The Papier Mache House is a difficult place to find, especially if there is only a small plaque on a sloppy wall at the entrance of the residence of the former home of renowned Cuban painter Antonia Eiríz Vazquez . Located at Juanelo neighborhood, on Havana outskirts, we found a space where art does not rest. Butterflies, kites and sunflowers adorn the walls on both sides of the winding passage; children draw traits with tempera on papers, other retouched pieces in an effort to prevent the bright to disappear.
In 2004 Antonia Eiríz´s community work was rescued, nearly 10 years after her death in the United States. The place, declared Heritage S ite, aims mainly to maintain alive Antonia’s life and work, together with the promotion of creative and appreciation workshops, both in plastic arts, as papier Mache.
Despite highlighting as iconic figure of Expressionism in Cuba, Antonia was linked to Papier Mache, and vice verse. However, she was an artist who did not leave any work done with this technique. Her transcendence lies in putting a whole community to work with plastic arts. She showed Juanelo neighbors how to make pieces of Papier Mache.
At the beginning of the 70s of last century she became her home in a painting school. The neighbors, attracted by curiosity of elaborating pieces with old papers of newspapers attended it for Antonia to teach them to draw the first lines and points, coloring with Mercurochrome and sculpt with wheat flour paste. Thus they made infant masks, butterflies, snakes, dolls and flowers. Later, she taught them painting those same Papier Mache works on canvas.
Antonia’s project was transformed and also transformed her empirical students. She endowed them with confidence and skill to create what their imagination could provide them. “She was the first artist who made community work in Cuba when no one did so. She felt concern for her community, for raising the cultural level of its inhabitants. The Papier Mache was the bond of attraction and her home, the ideal space to materialize it, “Jorge Luis Luzardo Momoytio, director of Antonia Eiríz House, says.
Several students of San Alejandro Fine Arts School such as the then “unknown” Roberto Fabelo, Nelson Domínguez, Eduardo Roca “Choco”, among others, visited Antonia leaving their tracks when working small miniatures which are today preserved in the place.
Through the creation of Papier Mache masks and puppets, an improvised puppet show emerged. Children attending the meetings had the satisfaction of creating their own characters and stories. Juanelo, a humble and faded neighborhood, away from cameras and spotlights, discovered an outdoor theater.
Light sown by Antonia sprouted like a garden beyond her wooden house. Many families are currently living through the creative work of Papier Mache. A prominent former student of her, José Rodríguez Fuster, shares the community vocation of the teacher, by flooding with art Jaimanita town, where he lives, over the past few years.
“She was a visionary; was ahead of what no one saw. She had an unwavering faith in the creative power of people. She promoted and organized, supported by the Ministry of Culture the first Papier Mache group exhibition in Cuba, held at the Museum of Decorative Arts in 1972, “Luzardo Momoytio notes.
Many of the people coming here, mainly children, are amazed with the samples of Papier Mache. According to Luzardo, the experience is nice when foreign tourists visit the house. “They no cease asking for Papier Mache technique, are interested in details of Antonia’s pictorial work, pay attention during the process of making a piece, even occasionally one pulls out a little notebook and takes notes as if it were a recipe. “
Parallel to the recovery of the house we have managed to keep neighbors connected with us, Luzardo Momoytio says, who also stands out they are currently creating a calendar of activities extended beyond the house.
Among the major events organized we could name those developed on April 1st each year in remembrance of Antonia’s birth. This year Roberto Fabelo confirmed his presence, with the sample ” Antonia in my memory.”
“Usually, gestures of gratitude from her former students with the Project are innumerable. In recent tributes, artists like “Choco”, “Fuster” and Ernesto García Peña attended with their personal works, exchanged with the children of the community and shared experiences to remind visits of the students.”
Another event to be held this year will be the 8th Hall of Papier Mache. It has an almost national character as it will be attended by most of Cuban provinces. The biennial event receives about 80 works usually. The schedule also includes the meeting ¨Expressionism in Cuba, ¨ for the presentation and dissemination of exhibitions dealing with thematic line, one of the least addressed by the plastic arts in Cuba.
“We conducted Papier Mache workshops out of our space. We cover several primary schools. We do the same as Antonia in her time. We show the technique and let children to develop their skills. We advise and explain them how to contact us for subsequent works whether they want “.
The house staff wants to resume other traditions that were part of Antonia Eiríz´s activities at her residence, and that due to lack of resources are not running today. Efforts were made to rescue the assembly workshops (installations), as well as textile tinting, specialty poorly disseminated.
Almost twenty years after the death of the artist her libertine -creator spirit endures in her home. Each butterfly, flower or doll that is made here seems to have the advice, accomplice wink of the expressionism painter in Cuba. The level of belonging with the place has transcended to new generations. Papier Mache’s secret lies in the grandchildren of those grandparents who once were marveled before the cascade of colors deposited by Antonia in their inexperienced hands.