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161 Eliseo Rodriguez Introduction Eliseo Rodriguez, one of two surviving Hispano Works Progress Administration (WPA) artists from New Mexico, lives with his wife, Paula, herself a noted straw inlay artist, in Santa Fe Canyon near the beautiful adobe Cristo Rey Church. For months, our New Mexico state folklorist Claude Stephenson had been urging me to interview Eliseo Rodriguez for this project. In the late spring of 2006, Claude and I went to the Rodriguez home and conducted a compelling interview. Señor Rodriguez was born in Santa Fe in 1915 and maintains his roots in the very neighborhood where he grew up. Santa Fe Canyon lies to the east of the plaza, nestled in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. The canyon cradles the Santa Fe River, which provides Santa Fe with much of its water. The community that the río nurtures was founded during the first decade of the seventeenth century, and twenty generations of Hispano families have lived here. In this interview, Señor Rodriguez recounts his own story of his life as an artist. He recalls many of the other artists who lived in Santa Fe Canyon, an enduring art colony still celebrated in galleries that lure collectors from around the world. He speaks of his abiding association with the Anglo artist Louie Ewing. And he recalls his boyhood along the Santa Fe River at a time when most traditional people in the region still practiced handcrafted subsistence life-styles. Eliseo Rodriguez, photo by author 162 / Economic Depression in the Land of Clear Light Eliseo Rodriguez ER: I got a scholarship to go to the art school here in Santa Fe. It was a gift by one of the leading writers at the time. His name was Ted Flynn. In memory of his wife, he sent me to art school for three years. Then from there I started doing little carvings and little glass paintings and little gadgets like that, and these wonderful people that owned the Native Market, it was run by a lady named Eleanor Bedell. She was such a wonderful person. Prior to my introducing my work to these people, I used to work digging sewer lines. But then one day the man said, “Well, we have completed the job, and that’s the end of the deal. We have to let everybody go except the ones that are on permanent basis.” At the time, Paula and I met, and from the time that we met to the time that we got married—about nine months—that’s when I was working digging ditches. But then I didn’t have a job, you see. But I had my little artwork that I was doing, and I introduced it to the lady at the Native Market. JL: Eleanor Bedell? ER: She was such a wonderful person. She said, “Eliseo, I wish I could help you, but it so happens we’re not buying anything. It’s a paralyzed situation now.” I tell her what I can do. She said, “I’m very well acquainted with Vernon Hunter, who is the state director of the Art Project, the WPA. I’m sure he’s seen some of your work. You might have a good chance to get connected and see what you can do.” She gave me a piece of paper. From there I went across, and there at the corner of Galisteo Street was a twostory building. It’s still there. What happened was, there were a lot of people going upstairs waiting to go talk to this guy Vernon Hunter. “Oh my gosh,” I said to myself. “It’s going to take a long time before I can get to talk to this guy.” It so happened that one fellow who used to deliver telegrams was a friend of mine— Carrillo was his name, from La Cienega. He said, “Hi, how you Eliseo Rodriguez / 163 doing?” We started talking. He said, “I have to deliver this telegram right away to Mr. Vernon Hunter.” I said, “Why don’t you let me deliver it? It’ll be the same.” He said, “Sure, why not?” So I just went. I moved people to one side. “Telegram for Mister—” And I went to his office, and I told him the whole story, see. He was very much impressed how I could have gotten in to talk to him before the other people. He said, “I’ll tell you what you do. I think I...


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MARC Record
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