El historiador de la ciudad (The Town Historian)Cuba Series - Painting #13
36" x 48" - Acrylic on canvas
I had finally made it to Esperanza, my grandfather’s hometown and the last place where his artwork 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 grandfather's paintings were left with servants and never seen again. Nobody in my family remembers the names of the servants or knows anything about them. I did however learn the name of the street where my grandfather lived.
Armed with that meager information I began randomly knocking on doors. Everyone I met was eager to help, but after a while I could tell I was just spinning my wheels. It was then 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 you might affectionately call the "Mayor.”
I was given his address and found myself at his doorstep. His wife answered and invited me in. She informed me that Hector was working in the backyard but that he'd be happy to speak to me. As she went to get him I could see he was involved in some kind of construction project. He was sweating profusely.
Upon our introduction I began to tell him my story. As I spoke he listened intently. When I concluded my story he sat silently, seemingly computing all the information I had given him.
"OK” he said, “let me change my clothes and I'll see what I can do.”
I was astounded that this man who I had just met completely stopped his day in order to help me. He proceeded to take me to the houses of all the oldest people in the community - those with enough years to possibly remember my family from back in the day.
The next 5 hours were spent crisscrossing the town, dropping in on every relevant person he could think of. Despite his 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. We were also able to find the location of my great-grandfather's bakery, which was now a social hall for veterans of the revolution.
The graciousness of the townsfolk and their heartfelt attempts to help me was an incredible experience, one that ultimately 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.