from their homes and families. Cortez gathered their stories in written form and determined a theme. He depicts a family home which has been broken into by members of the death squad, and one of the villagers, a campesino, with a mask on his face, points out the woman's husband. The woman stands in the background, with her two children on the cot. Cortez says that she never saw her husband again.

Before The Disappearance

To buy (off-site):

  Carlos Cortez made this cutting for a friend thinking of making a record label. Big Red, the Reggae singer in the center is surrounded by diverse faces of Asian, Indian and other descents. He includes his own self-portrait wearing a hat in the back.

Chicago Sings! (In Many Voices)

To buy (off-site):



Here's another example of the Carlos Cortez philosophy and style: REQUIEM FOR A STREET

Other important Carlos Cortez works are here, including one of the artist's favorites, a 1978 linocut of Mexican anarchist Ricardo Flores-Magon.

Chicago Says Farewell To Carlos Cortez, Indymedia Story

SEMCOSH in Michigan on Carlos cortez

Manya A. Brachear obit article from the Chicago Tribune



From the Industrial Worker

Sun Sets On Red Cloud
and a Coyote Howls--

C. C. Red Cloud, Koyokuikatl (song of the Coyote in the Nahuatl language of the Aztecs), and X321826, were just a few of the many noms de plume that Carlos Cortez used in his many Left Side columns, poems, cartoons, and drawings that we enjoyed in the Industrial Worker since Carlos joined the I.W.W. in 1947. He joined shortly after serving 18 months of a two-year sentence in Sandstone federal prison in Minnesota for his refusal to take any part in the killing of other working people during the second world gang fight for power and wealth. He told me that he began using the symbol of Koyokuikatl after his imprisonment in Sandstone, where he could hear the coyotes singing at night through his cell window. To him, and most western Indians, the coyote is a symbol of a wise trickster and of freedom. The taunting howls at midnight reminded him that he was more free in there than those who blindly followed the orders of the state. He would be released shortly. It was many of the guards that would serve a life sentence at Sandstone.

Carlos listened once more to the taunts of his cousins early in the morning on January 18, 2005. This time he returned to them. He was tired of the pain in his old weak heart and he missed his beloved wife, Marianna, terribly. She left her human form in 2001. He was devastated because she had promised to go last so she could take care of him. Carlos had suffered serious heart problems since 1981. After she departed, there was no one to discipline him when we opened his Wild Turkey bottle for our evening ritual. "Carlos, one is enough." "But, Marianna, Gary is here all the way from Colorado. We must be polite." She would come in, wink at me, pour our glasses full one last time, take the bottle, pinch his cheek and leave. "What can you do with a Greek," he would say with a sparkle in his eye. Marianna, he never let anything dominate him. He could always limit himself, but there was no fun in that, no twinkle in his eyes if he must discipline himself.

Carlos did not fear returning to his mother earth. In one of his books of poetry, "de Kansas a Califas," he wrote:


When the Tumbleweed
Has finished his days of existence,
The roots that bind him down
To Earth Mother
Give way
And he can go wherever
The wind takes him.

How much better
Than a tombstone
And the Pearly Gates!

Carlos came to Colorado in 1989 to introduce the last of Joe Hill's ashes to the five I.W.W. miners murdered in 1927 during a clash on the picket line at the Columbine coal mine near Erie , Colorado, just a few miles north of my home. We were dedicating a new tombstone over the graves of these miners and Carlos had ridden the train out as the official representative of the I.W.W.. These were Wobblies buried here and we had promised them a headstone in 1927; but the union was broke and the promise was lost in the sadness of the government attacks on the I.W.W. Carlos came to keep that promise 62 years later. We Never Forget.

Carlos stayed with us while in Denver for this week-long event. Carol and I walked him out to our local prairie dog colony one afternoon. He loved them and couldn't stay away. I caught him chanting to his cousins to leave these cute pups alone. Carlos felt related to all living things, but especially these guys and his coyotes. If I wanted to hear his voice, which was often, I would send him a picture of a little fat prairie dog.

