Guatemala native brings nature’s beauty to life — with bread
San Quentin artist Idalio Villagran takes prison-constrained creativity and resourcefulness to another level, crafting beautiful roses of various colors from state-issued bread and Kool-Aid.
The roses are so convincing that people seeing them for the first time mutter in disbelief, first that they are not real, and finally that they are constructed from bread.
“Since I was a kid I have always like roses,” said Villagran, “[and as a kid] I loved to share my creativity with my family, because they mean the world to me.”
Now he shares the fruits of his unusual talent with fellow residents of San Quentin, who give the roses to their own families and loved ones. Some have dubbed him the Cupid of San Quentin.
His favorite rosette is red because it signifies love. They are the most popular color in February. And it is the reds that he prefers to send to his family, but he also makes purple or any other color.
“It is very complicated to create roses that are not red,” said Villagran. “It is also a [challenge] to get the right ingredients for all my roses.”
The recent SQ arrival considers his emerging talent a blessing and sees his creations as a manifestation of his Catholic faith.
“When I am able to create a perfect petal, to me it becomes a symbol and image of the Virgin of Guadalupe,” said Villagran. It can take up to three weeks to finish a rose.
The artist wishes that he had known how to create these roses before his late niece Sofia Lara Villagran passed away. He believes that she would have like the tinged rosettes.
Villagran enjoys the positive impact his art has on others, and that the gifting of the art can help to connect or strengthen relationships that are strained.
Villagran has run small workshops on prison yards to teach other incarcerated men how to create the lovely rosettes. It’s a lengthy process but, in brief, what he does is knead the Kool-Aid powder into the bread to give it color. He then shapes the dough into stems and petals and constructs a flower. After that, the flower” dries for several days. The drying process often produces cracks in the dough that need to be fixed. The fixing can go on for one to three weeks.
The artist also makes donations of his work. Organizations like Turning Point have received his rosettes as a token of appreciation for the work they do for the incarcerated, including providing group facilitators and self-help correspondence courses. He considers it a blessing to give back to his community.
“Turning Point has given me multiple tools through their courses. I’ve become a better person; they changed my life and the lives of many other incarcerated men and women,” said Villagran.
Beyond creating beauty for the enjoyment of others, Villagran says that his creative work expands his mind and makes him feel better inside — it is nourishment to his soul that leads to a sense of self-worth and accomplishment.