Lorrie Aguilar-Sjoberg, Straw Appliqué Inlay Artist
by Don Toomey

Lorrie Aguilar-Sjoberg, daughter of the Bernalillo santero Filimón Aguilar, was born in Albuquerque, New Mexico, but has lived a good part of her life in Bernalillo. Her elementary and secondary schooling was in Bernalillo. After high school she spent two years at New Mexico State University, beginning as a psychology major and then going into Secondary and later Special Education.

Lorrie was raised in a traditional Hispanic family where her father and a number of relatives practiced such traditional arts as bulto carving, retablo painting, and tin-smithing. However the awareness of those particular arts and crafts, practiced within a family setting, did not make much of an impression on Lorrie. It was not until 1990, while working in an Albuquerque gift shop/gallery, that Lorrie was struck by the beauty of a particular Hispanic art form. The gallery was showing traditional Spanish Colonial straw appliqué/inlay crosses by Albuquerque artist Jimmy E. Trujillo. Of all the art in the gallery, his straw appliqué/inlay crosses impressed her most. Lorrie spent some time trying to determine how he did this beautiful work. This was the first time that Lorrie had seen and become aware of what straw appliqué/inlay was all about.

At about this time her father, Filimón, had been accepted into the Spanish Market to show his marvelous bultos. Lorrie accompanied him to Winter Market in 1994, mainly to see the work of others. She talked to other straw artisans, and thought their work was great, but what Jimmy Trujillo was doing appeared to Lorrie as exceptional. She went to Spanish Market in 1994 to observe more straw inlay work and found out that Jimmy Trujillo was offering a workshop on straw appliqué/inlay at the Museum of International Folk Art, sponsored by the Spanish Colonial Arts Society. Lorrie and her mother Alicia signed up to take this weekend workshop. They both enjoyed the workshop and had the opportunity to sit down and talk with Jimmy Trujillo. He personally showed her how he did his straw appliqué/inlay and suggested ways she could go about getting started herself. Her first attempt was a straw inlay cross for her brother and sister-in-law as a Christmas gift. Jimmy Trujillo helped her to complete this initial attempt at straw inlay. In January 1995, she spent more time with Jimmy, and he generously gave her additional pointers and specifically showed her the process of applying pitch to the cross surface. After she had completed some additional crosses Jimmy suggested that she submit her work to the Spanish Market screening committee. She was accepted as an official participant and first showed her work at the 1995 Spanish Market. She feels that she owes much to Jimmy Trujillo for helping her accomplish this dream.

Lorrie generally uses New Mexican straw for her appliqué/inlaywork. She has also used oat straw and the straw from corn husks. Last year, she and her family visited relatives in Missouri, where, at the time, the native wheat crop was ripe and ready to be harvested. She gathered up a bunch of it, and noted that a little goes a long way! Lorrie also brought back some Missouri wheat seeds, which she will plant and hope to harvest!

Lorrie and her mentor Jimmy Trujillo coat their straw inlay pieces with pitch, and when asked if this is a traditional technique she noted that some of the older straw crosses in the Museum of International Folk Art collection show thick resin coatings.

Asked if she slightly carved out the surface of to fit in the straw pieces, she responded, not at all! Lorrie uses a small paint brush to go over the area she is working on with resin, then she proceeds to cut out the straw pieces for her design, and just adds one piece of straw to another to complete the design. After the straw inlay is completed she coats the entire cross with resin. This coating very much gives the inlaid impression and gives the object a translucent quality.

Lorrie creates mostly straw inlay crosses. She has made small inlay boxes, but these were done primarily as gifts. Her father had suggested that she paint a retablo, and then inlay areas of it with straw, but she claims she doesn't paint very well. At the present moment her children are still toddlers, and she finds it difficult to accumulate the time to devote to experimenting. She has hopes of exploring other ways of doing and using straw inlay when her children are older and in school.

Her wooden crosses had been made by a neighbor, but now that her father has a newly equipped workshop, making and assembling the crosses will be a family effort. Lorrie uses black water-base paint, straight out of the can, to paint the crosses. When she gets time she hopes to experiment with various colored natural pigments as a painting medium. Her cross designs are mainly floral, but she does some narrative designs, mainly themes that reflect biblical stories.

When Lorrie was asked what she enjoyed about showing her work at Spanish Market, she emphasized the fact that she thoroughly enjoyed meeting and talking with other straw artists. Each time she sees what is being produced she is utterly amazed at the talent in New Mexico. She feels that straw artists put much of their heart and talent into their work, and their spirituality comes through their work. Before she starts working on a piece, she stops and prays for guidance. Lorrie is a religious person and strongly believes that she alone could never come up with some of the designs all by herself, so she prays to God to continue to give her inspiration and ideas for her work. On the back of all her crosses she has the biblical citation of John 3:16 (That God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son....), and her business cards carry the word shekinah, a Hebrew word that means "the glory and presence of God." Lorrie chose these because she wants all of her works to glorify God. She feels that in everything she does, He is with her, showing and guiding her in what she needs to do.

Don Toomey is a retired geologist living in Placitas and interested in northern New Mexican Hispanic arts and culture.

First published in Tradicion Revista, Volume 1, No. 3, Fall 1996.

Copyright 2002. May not be reproduced in any form without written permission.