Honduran painter’s kin strive to preserve memory of ‘national treasure’
By German Reyes
Tegucigalpa, Feb 14 (EFE).- Honduran primitivist painter Jose Antonio Velasquez, whose death 40 years ago is being commemorated on Tuesday, is a “national treasure” who must be remembered, one of his daughters told Efe in this capital.
Elia Ruth Velasquez and other members of her family have spent the past several years promoting a museum to honor her father’s work, knocking on the doors of public and private institutions in both their homeland and abroad to achieve their objective.
“This month of February we’re commemorating 40 years since his death and 117 years since his birth. As a family, we didn’t want his birth and death to be forgotten because we think he’s a national art treasure who shouldn’t be forgotten,” she said.
As part of her efforts to build a showcase for her late father’s work, Elia Ruth said she has held two meetings with authorities from the Culture Secretariat who are “aware of the need for a museum.”
Velasquez, who was born on Feb. 8, 1906, in the small southern Honduran town of Caridad and died on Feb. 14, 1983, in Tegucigalpa, rose to international fame and became known as the leading primitivist of the Americas thanks to the landscapes and street scenes he painted in his second place of residence, San Antonio de Oriente, where he met his future wife, Raquel Maradiaga, in 1930.
Enamored with its cobblestone streets, white church and clay tile roofs and the colorful hills that surround the town, where he worked as a telegraph operator and a barber and even held the position of mayor, he captured its charm from all angles.
Elia Ruth recalled that the artist also was an exceptional father.
“We could always count on him. He taught us humility and, despite all the honors he received, he always said that painting was something special that God had given him and that he only wanted to use (that talent) to give back to his fatherland, because he was an outstanding patriot,” she said.
Visual artist Oscar Mendoza also highlighted another unique aspect of Velasquez’s story.
“As Hondurans we should all be proud that a (national) artist is such a very big icon. In this case, there’s special merit (in his achievements) because remember that Jose Antonio Velasquez was self-taught,” he told Efe.
A former instructor at the National School of Fine Arts in Tegucigalpa, Mendoza said the fact Velasquez achieved international recognition despite not having attended art school can be attributed to his own personal qualities and those of his family.
“Making the leap from being the telegraph operator in his town and the barber at the Pan American Agricultural School (near San Antonio de Oriente) to becoming a global icon, is something wonderful, I think, and a source of pride for all Hondurans,” he added.
Journalist Ileana Morales, Velasquez’s granddaughter, told Efe for her part that he was “a man who made a mark in the history of Honduras and the world” and was an “example of the true culture of the country.”
Velasquez’s lifestyle reflected the simplicity of many small towns in Honduras, she said, adding that he was “a little piece of the country’s history.”
“I remember him as a simple man, but at the same time as a man who represented Honduras globally through his painting,” Morales said. EFE