For this weekend’s Chamber South’s 41st Annual South Miami Art Festival poster, an artist who says her artwork represents Miami’s “generation Spanglish,” painted a clear blue sky and a deep sea as a background.
In her Just a Day in Paradise painting, the wind appears to make the leaves of a palm tree twirl and the sails of a boat curve, as an orange fish with a fiery tail spirals into a surrealist Caribbean “salsa” of flowers and musical instruments painted with acrylic. Artist Anaivis “Annie” Maxwell, a Cuban-American mother of four, uses her brushes to tell stories about the Cuban diaspora and South Florida’s tropical lifestyle.
Maxwell has been selling her work at the festival for about 15 years. South Miami police expects about 50,000 people will flood downtown for the event, as they shut down Sunset Boulevard for about 160 tents of sculptures, paintings, photography and fast food.
For the poster, she “painted a cigar, a trumpet and a guitar. The ‘cafecito’ is on a bongo,” Maxwell, 51, said. “The flowers are hibiscus and the bird of paradise. The fish means new opportunities or beginnings.”
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She added: “So many people have arrived here looking for a new beginning.”
Maxwell was 10 years old when her family left their native Güines, Cuba, a municipality southeast of Havana, for Miami as Freedom Flight political refugees. Her father was a former member of Fulgencio Batista’s military and her mother was a housewife. He found work as a carpenter, she became a seamstress.
Maxwell grew up watching her father Pablo Rodriguez and grandfather Domingo Milian trying to cure their nostalgia with cigars and cafecitos. She graduated from Miami Dade College and West Miami School of Art, and now lives in Westchester.
“Her work is colorful and positive,” said former South Miami mayor Mary Scott Russell, who was a member of the panel that selected Maxwell’s work.
“Every one at the table related to it,” she said
There are romantic scenes in some of her paintings. In the one called A Place To Remember, the air has the scent of hot cafecitos, tobacco and the sound of the Spanish guitar. Domingo is wearing his white guayabera and straw Panama hat. He is embracing Rosa, who is wearing a ruby-red dress, as they stare at a home from a far.
“I love telling stories and historical romances and the days of the chaperone, the kissing the hand,” Maxwell said.
Her husband is from Georgia and "he loves his cigar,” Maxwell said. She has four children: Lyann Corcornan, 31, Eileen Erwin, 28, Valerie Rubert, 24, and Kevin Rubert, 20. Family is also an inspiration in her work.
On Oct. 7, the day Maxwell got the news that her work had been chosen to represent the annual event, Corcornan gave birth to Maxwell’s first granddaughter, Eleanor.
Erwin, who lives in Iwakuni, Japan with her husband, a naval aerospace physiologist, told her mother she was proud.
“She lives in a military base. They are homesick so they said they want posters to remind them of home,” Maxwell said. “I will be sending some to them and their Miami friends in the base. They are looking forward to it.”
Maxwell said she also finds inspiration in Thomas Kinkade’s “colorful fantasies” and Norman Percevel Rockwell’s illustrations.
She began selling her work in Calle Ocho Viernes Culturales in Little Havana for the first time about 20 years ago. Her work has been exhibited at Vizcaya Museum and Gardens, Miami-Dade International Airport, Fairchild Tropical Gardens, Art Expo at the Coconut Grove Convention Center, and she was a Carnaval Miami Committee Member for the artists’ village.
“My first time in Calle Ocho, I took like 10 pieces and I came home with none. I used to sell an 8 by 10 for $40. Now the same one is worth about $300,” Maxwell said. “Some paintings are worth thousands, but I also sell framed reproductions for $400 to $800 depending on the size. It is the best feeling to know that people value your work and will be taking it home and smile when they see it.”