Irvin Trujillo has won countless major awards for his weaving including The Spanish Market Master’s Award for Lifetime Achievement in 2005, and a National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellowship in 2007. His work is collected throughout the world by individuals and museums, including The Smithsonian. But he didn’t even mention any of this to me. More important to him is creating new pieces, not so much to advance and stretch the tradition, but to increase his own “vocabulary of design.” It is the foundation of what his dad taught him: To make an individual piece every time you get on a loom, a tradition Irvin upholds.
Irvin is a seventh generation weaver. He learned from his father when he was 10 and had to stand on a chair to reach the loom. His dad had begun weaving at home in a newly spare bedroom (his sister having just left for college), and Irvin could hear the rhythmic noise coming from behind the closed door. “I was fascinated, really,” he says. He listened for a couple of weeks before going in to watch. He watched for another couple of weeks before his father finally asked him if he wanted to learn. He did. It wasn’t until Irvin entered college himself that he started hearing his father was a master.
Another thing seemingly lost to the old days is the acceptance of imperfection. Irvin says, “My perception of what people want today is perfection. The old pieces happened because it was what they had to do to use. They were utilitarian. The tourist industry changed that… My dad taught me that if I wanted to make an interesting design, to make some elements different—break the pattern a little—make one stripe a smaller size. Then the eye has to look at it differently for the brain to recognize what it’s seeing. The old designs weren’t perfect and that’s what makes them art.”
Centinela Traditional Arts, the weaving business Irvin started with his wife and father more than three decades ago, has 10 full time weavers now, many of them from the same families. In this way Irvin feels they help to keep the tradition alive, not just for their own family but for other families as well.
Following his heritage and his heart has not always been easy. He is a licensed engineer and could easily go earn a more consistent living. He says, “Having the shop is a blast, but it’s been hard. We’ve been broke many times. I’ve tried to learn how to just live in the day—I’ll have fun in the day. I live my bliss as much of the time as I can.”
I believe Irvin is saying what is true for so many of us who have chosen this artist’s path: No matter the challenges, we continue to stand with them–we continue taking leap after leap into the unknown. We make our art because it is in us to do. And it is, in fact, a blast.
A reader just sent in this note: “We will be our own heros.” Yes, Kate, we will.
See more about Irvin, the history of weaving, and Centinela Traditional Arts at chimayoweavers.com.
Love to you all,