Drawn to Consuelo Jimenez Underwood

Celebrating the renowned textile artist with a comic about her life and work

October 12, 2023
A woman with long hair and a green cape holds tools for weaving in her hands against a blooming floral background.

Cover of the comic "Consuelo Jimenez Underwood: Born to Weave." Illustration by Catherine Vo

Fiber artist and weaver Consuelo Jimenez Underwood was born in 1949 to a Chicana mother and Huichol father in Sacramento, California. As the daughter of migrant agricultural workers, she had to join her family in the fields to pick crops as soon as she could walk. Her father was undocumented and lived under the constant threat of being deported to Mexico—a cloud that hung over all their lives.

Despite the oppressive environment, there were bright moments: Consuelo’s father would often sing to the family to lift their spirits. He also made a frame loom and wove dresses for her. She learned how to crochet from her mother, and from that very first moment she lifted a needle and thread she was hooked. In fact, she likened it to a mystical experience.

Illustration of a woman crocheting. A text block at the  bottom says "Consuelo weaves together the struggle, spirit, and perseverance of a little girl from the borderlands, showing all girls that when they seek, find, and study their authentic voice they can craft a better world."

Catherine Vo, a student-illustrator from the Ringling College of Art and Design, conjures magic in her telling of Underwood’s story, “Born to Weave.” That mystical moment is transformed into a full-page illustration where Underwood says, “I remember kind of like an out-of-body experience, where I flew around seeing myself crocheting.” The page is amazing, as is the entire comic. The illustrations are as lush as a rainforest, combining both dreamy details and tougher truths about immigrant life in the United States. In Underwood’s story, the streets are paved not with gold, but with yarn—an interesting word whose multiple meanings include both textiles and storytelling.

Vo also connected with Underwood in her practice of crocheting:

Crocheting is something that I find exceedingly creative and also relaxing. I don’t really have to think about what I’m doing. I just let my hands and the hook do the work while I put on my favorite show or album.

Catherine Vo

The comic continues its amazing progression and follows Underwood as she attends college to learn as much as possible about weaving and goes on to create works that speak not only to her experience, but those who came from circumstances just like hers. Accompanied by Vo’s beautiful illustrations that weave together a tapestry of biography and hope, Underwood’s passion remains strong: showing all girls that when they seek, find, and study their authentic voice, they can craft a better world.

This comic is part of a series Drawn to Art: Tales of Inspiring Women Artists that illuminates the stories of women artists in the collection of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. Inspired by graphic novels, these short takes on artists’ lives were each drawn by a student-illustrator from the Ringling College of Art and Design.

We invite you to read the comic and share it with your friends and young people in your life.

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