The following are some memories of my father, Enrique Riveron, and what I remember about our years in Wichita:
He was born in Cienfuegos, a small provincial city in Cuba. After studying art in Havana, at age 18, he began drawing cartoons and caricatures for major magazines and newspapers there. He helped found a cartoonist group, the Salon de Humoristas. In 1924, his hometown awarded him a three year fellowship to study art in Europe.
While in Paris, he was a member of a loosely organized group of young Latin artists and writers calling themselves the Grupo de Montparnasse. He met many of the famous artists and personalities of the 1920s, including Picasso, who told him to “forget the academies and work, work, work. You are your own best teacher.”
During his first visit to New York in 1927, he met many artists and writers, including Langston Hughes, John Dos Passos and Fanny Hurst; often joining them to hear jazz at the Savoy and the Cotton Club in Harlem. His sophisticated, stylish cartoons appeared in The New Yorker and Vanity Fair.
Back in Havana, Riveron’s cartoons against the dictator Gerardo Machado forced him to leave again for New York and this time he stayed. During the Depression years he met Noella Wible, a student at Columbia University from Wichita. They married in 1933 and lived a happy bohemian life in Greenwich Village.
In 1934, Noella took her new husband to Wichita to meet her family. Maude Schollenberger of the Wichita Art Association invited him to exhibit his cartoons, caricatures, drawings and paintings. This was Riveron’s first exhibition in Wichita. The following year the couple re-turned to Wichita for a more extended visit. This time Maude invited him to make a presentation at the Art Association. My father entertained the crowd with quick caricatures of famous international celebrities and some of the town notables which were featured in a 2-page spread in the Sunday Beacon.
My parents returned to Greenwich Village where I was born. Dad continued his cartoon work in New York (and by mail to Havana), and mother worked at various office jobs. The Depression made life very difficult.
In 1938 we moved to Hollywood, California where he worked for Walt Disney Studios on “Snow White” and penciled Mickey Mouse storyboards. After a few months, bored with the repetitive work, he quit to become a studio press correspondent.
He interviewed the stars, made their caricatures, and wrote short articles for the Spanish language movie magazine Cine Mundial published in New York. Dad also painted murals for La Conga, the most popular night club at that time. Then we returned to New York.
Around 1940, mother went to Wichita to help with the family business, taking me with her.
Dad continued to work and exhibit in New York, making frequent trips to Wichita, as well as Cuba and Mexico. He made friends with Tom and Betty Dickerson and other local artists in Wichita. In 1944 my parents bought an old house in Riverside, where they lived for the next twenty years.
Dad painted murals of Cuban and French motifs in our “bar room”, the setting for many lively parties. Many artist friends stopped by on their way to New York, Los Angeles or Mexico — occasions for more festivities.
Fred and Irma Wassall were frequent guests at my mother’s special Cuban dinners. Fred designed the windows at Walker’s and featured some of my dad’s early paintings (1943).
Irma recited her poetry, played and sang Spanish songs on her guitar.
Occasionally my dad worked doing commercial art at Beechcraft and at the Wichita Beacon. There he met Mark Clutter, who became his good friend and champion. But this work left little time or energy for his art. He became very frustrated and depressed. Mother invariably encouraged him to quit, while she remained working at the family businesses (the Wible Ice company and the Alaskan Ice Rink.) There were no real commercial galleries in Wichita. As far as I know, only the Art Association and the Wichita Art Museum offered exhibitions to the public. My dad taught at the Association and at Wichita University, but he preferred working at home. His work was primarily abstract and often contained Afro-Cuban themes. He entered regional and national competitions, and won several awards. While exhibiting in Wichita, New York, Cuba and Mexico, he continued to send cartoons to Cine Mundial and Cuban magazines until the middle 1950s.
In 1955, dad and I went to New York. I attended the Art Students’ League, while he exhibited and did cartoon work. The artists of the New York School were meeting at the “Club” and he went to hear them talk about the new movement of Abstract Expressionism. Dad returned to Wichita, inspired to create some of his best work.
