Tuesday, December 13, 2011


Laurie Beth Zuckerman's husband, Thomas Mathies
designed and built this New Mexican style penitente cross
Laurie Beth Zuckerman's husband, Thomas Mathies
designed and built this New Mexican style penitente cross (detail)

Laurie Beth Zuckerman's husband, Thomas Mathies has just completed his first New Mexican-style cross, in honor of Laurie's milestone birthday, December 12. I had some old photos that I had taken in 1993 at the International Museum of Folk Art in Santa Fe, where we first saw examples of colonial-era wood crosses. I had always wanted my husband to try making me one of these penitente crosses decorated with straw appliqué. Finally my wish came true and Tom was able to spend the last couple of weeks designing and constructing this sensational cross. It is a whooping 50" tall. Truly, it is bigger and better than any cross I have seen in my books or in other museums we have visited, such as the new Spanish Colonial Museum in Santa Fe. Boy do I feel lucky!! My new treasure looks fabulous in our old house.

Here are a few web resources you can follow to learn more about straw applique crosses:


This website states: Straw appliqué developed from the desires of 16th-century Spanish priests to decorate their churches in the New World with gold items similar to the ones they brought with them from Spain. Since gold was not found in New Mexico, the inhabitants improvised and used other materials. They discovered that local grasses, when dried, almost looked something like gold. "It was called the poor man's gold," Donna Pedace, executive director of the Spanish Colonial Arts Society, said. "It was the closest approximation to gold that they could come up with." The process involves splitting and flattening the straw and removing the inside to get very thin, golden-colored pieces. The tiny pieces are affixed to pieces of wood or metal in geometric or figurative designs. The most common items are crosses, frames and boxes.

More about the history of straw applique at this site: http://strawapplique.com/history-of-straw-applique/

"Straw appliqué–an art form practiced around the world–is believed to have originated as an art form practiced by peasants who desired marquetry, a form of decorating wooden items, typically with other wood, ivory or gold. Because of it’s visual similarity to marquetry, or inlay, straw appliqué soon was coined with the term “poor man’s gold.” Passed from  the Moors to the Spanish as early as 700AD, and then practiced as a religious art form, it was brought to the New World and into what is present day New Mexico, where it flourished as an art form in the 1700’s and 1800’s, practiced by Spanish and Natives alike. At the end of the 1800’s, however, it was considered a lost art form."

To see examples of contemporary straw applique artists from New Mexico, log onto: http://newmexicocreates.org/category-26/New-Mexico-Artisan-Work/Spanish-Colonial-Crafts?filter%5Bcategory%5D=145


Gayle said...

What a wonderful birthday present.

rebecca said...

surely this is love! laurie....i am so deeply thrilled for you! pure treasure, profoundly beautiful, wonderful talent, gorgeous design.
i love the golden straw on the black black cross.