I have never met a more gentle and honest man in my life. What you saw is what you got. I first met Carlos at the first I.W.W. convention I had ever attended in 1970, and like many before and after me, he became a close friend. If he could be labeled, I think only "friend" sticks to him long. Any time I visited his home near Lincoln Park in Chicago, there were friends dropping in from all over the country and each was made to feel at home. As his caretaker his last few months, Steve, told me on the phone a few days after Carlos left, "They did not come because they liked him. They came because they loved him." I know I did.

His home had been a mom-and-pop grocery store at one time. The front room, which was the store, is now a huge art gallery, library containing his many books, a dining table, and welcome room for the many guests and anarchist conversations that they brought with them. Those walls hold many warm memories. In the basement is Carlos' old press. El Gato Negro was producing papers here many years ago and lately his many wood block art pieces and linocuts which we are all so familiar with. In the back, where the owners of the grocery store used to live, are miles of bed rooms. There always seem to be enough for any Wob passing through.

Carlos did not want this home. He did not like the idea of owning anything. But Marianna had other plans. When Carlos brought her to Chicago as a new bride, she made up her mind. She worked hard, sometimes three jobs doing backbreaking work. She saved until she chose this home to buy from the money she had rat-holed. Carlos loved and respected her so much that he gave in and brought his brushes and printing press--- and all his companeros. Carlos identified with his Indian side because he decided that the communal spirit of the Indian and their care-taking attitude towards Mother Earth was closest to his true nature. But he made his nest here on the Northside, nevertheless.

Carlos was born of very loving, tolerant parents. His father was a Mestizo from Mazatlan, Mexico, who emigrated to the U. S. with his parents as a child. Born in Mexico in 1880, Alfred E. Cortez grew up in California. He joined the I.W.W. free speech fight in San Diego in 1912 and joined the I..W.W. in 1916. He was a construction worker who spoke five languages. Carlos' mother, Augusta, was born to immigrant German parents in Racine Wisconsin. She belonged to the Socialist Party of America and was a strong supporter of Eugene Debs. Alfred and Augusta were married in 1921 and Carlos was born in 1923, in Milwaukee Wisconsin.

I would say we could call Carlos a red baby. Carlos loved his father and his finely chiseled, dark Indian features; but his artistic bent, as well as his pacifism, were inherited from Augusta. Carlos joined the Young People's Socialist League as a young man, but after his prison tour, found party politics entirely too confining and he joined the I.W.W. in 1947. He identified himself as an anarchosyndicalist from that point until answering the coyotes call at 81 years of age. He wrote in his Left Side column often of his distrust of the political system. "If voting could remove the power structure, voting would be declared illegal." Think about that. He voiced his opinion and let it go at that. He rarely chastised anyone because they believed differently. He took anarchism seriously and allowed you your space to be free. He had grown up in a home where the father believed strongly in anarchosyndicalism, although Alfred always voted the Socialist ticket in case it would help someone who was homeless even a little, while his mother was an avowed member of the Socialist Party of America. Carlos said they never split hairs and always defended one another. He learned tolerance from them. Carlos mentioned very often to me as we sat out on his sidewalk with our traditional shot of Wild Turkey and a hand-rolled cigarette in the heat of Chicago's summer evenings, waving at the neighbors who loved him also, especially the youngsters, that until the I.W.W. could imitate that kind of respect and tolerance for one another, it would have a difficult time holding conventions of any merit.

We talked of many things on his front steps under the influence of the flopping turkey and sometimes a moon. We talked of why we loved the I.W.W. We both felt that violent revolution was bound to fail, even if it could be won; that political results could provide, at best, short temporary relief for the underbelly, but nothing permanent; and that there was the danger of false hopes for real change in those who voted. We both believed in the ability of workers to control their own lives, and, if tolerance is learned, the ability of small independent democratic units to encourage just that. Who but the I.W.W. fosters this philosophy? Many join the One Big Union for romantic reasons but we have remained Wobblies this long because we truly believe that this union offers real potential for workers to free themselves of the indignity and repression of capitalism (state or laissez faire) by simply withdrawing our labor en masse and believing in ourselves. Evidently, the powerful agree with us or the Palmer Raids and Judy Bari's car being bombed would not have been necessary.

