Artistic inspiration found during Cuba travels

Inspiration for artists comes in many forms—sometimes in their own backyards and sometimes in exotic places. 

Four local artists found inspiration a few months ago on the island of Cuba, thanks to support from a local arts center. Now their work is being shared at venues throughout DeKalb County.

The artists are Les Scarborough, owner of Scarborough Art Gallery in Tucker; Tracie L. Hawkins, curator of the gallery; Bob Glicksmith, photography teacher at the Lou Walker Center in Lithonia along with his protégé Sharon Dowdell.

Tracie Lee Hawkins
Tracie Lee Hawkins

The foursome was on an eight-day cruise that took them to Cuba’s port cities: Santiago, Havana and Cienfuegos. The February trip was sponsored by ART Station Contemporary Arts Center and Theatre Company.

Their works are on display through June 24 at Scarborough Art Gallery, 4426 Hugh Howell Road, Suite E in Tucker. July 8 through Sept. 9, an exhibition of their work will be shown at ART Station, 5384 Manor Drive in Stone Mountain.

Les Scarborough
Les Scarborough

Hawkins, a painter who works in oil, acrylic and watercolor and a fiber artist, shared some of her thoughts and impressions from the trip. Here are edited excerpts of her narrative:

 “Each of us had never been to Cuba and decided to embark on a new adventure and return to create works of art depicting what we observed.  

“In my opinion, Cuba is an artist’s dream for subject matter. It is an untouched country about 90 miles from the tip of Florida. It is not what you would envision as a Caribbean tourist attraction. It has the most beautiful architecture of structures and rubble hundreds of years old. I saw restored buildings as well as structures supported by stilts and braces, and others that looked like colorful rubble. I saw 1950s American cars, and wondered what was under the hood to keep them running. Cigars and rum were plentiful although, I hardly saw anyone smoking or drinking.  

Girl with Guitar de Cuba by Bob Glicksmith
Girl with Guitar de Cuba by Bob Glicksmith

“The people were friendly, helpful, and didn’t mind being photographed. As suggested, we brought gifts for the children. They were happy to receive our gifts of paper and pencils with colorful erasers and sharpeners. There was a picture waiting to be taken everywhere we looked. We had to pay some of the people to take their picture, or an image of their establishment, however, this was the exception rather than the rule. This minor inconvenience did not threaten our ability to freely express ourselves behind the camera.  

“We spent three hours walking and shooting our cameras in the residential areas of Havana. It looked as though we had gone back in time more than 200 years. I was in a time warp! Sometimes it felt like the 1700s, seeing the oversized doors with huge knockers during the French Revolution. Other times you could imagine yourself in the 1920s seeing the statues and murals depicting the fight for the country’s independence. The scenery made you wonder about the 1950s and [Fidel] Castro’s rise to power as there were pictures of him and his name everywhere. 

“There were buildings with clotheslines connected to front balconies, molded vintage doors and thick cables dangling from windows that supplied light and electricity to homes and apartments. 

“My favorite art experience was the National Museum of Fine Arts in Havana. I could not have imagined contemporary art oil paintings from the late 1800s and early 1900s. The stories portrayed in the paintings were dark, and yet beautifully told something about the history of Cuba.  

“I commented to one of the lecturers that I hope Cuba would never change its architectural beauty. My hope is that it will remain the only place on Earth with no fast-food restaurants, franchises, modern buildings, or new cars. While I support Cuba’s desire to improve the lives of its people, I see real value in preserving the richness and beauty of its environment remaining untouched by modern society. I hope the people will continue to develop their vocational skills to restore the architecture to its original state and to maintain their way of life.  

“My colleagues and I, each portrayed this sentiment differently in our artwork. It is uncanny that although the four of us visited some of the same places, we each chose different subjects.  

“For me, this was a trip of a lifetime. I learned about the history of Cuba, saw the way the people lived and experienced an extraordinary place back in time. Most of all, I observed it from an artist perspective.

“It was an exceptional trip that I will never forget.” 

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