Hispanic Art Scene Art Blog
by hispanic_arts , October 24, 2012—12:00 AM
South Street Seaport Museum will Exhibit Mario Sanchez Art.
On November 8, 2012, the South Street Seaport Museum in NYC will open a new exhibition called A Fisherman's Dream: Folk Art by Mario Sanchez, highlighting Sanchez's depictions of early 20th century Key West harbor, its watermen, and seafaring culture. The exhibition features 35 of Sanchez's brightly painted intaglios, a type of carving where wood is removed to form a bas-relief.
The exhibition is co-presented with the Key West Art & Historical Society and the American Folk Art Museum, whose exhibition Compass: Folk Art in Four Directions is also on view at the South Street Seaport Museum. The Seaport Museum sees A Fisherman's Dream as a fitting companion to Compass.
As a painter of memories Sanchez (1908-2005) recreated the Key West that he recalled from his youth in the years between World War I and the end of the Great Depression. His work captures the spirit of old Key West with humor and expressiveness, eidetic memory and whimsy through depictions of people and places of a seaport town that was accessible only by boat and where fish were sold to customers directly out of the ocean. Sanchez's work is sometimes fantastical with clouds that become birds or fish, and anthropomorphized cats that become characters in the everyday life of the town.
Susan Henshaw Jones, Ronay Menchel Director of the Museum of the City of New York and President of the South Street Seaport Museum said: "The Seaport Museum is thrilled to be the first New York museum to devote an exhibition to the magnificent works of Mario Sanchez, who is one of the most important folk artists of the 20th century. We Are grateful to our partners at Key West Art & Historical Society and the American Folk Art Museum for helping us to bring this unprecedented exhibition to New Yorkers.
Many of the works in A Fisherman's Dream represent Key West fishermen and their business, an already vanishing way of life when Sanchez lovingly recreated it from memories of his youth. Among the pieces of fishermen at work is the masterful El Galano a tribute to Key West resident Ernest Hemingway's Old Man and the Sea; the works previous owners included Dina Merrill, Spencer Tracey, and Katharine Hepburn. Also on display will be relief carvings of iconic locations in Key West's fishing trade, such as Cleare's sponge auction and Demerrita's fish markets, as well as scenes of fishmongers selling the catch-of-the-day to local residents. Among these is Sanchez's humorous take on the trade, entitled Protein for the Hot Women. In addition to the business of the fishermen, the scenes capture the venues where they congregated, such as the Fishermen's Cafe. Other large-scale works depict the Key West harbor, including the train that once took passengers from New York to Key West. (Washed away in a hurricane in 1935, the train track was replaced by a highway that allowed access by car to the island for the first time.)
A highlight of the exhibition will be a wall of Sanchez's marvelously expressive fish carvings, depicting the species that were caught by Key West fishermen during the first half of the 20th century. The title piece, A Fisherman's Dream, has been loaned by the Key West Art and Historical Society and depicts a glistening basket of Key West Mutton surrounded by an ornately fish-carved frame, a rarity among Sanchez's works.
Sanchez's works were often autobiographical and a final section will feature the artist's life in Gato's Village, Key West. These works depict the artist's boyhood shoeshine stand, his father's shop, Waterloo Cafe, and his uncle's corner grocery. The Gato's Village community in which Sanchez was raised combined American, Cuban, and Key West traditions and cultures, and the artist's work captures the spirit and texture of daily life there. Lucky Fish Rhumba, for example, depicts Nanego musicians and costumed dancers celebrating together under a tropical sky.
About Mario Sanchez
Self-taught artist Mario Sanchez was born in Key West in 1908, the grandson of Cuban immigrants who were among the more than 50,000 Cubans who became the majority of the population by the 1860s. His father was an entrepreneur and also worked in cigar-making shops. Lending his theatrical skills to read aloud to the workers from literature and news of the day. Mario went to school in Key West, in the town's first free and integrated bilingual school, and he graduated from the Otto L. Schultz Business Institute in 1925. He went on to hold a variety of jobs, including as a clerk, stenographer, and janitor at the Key West Art & Historical Society.
He had enjoyed carving as a child, and as young man began carving fish out of pieces of driftwood, which he sold for $1.50. In the 1940s, at the urging of his mother-in-law, he began creating more complicated scenes of life in Key West as he remembered them from his childhood. His work eventually drew the attention of a member of the Key West Art & Historical Society, who eventually donated and endowed the museum with many works of his works. Other collectors included Spencer Tracey, Katharine Hepburn, and Cary Grant, who purchased four carvings while in Key West to film Operation Petticoat (the pieces later appeared on the wall in a hotel scene in the movie A Touch of Mink.)
During his more than 70-year career, Sanchez developed his own style while mastering more traditional skills such as bas-relief carving and perspective. Working in cedar wood and white pine, the artist first sketched the scene onto a paper bag, and then used carbon paper to transfer the image to the wooden canvas. He then removed the wood to create a low bas-relief, leaving the original sketch behind. He then applied materials such as house paint, clean kitty litter (to provide texture for the streets), and egg yolks and Elmer's glue (to make the windows shiny) in early years and fine European oils later on.
In November 1996, Mario Sanchez was named the most important Cuban-American Folk Artist of the 20th Century by the national magazine Folk Art. Sanchez's works are in the collections of the Whitney Museum of American Art, and Museum of Modern Art and are avidly collected by Key West residents as well as art connoisseurs around the world.
About the South Street Seaport Museum
Since 1967, the South Street Seaport Museum has presented exhibitions that tell the stories of the Seaport's past, present, and future. Reopened in January 2012 under the management of the Museum of the City of New York, the Seaport Museum presents a lively interweaving of the city and the sea through photography, video, historic artifacts, and contemporary design displayed throughout three floors of historic Schermerhorn Row galleries. The Museum is open seven days a week from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm. Admission is $10 and free for children under 9.