Eliseo (1915–2009) and Paula (1919–2008) Rodriguez were awarded a National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellowship in 2004. The couple received this prestigious honor for their work in perfecting and preserving the art of straw appliqué. It was a technique that had all but died out during the early part of the 20th century. Often referred to as “poor man’s gilding,” straw appliqué involves the layering of straw to emulate gold leaf.
It was during the early days of their marriage that Eliseo worked as woodworker and painter. Through the WPA arts program, Eliseo learned the tradition of straw appliqué. He then taught it to Paula and they began working on pieces together. The Rodríguezes passed on this tradition to their children and grandchildren.
Art Became a Family Affair
In addition to doing straw appliqué, Eliseo was hired by the WPA in 1936 as a painter and muralist. His work includes oil-on-canvas paintings and reverse-glass images on tin. By the 1960s he was commissioned to do murals, portraits and more straw appliqué. Eliseo encouraged Paula that her talents lay far beyond the home. Through his guidance Paula became an accomplished artist in her own right.