NEA Statement on the Death of National Heritage Fellow Rosa Elena Egipciaco
Washington, DC—It is with great sadness that the National Endowment for the Arts acknowledges the death of mundillo-maker Rosa Elena Egipciaco, of New York, New York, recipient of a 2003 NEA National Heritage Fellowship, the nation’s highest honor in the folk and traditional arts.
Egipciaco was born in Moca, Puerto Rico, into a family steeped in mundillo-making, as her mother and grandmother were noted makers of lace. Mundillo, the art of weaving delicate lace using wooden bobbins wrapped with thread, probably originated in 16th century Italy and then spread across Europe. The tradition came to Puerto Rico with the Spanish and reached a high state of refinement in towns such as Moca, now home of Museo del Mundillo.
Egipciaco started to learn mundillo when she was three or four years old and eventually began creating her own designs for collars, blouses, handkerchiefs, bridal veils, and pillowcases.
“We young girls made lace together, especially on Saturdays and Sundays when we didn't go to school,” Egipciaco told the Arts Endowment of her childhood. “I made laces on the sidewalk in front of my house and the house of another friend. We'd meet, five or six of us, and make laces on Saturdays and Sundays because we didn't go to the movies or to the beach in the nearby town. Nothing of that when we were small, you know. Our fun was making mundillo.”
After graduating from the University of Rio Piedras, Egipciaco co-founded the Cultural Center of Moca while continuing to practice mundillo. In 1986, she moved to New York and dedicated herself to teaching lace-making through a variety of programs ranging from workshops for the International Ladies Garment Workers Union to serving as a master in the New York State Council on the Arts Folk Arts Apprenticeship Program.
She also taught at Boricua College in Brooklyn and demonstrated the art of lace-making at institutions such as the American Museum of Natural History, El Museo del Barrio, and New York University.