Art Exhibition: Fermin Castro’s “Caribbean Roots”

Cuban sculptor Fermin Castro’s “Caribbean Roots” is on view through January 2023 at Ellenbogen Gallery (4620 Main Street, Manchester Center, Vermont). Anne Archer reviewed the exhibition for the Bennington Banner. [Many thanks to Peter Jordens for bringing this item to our attention.]

An exhibit of Cuban native Fermin Castro’s sculptures at Ellenbogen Gallery offers a glimpse into the artist’s childhood in Cuba as well as his life in greater Boston. “Caribbean Roots,” consisting of 15 abstract-figurative wood sculptures, is on display at the gallery at 4620 Main St. through January. 

Since 2017, Castro has been buying, collecting and drying woods, like walnut, cherry and maple, for pieces in the exhibit. “Living in New England, I have an opportunity to work with the beautiful hardwoods,” Castro said. “It takes a long period of time to get wood ready. The volume of the hardwood,” Castro mused. “I carve deeper and deeper to realize it is still wet inside.”

By 2019, Castro was able to begin carving smaller sculptures — Wind Messenger, Jubilant and Pelican — for his Caribbean Roots collection.

Two of Castro’s larger pieces, Guije II and Guije III, were inspired by stories Castro’s father told him and his siblings when they were children. The stories were of mythical creatures, called guijes, who have protected the riverbanks of Cuba since the 19th century. “They are part monkey, part human,” Castro said. “Very ephemeral.” While the creatures have never been known to harm children, legend has it they will seek vengeance on adults who cut down the trees in “El Monte” or “The Wood.” “I was curious about the guijes,” said Castro. “The stories were scary. Sometimes funny.”

Castro is proud that the tales are still remembered and being told by his family, noting that Guije I was a gift for his sister.

As a child growing up in Havana, Castro’s exposure to a lively culture filled with music, dance, vibrant colors and active Cuban and Afro-Cuban artists motivated him to delve into the arts.

Materials were scarce in the community, so Castro grew up experimenting with different mediums. He tried his hand at paintings — oil, acrylic and watercolors — and crafted small wood sculptures.

While he enjoyed painting, he was drawn to the challenges of carving and the deeper, more meaningful ways the medium enabled him to express himself. “It made me feel alive,” said Castro.

In January 2021, the Somerville Arts Council named Castro its artist of the month after he had completed “Mother and Child,” a sculpture carved into the truck of a dead red elm tree in Somerville’s Marshall Street playground.

Castro earned his degree in chemistry from the University of Havana. In Boston, he used his expertise as a chemist in the clinical field for 15 years. His life changed after he took time off to renovate the Greek Revival home he and his wife purchased in Somerville. [. . .]

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