Joseph Jacinto Mora Biography

A man whose life’s work was dominated by his own fascination with the romance of the American West...

Jo Mora was a true Renaissance man who also enjoyed an adventurous life. He was a sculptor, painter, muralist, etcher, illustrator, cartoonist, map-maker, saddle-maker, diorama-maker, photographer, author, and actor, designer of everything from coins and book-plates to houses – leaving us a remarkable legacy.   He devoted his life to exploration of subjects as diverse as vaqueros, Hopi Kachina figures, the Arizona landscape, and California missions. He was an artillery major and Indian language interpreter for the U.S. Army, honorary member of the Hopi and Navajo tribes, and a cowhand.

Mora was born in Montevideo, Uruguay, the son of Catalonian sculptor, Domingo Mora, a well- known painter and sculptor who brought his family to the United States in the mid 1890s and then became a teacher in New York at the Art Students League.

Joseph and his artist brother Luis Mora (1874-1940) grew up being much influenced by the creative atmosphere of their father's studio. Joseph studied at the Pingry Academy in Elizabeth, New Jersey; the Art Students League with his father in New York City; and then in Boston at the Cowles Art School, and with William Merritt Chase.

Mora began his professional career as an illustrator for The Boston Traveler and as a staff artist and cartoonist – writing a feature Sunday cartoon page called Animaldom for The Boston Herald.  In 1894, when he was age 18, he took a four-year horseback sketching and writing tour of Mexico, the American Southwest, and Texas. On this trip, he worked as a cow puncher on ranches along the way to earn money.  In 1903, he headed west again and joined his parents who were living in San Jose, California. In 1904, he returned to Arizona and New Mexico and lived with Hopi and Navajo tribes, learning their languages and painting depictions of their ceremonies, especially the Kachina ceremonial dances.


In 1907, he married and bought a ranch in the Santa Clara Valley where he and his father worked together on sculpture commissions until his father died in 1911. In 1914, Mora and his wife moved to San Francisco, and in 1915 he served on the jury for the Panama Pacific International Exposition (P.P.I.E.). In 1920 they moved to Carmel where he established a studio at the Carmel Mission. There he completed his most famous work, the monumental cenotaph of bronze and travertine representing Father (now Saint) Junipero Serra lying in state surrounded by his religious brethren.

After completing this work, the Mora’s acquired a new home in Pebble Beach through his close relationship with Samuel F.B. Morse. As a commission for Morse, Jo Mora carved the wooden oak Serra Shrine located at Camino Del Monte and Alta in Carmel.

One of the results of his earlier western travels was a series of detailed and humorous maps/cartes that he created of the national parks that were made into posters. In the 1930s, the maps sold for 25 cents each and were distributed through souvenir shops at the parks. Jo created beautiful decorative elements for many buildings, including the Monterey County Courthouse.

Outside of the Monterey Peninsula, Jo Mora created San Francisco’s Cervantes Sculpture in Golden Gate Park; the Bret Harte Memorial on the wall of the Bohemian Club (1919); as well as dioramas for the Will Rogers Memorial in Oklahoma. He designed fountains, such as the one at Villa Montalvo in Saratoga, and did wall murals for Julia Morgan’s Los Angeles Examiner building. U.C. Berkeley has a marble bench made by Jo Mora. He also designed the commemorative half dollar for the 75th anniversary of California statehood.

He also painted a watercolor series, "Horsemen of the West". Towards the end of his career, he wrote and illustrated two books, "Trail Dust and Saddle Leather" and "Californios". Two of his children’s books include “Chippie de Munk: The Great Inventor” and “Budgee Budgee Cottontail.”

Jo Mora died in Pebble Beach on October 10, 1947.

Member: Bohemian Club; Family Club (SF); National Sculpture Society; SFAA; Carmel AA; Carmel Arts & Crafts Club

Exhibited: NAD; PAFA; Alaska-Yukon Expo (Seattle), 1909; Bohemian Club, 1913, 1914; Vickery, Atkins, & Torrey (SF), 1913 (solo); Calif. Artists, Golden Gate Park Museum, 1915; PPIE, 1915 (member of Int’l Jury of Awards); SFAA, 1915-16; CPLH, 1929; Calif.-Pacific Int’l Expo (San Diego), 1935; GGIE, 1939; Smithsonian Inst., 1979 (solo); Monterey Peninsula Museum of Art, retrospective which included sculpture and architectural adornments/1998

In: Arlington Elementary School, San Jose, CA (sundial); Portland (OR) Post Office and Court House (architectural sculpture); Lobby of Examiner Bldg (SF); Canterbury Hotel, SF (murals in lobby); Hotel Drake-Wiltshire, SF (murals in The ‘Fable’ Restaurant); Carmel Dairy (murals), Carmel; El Paseo Courtyard Sculpture (Carmel); SF Golden Gate Park (Cervantes); San Rafael, CA (Doughboy); Bohemian Club (Bret Harte Memorial); State Chamber of Commerce and Stock Exchange Building, SF (pediments); Pacific Mutual Building (LA); Scottish Rite Temple, San Jose (figures); Monterey County Court House (Salinas); Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey (La Novia); Harrison Library (Carmel); California Historical Society.

Source: Edan Hughes, "Artists in California, 1786-1940"; essay by Betty Hoag McGlynn/Jo Mora:Spokesman for the Old West; Peter Hiller, Curator, Jo Mora Trust.