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Centenarian painter and non-parent Carmen Herrera found fame and fortune at 89

By Nina Steele 

The story of Carmen Herrera is simply remarkable. The Cuban-American abstract painter, was born in Havana in 1915, and started painting in her mid-20s. Even though she produced some great work throughout her career, as a woman, she found it extremely difficult to be taken seriously. Even more frustrating was the fact that galleries refused to show her work. One gallery owner told her in no uncertain terms that even though she was far more talented than some of the artists on show, the gallery preferred to prioritise male artists because they had children to feed, while she, a childless woman, did not. Ouch!

Looking back on the incident, which understandably shook her, Carmen says: “I felt as if someone had slapped me on the face. I felt for the first time what discrimination was. It’s a terrible thing”. Although some people may have been tempted to give up, she kept painting.

As fate would have it, all the years of hard work finally paid off when she sold her first painting in 2004, aged 89! She has been busy ever since and now as a well-known artist and one that is highly respected, her paintings have become must haves in the art world, and sell for ‘hundreds of thousands of dollars’.

With everything she went through to get where she is today, Carmen has not lost her sense of humour. Commenting on the fact that her paintings are now very expensive, she does not try to hide her delight, particularly as she herself put it: “It’s not cheap getting old”.

Naturally, being the age that she is, and the fact that she is wheelchair bound, means that she now requires the help of others in order to carry on painting. Thankfully, she seems to be surrounded by some trusted aids, who help her with just that.

Sadly, her husband who remained supportive of her throughout her years of anonymity, passed away in 2000, and so he never got the chance to enjoy in her success.

The uniqueness of her story, means that the name Carmen Herrera will now be remembered long after she is no longer with us. Not only is she lucky to have lived this long, allowing her to enjoy her success, but also, the fact that she kept going in the face of constant rejection, shows a great amount of determination and courage that can only be an inspiration to all of us.

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