Straw Appliqué Cross by Paula Rodriguez (1915-2008), New Mexico
Straw Appliqué Cross
by Paula Rodriguez (1915-2008), New Mexico
wood, straw, pigment
7.5” tall x 5” wide x .5” deep
Paula Rodriguez - 1915-2008: Artist 'turned straw into gold'
Santa Fean helped revitalize the art of straw appliqué
by Douglas Fairfield The New Mexican
Dec 9, 2008
New Mexico has lost one of its golden stars. Award-winning straw appliqué artist Paula Rodriguez died Monday at her home in Santa Fe surrounded by family members. She was 93. According to Gerald Rodriguez, the youngest son of Eliseo and Paula Rodriguez, the exact cause of death is still unknown. However, "her general health had worsened over the last two months," he said.
Paula, born in Rowe, NM on Feb. 25, 1915, and Eliseo, a native Santa Fean, were one of Santa Fe's longest-married couples. In an interview with The New Mexican in February of this year, the two recalled how they met on the Santa Fe Plaza in 1934 following a St. Michael's High School football game. "I was walking by a group of girls who were talking around the corner, and I noticed that there was this one girl who wasn't from Santa Fe. I made an excuse to go up and talk to them, and that's how we met," Eliseo said. Eleven months later, they married at what was then called St. Francis Cathedral.
They built their east-side adobe home on San Acacio Street , now Camino San Acacio, where the family still resides, and raised seven children (three of whom who preceded Paula in death, according to Gerald Rodriguez). Soon after their marriage in 1935, Eliseo learned the rapidly vanishing tradition of straw appliqué while participating in the Works Progress Administration program and, in turn, taught the technique to Paula.
By the 1950s, they were among but a few practitioners of the craft. "Since then, their family has carried on the tradition of straw appliqué as they taught their children and grandchildren the technique, working out of their kitchen in their home," said William Field, director of the Museum of Spanish Colonial Art in Santa Fe. When informed of Paula's death, Field remarked: "Paula was a tremendously important person in the Hispanic arts."
Adding to that, Stuart Ashman, the state Department of Cultural Affairs secretary, said: "Paula Rodriguez, along with her husband, Eliseo, are the two artists most responsible for the revival of traditional straw appliqué. They truly turned straw into gold. She will be missed, as she is revered by many Santa Fesinos. Muchos cariños (affection) a la familia Rodriguez."
Carmella Padilla, a curator, writer, and longtime friend of the Rodriguez family said Paula "was a kind, loving, generous woman who is among the greatest New Mexican Hispana artists of all time. Her unique talent helped transform and revitalize the art of straw appliqué into a major artistic expression, and her influence has been felt by generations of artists....she was deeply loved and will be deeply missed."
In the 1970s, a conservator for the Museum of International Folk Art saw work by Paula and Eliseo and encouraged them to showcase their pieces at the Spanish Colonial Arts Society's Spanish Market. As a result of doing so, and because of immediate interest in their work, they periodically conducted workshops in straw appliqué at the museum and at the New Mexico State Fair. In 1994, Paula was honored with a Governor's Award for Excellence in the Arts for her work in straw appliqué. Ten years later, both she and Eliseo were recognized for their contributions in folk art traditions with a National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellowship.
Together, their work has been collected by the Smithsonian Institution as well as private collectors throughout the world. Paula's "marriage to Eliseo was a love story in every sense of the word, and she remained devoted to him, her family, her faith and her art throughout her long, full life," Padilla said.