The Florida Hemingway Society was formed in October of 2018 in order to encourage Hemingway scholarship and instruction in the State of Florida and beyond.
We seek to encourage Hemingway scholarship and instruction in the State of Florida and beyond, while also building up students and emerging scholars. Furthermore, we seek to foster a growing relationship with the Finca Vigia and Hemingway scholars and students.
An Interview with Raul Villarreal
Director of the Florida Hemingway Society
By Gantt Meredith
What is your earliest memory of your father and Ernest Hemingway? Can you explain your family's connection to the Hemingway family and your history as a family in Cuba?
I remember seeing the famous Yousuf Karsh 1957 of Hemingway with the Christian Dior sweater photograph at my house. I thought he was a grandfather I never met. I also remember telling stories of Papa. My father spoke fondly of the man he called Papa and at times became emotional.
I also remember going to the Finca Vigia when I was very young. My father would point out the hunting trophies on the wall, the artwork and he would show me Sidney Franklin’s bullfighting jacket. I really liked going to the Finca Vigia because it was a different reality to me. It was so different from my everyday reality and my house. The magazines, the rooms, the grounds and the smell of the house, to me, were of another era and another world.
Your art is known the world over. You are a leading voice in the connection between Cuba and Florida, much like Hemingway is. Can you tell me how and why you use your art to share your message about that connection? Can you define your message about this tangled and often debated relationship between the two cultures that are divided and connected by the Gulf Stream?
When I was finding my voice as an artist I experimented with different themes, and early on my father gave me some advice. He said, “Don’t imitate anyone. Find your own voice and create from what you know because that will always be true.” Then I started to create art that related to my life and my experiences as a Cuban exile. I also incorporated Afro-Cuban spirituality and symbolism in my art and started to work more and more with themes that dealt with the ocean, which I find relate to most cultures. The ocean connects us all, and there are many different ways to work its symbolism in art.
I consider my art to be somewhat autobiographical, and with it I try to connect Cuba with the United States because I’m Cuban-born and a US citizen. I use the theme of “dualities” often in my art with the hopes of creating a bridge between the two cultures connected by the Gulf Stream. I believe that Hemingway loved his life in Cuba because there he saw a people that reminded him of Spain and Africa, but most of all he saw hard-working and noble people.
How has your art evolved to express your perspective on the two cultures? How, for example, has your perspective changed from your earlier works on coming from Cuba to your most recent pieces, like the one with the chandelier over the ocean?
Through the years my art has evolved to the point that I mostly work with the ocean and fishermen. I find so many possibilities with the ocean. To a Cuban, the ocean can mean two things: it can mean a place of recreation if they enjoy a day at the beach, but it can also mean a prison if they wish to leave the island and don’t have the means to do so. That juxtaposition is as intriguing as it is ironic.
The new piece “The Light of the World” is a piece that continues with the theme of taking objects away from their natural surroundings or normal state and placing them else where. It is, perhaps, the condition immigrants may find themselves in. The chandelier is out of place -- yet beautiful. It provides beautiful reflections on the ocean’s surface.
What can the Florida Hemingway Society do to span the arts and the waters between Florida and Cuba? Between literature and art and dance? Between the arts and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics)? Does your attitude align or collide with what Hemingway might say?
It is my objective for the Florida Hemingway Society to establish a strong connection with Cuba and their Hemingway connection. Papa Hemingway lived in Cuba from 1939 until 1960. The last year of his life was spent away from the Finca, and that was the saddest year of his life – ultimately leading to his death. I believe that Hemingway would have wanted a strong relationship between the US and Cuba. Hemingway got his first glimpse of Cuban life in 1928 and then while living in Key West. After moving to Cuba, he thought of himself as Cuban as he could be, and that made him very endearing to the Cubans.
There is one main lesson I have learned from Hemingway after researching his life and from my conversations with my father, and that lesson is discipline. My father spoke to me in great detail about Hemingway’s great discipline when it came to writing. He also told me that when Hemingway was at the Finca, after he would write, he would read and read. “It’s my job,” Papa would tell my father.
Allen Josephs, President. An interview by Micaiah Johnston forthcoming