INTO A SEAMLESS TAPESTRY
Arts, where Irvin and Lisa Trujillo nurture a small clan of weavers and their works. The two couples embody the tradition of weaving in Chimayó.
Los Vigiles Living Traditions is a cozy space that serves as a retail store for Rose and Eugene Vigil, as a weaver’s supply shop and as a working studio. Rose has been known to rescue abandoned looms from people’s driveways, nursing them back to health like sick puppies, and six different varieties dominate the interior of the shop, many holding pieces that are currently in the works.
Though both Eugene and Rose grew up in rural Northern New Mexico, the two couldn’t have come to weaving in more different ways. Eugene, a descendant of seven generations of Chimayó weavers, grew up watching his grandmother and aunts weaving and first gave it a try as soon as he was big enough to stand on the treadle. He learned the finer points of the Chimayó style through a lifelong apprenticeship with his cousin Demas Vigil. He develops his designs organically, rarely sketching out pieces, preferring to develop the design free-form.
Rose, on the other hand, learned her craft through a formal education at the Taos Institute of Art and Northern New Mexico College, where she has also been an instructor. She relies on color theory to choose the best combinations and methodically maps out each design.
Together, the couple collaborate, support and nurture each other’s weaving stories. While they weave their own pieces, they work together on spinning and dyeing wool and bouncing design ideas off each other, with Rose suggesting a color combination that
might work better and Eugene adjusting a design element here and there.
They consider each of their pieces a story, told not only by the design but also by what is used to dye the thread, the time of year the piece is woven and the source of the wool.
“We’re always trying to tell a story,” says Rose. “The color tells the story. The shape tells the story. It reflects what’s going on at the time in your life. As tapestry artists we’re always telling a tale.”
Eugene’s work hews closely to the Chimayó tradition. He riffs on the traditional design with his signature motifs of ribbons, arrows and leaves, which are subtly built into the Chimayó framework. Rose is devoted to rediscovering traditional methods and breathing fresh life into the simple, linear designs of the older Rio Grande tradition. Her cousin raises churro sheep nearby, and they supply the wool for much of her work. She is constantly on the hunt for natural elements to use in her dyes: Marigolds from her mother’s garden become the oranges; onionskins from a friend’s farm in Oregon become the yellows. The red dirt of Abiquiú becomes the reds and browns. Each element contributes to part of the story, making each weaving unique. Rose and Eugene Vigil can be reached at 505-351-4522 or on Facebook.
Centinela Traditional Arts, the workshop and sales studio of Irvin and Lisa Trujillo, is one of the largest weaving operations in Chimayó, supporting the work of more than 20 weavers.
Irvin’s weaving career started in 1965 when he was just 10 years old. Bored while on summer vacation in Chimayó, he saw his father weaving and asked to learn the craft. In the more than 50 years he’s been at the loom, Irvin’s résumé has continued to evolve and expand. His work has appeared everywhere from contemporary art museums in Japan to small art centers in Colorado and New Mexico. In 2007, the National Endowment for the Arts named him a National Heritage Fellow for the Arts, and his work has hung in the National Museum of American History.
Part of what makes Irvin’s work so special is his ability to weave modern influences into traditional styles, giving both their place in the piece. Dyeing wool is one of his favorite parts of the process, and his pieces exemplify this dedication to color with bright reds, deep blues and rich purples. “I weave the traditional styles of the old Rio Grande stripes, the Saltillo, Vallero, Jerga and Chimayó,” Irvin says. “I also weave modern designs or put modern elements in the pieces, which is what I’m known for.”
While Irvin’s work is a blend of modern influences with traditional styles, Lisa’s is more wandering, fluidly exploring styles and techniques. Originally from California, Lisa works in the Rio Grande tradition but also brings her own background and influences to her pieces. “I like to think of my work as being really varied, she says. “I try new things out on most of my pieces, only occasionally revisiting and reworking old ideas. The last few years I’ve been doing a lot of hand-spun pieces. My recent work has a lot of undyed churro colors (a range of white, silver, blue, brown, red, black and spotted).”
Like Eugene, Irvin also comes from seven generations of Chimayó weavers, and that long history imbues his work with a deep sense of place. While Lisa didn’t grow up in the valley, the community and tradition she found there also provide a foundation for her work. “The Chimayó style has a strong connection to history and to place, while also being its own unique and recognizable style,” Lisa says.
Both of the couples plan to continue weaving their stories into the story of Chimayó for many years to come. Irvin and Lucy Trujillo can be reached at 505-351-2180, or visit www.chimayoweavers.com.
Heather Apodaca is a writer and editor living in Albuquerque. Last year she wrote in this publication about the “lost” art of Spanish colonial filigree work.