Streets, schools, churches and government buildings in Santiago de Cuba are decorated with murals, paintings and sculptures created by Ismael Espinosa Ferrer.
He painted Cuba’s landscapes, from crashing ocean waves to soaring mountain ranges.
“He was not defined by a time period,” said his daughter, Maricel Presilla. “He conveyed the feelings to his paintings — colorful, powerful, bold.”
Espinosa died of heart failure on Sept. 4, three days after his 92nd birthday at Baptist Hospital in Kendall.
An important art teacher in Cuba, Espinosa decorated such well known institutions as the Escuela de Comercio, the Elvira Cape Public Library, Santiago’s Cathedral, Balcón de Velázquez, Museo Emilio Bacardi, the University of Oriente, the Hospital Provincial, Colonia Española and the Banco Nacional.
He grew up in Baire, Cuba, in a family of nine. His father, who died when Espinosa was a child, descended from Francisco Javier de Cespedes, Cuba’s fifth president.
His widowed mother moved the family to Santiago de Cuba, where they made their living selling newspapers, exotic fruit, and with a small, home-based tobacco factory.
When he was 9, Espinosa submitted a drawing to a newspaper, which awarded him 28 pesos that he used to by art materials.
He won an art scholarship after submitting Sara, a sculpture of a Cuban model, and was able to go to New York to study at the Art Students League, visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and paint.
“He loved to paint on site and he would take his watercolors everywhere in New York,” Presilla said. “Central Park, Riverside Cathedral, the streets in Manhattan and the streets in Brooklyn.”
After a year in New York, he returned to Cuba to teach art at the Escuela Normal de Oriente and the Escuela Provincial de Artes Plásticas, where he met fellow teacher Angelica Parlade.
They married in 1951 and had three children.
Despite his prominence, Espinosa was fired from his job and sent to work in the fields as soon as he petitioned to leave Cuba.
He was granted permission to leave Cuba in 1970s, and took the family to Miami, where the Cuban art community embraced him.
He painted at a studio in his Westchester home, where he tended a garden of exotic fruits, plants and flowers.
He illustrated the children’s Christmas book that his daughter wrote in 1994, winning a rave review in The Miami Herald: Feliz Nochebuena, Feliz Navidad: Christmas Feasts in the Hispanic Caribbean (Henry Holt).
“As an aid to understanding one another, Feliz Nochebuena, Feliz Navidad should be required reading for kids growing up in South Florida,’’ wrote reviewer Beth Dunlop. “Part reminiscence and part exposition -- with a few tantalizing recipes tossed in -- this book looks at the Christmas traditions of the Spanish Caribbean, Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. ... Ismael Espinosa Ferrer’s illustrations bring to life both the memories and the vivid details of many wonderful Navidads.’’
After his wife’s death in 2009, Espinosa’s daughter suggested he move to New Jersey, where she lives, but he wanted to stay in tropical South Florida.
“He was painting until the end,” Presilla said.
In addition to his daughter he is survived by sons Ismar Espinosa and Marco Alejandro Espinosa, both of Florida.
Funeral services were held.