Santa Fe Living Treasures – Elder Stories

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Eliseo & Paula Rodriguez

Eliseo & Paula Rodriguez


Honored October, 1998

Eliseo & Paula Rodriguez

Growing up on Canyon Road in Santa Fe, Eliseo Rodriguez couldn’t help but be exposed to art.  In the 1920’s, at age 12, he worked various odd jobs for the legendary group known as Los Cinco Pintores (The Five Painters).  His father was a weaver and while herding goats would fashion miniature wagons with a pocketknife from stalks of wild corn.  Thanks to a benefactor, he attended the Santa Fe Art School before entering Santa Fe High School where he continued his art education and he excelled in oil painting, reverse painting on glass and furniture making.  During the Great Depression, Eliseo was directed towards the Federal Art Project, a work-relief program sprung from the WPA, and the director of the program approached Eliseo with a proposal that would change his artistic focus and ultimately define his art for the rest of his life.  He was asked to resurrect the Hispanic art form from the 18th and 19th centuries called “straw appliqué.”  Art historians today credit him with single-handedly reviving the colonial art form. 

His enthusiasm for the art form spread to his wife, Paula, who he feels is responsible for much of his success. Together they researched, experimented and refined the craft and it became their creative passion.  They were the first artists to exhibit straw appliqué in the Spanish Market, eventually becoming recognized by museums and private collectors.  They have since received the prestigious Master’s Award for Lifetime Achievement, Rotary Club Distinguished Artist of the Year,The Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts and a $20,000 National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellowship award.

In a true testament to his artistic longevity, Eliseo’s name is embedded in the sidewalk in front of the Museum of Fine Arts in Santa Fe among the names of his early 20th-century mentors – the Cinco Pintores. His plaque lies between those of Fremont Ellis and Willard Nash, two of his mentors.  

Photo © 2004 Steve Northrup