Robert Kiskadden, Rex Hall, Dave Bernard, and my dad began to meet and talk about their art, joined by the younger Paul Edwards. In 1957 they issued a manifesto and called themselves the indeX Group.
I recall seeing them sitting on the floor in our living room, critiquing their work spread out on the floor and planning exhibitions. indeX opened the first commercial art gallery in downtown Wichita. There were gala openings of exhibitions, meetings and discussions, poetry readings and classes.
They worked hard to make Wichita aware of its own talented artists.
In 1958 Riveron had a large retrospective exhibition at the Wichita Art Museum of his drawings, collages, pastels and paintings. (I think it also included some new iron assemblages.) Museum director Carroll Hogan was very enthusiastic and supportive, but the exhibition had serious repercussions for him. The trustees were incensed that Hogan had initiated such a large exhibition of a “local” artist in their museum. Hogan resigned and left to make a new career in New York. Wichita Beacon editor Mark Clutter wrote many strong editorials and feature articles deploring this episode. He was very supportive of Wichita’s contemporary artists.
About this time I had returned from school in New York and met some of the younger artists, including John Pearson at figure drawing sessions at the Art Association. Jim Davis came to a party and shocked everyone when he suddenly erupted into a violent rage from utter silence. My good friend Elsa Haupt, an art student at WU, brought over Corban LePell, who looked like a Greenwich Village coffee house regular. Wichita’s art world was becoming more active.
In 1960 my dad opened an art gallery in Miami, dedicated to showing the latest contemporary work. One of the first exhibitions was the indeX Group from Wichita. The Miami News art critic wrote (about the indeX Group and another local Miami group): “Both group shows are fresh and intense, with an eagerness of purpose that shows in the paintings. Both groups are to be commended for what they are doing, not because of the greatness of their art, but because of the greatness of their purpose. They are providing the seeds in their communities from which culture may grow.” I came from Europe to help with the gallery, and when it closed (after a year), stayed on in Miami, while dad returned to Wichita. During this time he began making assemblages of old iron pieces he found in the Arkansas River near his home. This was the beginning of the welded iron sculpture that he made later in Miami.
My father was a quiet, studious, sentimental and gregarious person. Although a gentleman of the old school, he was a thoroughly “modern” artist. In Wichita, besides his artist friends, he had several close Cuban friends (the Casado brothers and Pepe Angulo). He was very witty and funny in his own language. He was a good dancer, and he was very popular with my mother’s lady friends. They loved his Latin style and courtly manners, while their husbands disapproved (and were perhaps a little jealous) of him.
Riveron had a strong and elegant sense of design, and the direct ink lines of his cartoons were supple and sure. He made a great number of drawings — still-lifes, seascapes, landscapes, nudes, animals, boats, Cuban and Mexican motifs, abstract designs, etc. Besides oils, acrylics, pastels, temperas, watercolors, and gouaches, he made collages, prints, murals, jewelry and sculptures, including hundreds of cartoons, caricatures and illustrations. (Some of this work is now in the collection of the Wolfsonian Museum in Miami Beach.) Although he lived in Miami after 1964, he was included in the “Wichita Salutes Orleans” exhibition in France in 1980. That same year he had a large retrospective in Miami, which included many works made in Wichita. He started another group — GALA (Grupo de Artistas Latin Americanas), the first Latins to exhibit together in Miami. In 1988, he received a Cintas Lifetime Achievement Award. My father had a long and productive career, and he worked nearly everyday into his 90s. (1902-1998).
April 2002; all photos and visuals property of Patricia Lee. [Visuals from the original site have not survived]
My father’s work can be seen in the “online” exhibition (Selecciones Cubanas) in the Smithsonian web pages, Archives of American Artists. (http://artarchives.si.edu/collectn.htm).