Although the historical and artistic evolution of the artform remains undocumented, straw appliqué decoration on chests, boxes, and crosses in New Mexico appears to be a variation of European marquetry work.Marquetry is a method used to decorate a surface with small, thin pieces of variously colored and contrasting materials, such as woods, metals, ivory, bone, tortoiseshell, and mother-of-pearl. In marquetry work two techniques of manufacture are employed.
One technique is called inlay; the other is called veneer.In inlay, the surface of an object is slighly carved out, leaving shallow cavities in which thin decorative pieces are placed. In veneer marquetry, decorative pieces are fitted together into a thin sheet and then applied to the surface of an object. Straw work in New Mexico appears to be a simplified combination of the two techniques, with the decorative fragments covering only portions of the surface, as in inlaid marquetry work, but with the pieces inset, as in veneerlike marquetry work.
Current thought holds that the art of straw appliqué died out in New Mexico in the late nineteenth century and was revived in the early twentieth century by master artist Eliseo Rodriguez. The use of straw appliqué by Jose Dolores Lopez in the late 1920s may indicate an overlap of survival and revival in this ephemeral but enduring art.
[excerpted from an article by Donna Pierce inSpanish New Mexico, The Spanish Colonial Arts Society Collection]