When she was six years old, Catalina Delgado-Trunk learned to cut designs from paper at school in Coyoacán, an artsy old Mexico City neighborhood. “I just absolutely loved it. I was the messiest one. I had paper all over myself, all on the floor. There was a nun teaching kindergarten, and, boy, would she get mad at me,” she says. “She finally made a crown for me that said Reina del Desorden—Queen of Disorder.

“I thought it was great: I was the queen of something! I went home and I said, ‘Mamá, ¡soy reina!’

 

“‘¿Reina de qué?’

 

“‘¡Del desorden!’” She laughs. “Well, then she got mad at me, too.”

 

Now 70, Delgado-Trunk is Albuquerque’s laureled empress of papel picado. The Mexican folk art is familiar to anyone who’s admired the lacy paper cutouts that festoon Day of the Dead altars and other festive scenes, but her museum-quality work goes beyond folk art, staking out its own place in high culture. “Almost single-handedly she has created a new traditional art form in New Mexico, relying on the skills she grew up with,” Andrew Connors, the Albuquerque Museum’s curator of art, told the Governor’s Awards committee.

 

But the story of just how she grew up and rediscovered those skills is far from orderly.

 

At the University of Texas, where her father sent her to study at 16, Delgado fell in love with a man named Jim Trunk and decided to become an American. That dream made it as far as Florida before snagging on what she calls “the ugly claw of the United States, which is racism.” A Zapotec farm laborer in the couple’s community was killed by police. Delgado- Trunk helped erect a memorial ofrenda in his honor, but “within 24 hours we had the sheriff, the mayor, and the pastor of a church shut it down because they thought that was satanic—we were satanic people.”

 

Delgado-Trunk was furious. She stormed the Orlando History Museum, demanding that Mexicans be recognized as part of the region’s culture. To her surprise, she found an ally in a curator and folklorist who encouraged her to put an ofrenda in the museum. When that caught on, she was asked to build another in city hall, of all places. “They had to put a disclaimer that it was cultural, not satanic, which I thought was funny as all get-out.”

 

By the time she and Jim moved to New Mexico, in 2000, in search of a state that would be more understanding, Delgado-Trunk had made so many altars that she’d given up decorating them with imported papel picado and begun cutting out her own designs. She reconnected with the art form during an extended stay in Mexico City in the 1990s, where she returned to seek out her roots. “I had lost my identity. A midlife crisis, if you want to call it that,” she says. Folk-art workshops at the Ciudadela Market put her back in touch with the pleasure of working with paper—and, just like that, she became queen again.

 

Read the full article at New Mexico Magazine

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