El historiador de la ciudad (The Town Historian)

El historiador de la ciudad (The Town Historian)

Cuba Series - Painting #13
October 2016
36" x 48" - Acrylic on canvas

I had finally made it to Esperanza, my grandfathers hometown and the last place where his art work had been seen by my family. My seemingly impossible task was to try and find one of his paintings, but where would I begin?

My grandfather died tragically in 1948, not even 30 years old. 14 years later my family fled the island once it became clear that Castro's new government was indeed communist in nature. They left with a suitcase in each hand and left everything else they couldn't carry behind. My grandfathers paintings were left with servants and never seen again. Nobody in my family remembers the names of the servants or knows anything about them. All I knew was the street where my great grandmother lived. Armed with that meager information I began randomly knocking on doors. The people I met were eager to help but after speaking to a few neighbors I could tell we were just spinning our wheels. It was suggested that I try and speak to Hector, the Esperanza town historian. It was an unofficial title but he knew everyone in town, the kind of guy we might call "Mayor".

I was given his address and after walking a few blocks I found the house and knocked on his door. His wife answered (she is featured in this series, sitting in a rocking chair) and she invited me in. She informed me that her husband was in the backyard working but that he'd be happy to speak to me. As she went to get him I could see he was out back, involved in some kind of construction project and he was sweating profusely. I felt bad to bother him while he was working. He came in to greet me and I began to tell him my story. He had a look of nobility in his face. He was a man with a strong presence and a serious demeanor. As I spoke he listened intently. He sat quietly for a moment, apparently computing all the information I had given him and trying to formulate a response. "OK, let me change my clothes and I'll see what I can do," he said.

I was astounded that this man who didn't know me from Adam stopped his day completely in order to help me. I couldn't imagine a scenario where that might happen in Brooklyn. He proceeded to take me to the houses of all the oldest people in the community. It made sense since someone would have to be 70 or older to even remember my family if they were a child at the time they left.

The next 5 hours were spent criss crossing the town, dropping in on every relevant person he could think of, asking for any information on my family and who the servants they left the art with might have been. Despite hs greatest efforts, we were unable to find the lost paintings, but I did meet people who remembered my family, including a woman who was taught by my great-grandmother in elementary school (she was a math teacher) and were were able to find the location of my great-grandfathers bakery. The graciousness of the townsfolk and their heartfelt attempts to help me was an incredible experience, and in many ways it inspired me to create this portrait series.

I feel i'll forever be indebted to Hector for taking that afternoon of his life to help a total stranger. Hopefully this portrait at least gets me started toward my repayment for his time and help.
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