It is believing in ourselves and learning tolerance for the opinions of others that are hard. Withdrawing labor is a pleasant task. Carlos would leave us that challenge, I think. After Marianna left, we were sitting out front on folding chairs on my last visit in August of 2004. The moon appeared through the trees. He looked up and howled quietly. I knew he didn't want to wait long.

Few artists are honored while they live, but Carlos has been bombarded with praise, especially recently. He has taken the cause of liberation and the I.W.W. to many neighborhoods in Chicago, to many states of the union, and to many countries of the world. In October, 1999 he was honored with an exhibition of his art in Madrid, Spain by the Foundation of Libertarian Studies. They produced a very nice pamphlet of Carlo's art with his self portrait from 1985 on the cover.

In 2001, he was honored in Chicago by the Mexican Fine Arts Center with a large three- month long exhibition of his art. Then all of his art was permanently hung in the Mexican Fine Artes Museum in Chicago with the promise that if his art becomes too expensive for working people, they must produce more to reduce the price. Those who profit from his passing beware visits from owls, coyotes, or ravens.

In August of 2004, at the opening of The House of the Culture of Meztizo Art at 1440 West 18th Street, Chicago, Carlos' work was featured and the show was called, "El Coyote Vive" (The Coyote Lives). I was at his home when they were planning this exhibition. Judging from the light in his eyes, this one meant the most to him. He was getting very weak and he knew it might be his last. It was a new local gallery, the artists involved were close friends, and it was a more working class gallery. They were so good to him. They tried many ways, with Steve's welcome help, to get him to poetry readings for children; for example.

His art was compared to some of the greats, like Diego Rivera. I am no art critic, but I liked his art and poetry very much. First, I was amazed to watch him carve his painting backwards into wood. This was an old art form for posters-- working class because it was cheap. Carlos delighted in producing his art from scrap others had thrown away. He tried to protect his mother earth right to the end. Something about the simple black and white images holds the eye, but even more, the images were always about humanity. They needed no explanation A father and mother bent over a flag-draped coffin. I have this one on my wall now as I type this. It will be current until capitalism strangles itself. Farm workers bent in the fields under a burning sun with a map of Texas on the sun. Need any explanation? Or his empty jail cell at Sandstone prison. Children looking up at a large poster of "their uncle" Sam who points his finger saying,
"I Want You." In his book of poems,"Where Are The Voices?" referring to the Hay Market Martyrs , he wrote;

Houn' Dog

Trotting along the sidewalk
with not a feline in sight
to give chase to
and not a girl doggie in sight
that he can pursue
but just as happy as
only a houn' dog can be,
he espies the recruiting poster
in front of the post office.
His tail stops wagging
long enough
as he cranes his head forward
to make the sniff test
and upon seeing that it
does not sniff too well,
with excellent body english
and a back paw salute,
he administers upon this artifact
of an alleged higher creation,
his most eloquent appraisal.

We, the working class of the world, have lost a great friend and mentor. That long and mournful howl you heard was mine or it was Carlos' answer. Join me. Let king george hear it!!

You may obtain Carlos'prints or his poetry from this paper, which helps support the Industrial Worker, or from Carlos' good friend, Franklin Rosemont, at the great Charles Kerr Publishing House, 1740 Greenleaf Avenue, Chicago Illinois, 60626. Franklin will send you a catalog of everything he carries. While you are waiting, check out this web site created by our artist here in Denver at: www.rebelgraphicsorg/carloscortez.html.

Hopefully, the I.W.W. can find a way to exhibit his art and poetry around the U.S. as part of the 100th celebration. He served this union almost 60 of those 100 years. What cha' think, Wobs?

Gary Cox



Go Back
Send Me Email

Go Back

Home | About My Posters | About My Prose | About My Poetry

About the Industrial Workers of the World | I.W.W. Posters | I.W.W. Prose | I.W.W. Poetry

About the Anti-Globalization Movement | Anti-Glob Posters | Anti-Glob Prose | Anti-Glob Poetry

About the Anti-war Movement | Anti-war Posters | Anti-war Prose | Anti-war Poetry

My Favorite Links | Report A Bad Link

Send Me Email