Neighborhood native Lilia Estrada-Rodriguez sees angels.
She sees them during the day while caring for her three sons, and she sees them in her sleep.
They have pervaded her home.
As a papier-mache folk artist, Estrada specializes in angels. She crafts about 10 angels each week, more during the holidays, using newspapers and a paste she mixes from flour and water. Once the paste dries, she colors the angels with bright or pastel acrylic and tempera paints.
The ones she doesn’t sell decorate her home. Each angel is different, and each is designed purely from Estrada’s imagination.
She began crafting angels six years ago, teaching herself techniques through trial and error.
“I wanted to do something with my hands, and I wanted to do something at home,” Estrada says. “When I was younger and I went to church, I saw a lot of angels and saints. That stayed with me.”
Papier-mache began as an inexpensive hobby for Estrada, giving her a creative way to recycle old newspapers, but soon turned into a business. At first, she took some of her angels and a few cats she had made to her father’s frame shop and art gallery, Estrada Studios at 1700 Routh, to see if they would sell.
To her surprise, they went quickly.
“It shocked me since I have never had art classes,” she says. “I guess it’s a gift. An idea just comes to me, and I create it.”
Today, Estrada has a group of patrons who collect her work, and she teaches papier-mache classes throughout our City. Her reputation has gradually extended beyond Dallas, and occasionally she ships pieces to other states. But her main gallery is still her father’s shop. The angels sell for $30-$189, depending on their size. Some are made for mantles, others to hang.
When a new angel design pops into Estrada’s head, she sketches a picture and goes to work. Sometimes she’ll wake up in the middle of the night bitten by her artistic bug.
She works mostly during the evening and when her two oldest children, Alfonso Jr. and Gilbert, are in school at Robert E. Lee Elementary, where Estrada also attended school. Her youngest son, Anthony, isn’t in school yet.
Although Estrada isn’t able to work on her art from 9 to 5, she puts in full-time hours, she says.
“I’ll stay up to three or four in the morning creating,” she says. “I’ll get so involved that I don’t realize the time has passed so quickly.”
She remembers the Christmas her father, Alfonso, crafted large cardboard angels with tinsel wings to hang from the pillars of her Catholic church. She looked on the display with pride, and it inspired her, she says.
“A lot of things are so chaotic that I feel people are looking for something to let them know there’s a higher power, to let them know there’s good out there,” Estrada says.
“It’s not a coincidence that I create angels. It’s brought more peace into my life.”