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Carmen Herrera’s husband didn’t live long enough to see her success. Theirs was a moving love story

By Nina Steele 

Carmen HerreraA few years ago, I wrote an article about Carmen Herrera because her story seemed so unique. She is Cuban-American. She was born in Havana on May 31, 1915. She started painting in her 20s, yet only became successful in her late 80s! Her first painting sold in 2004 when she was 89 and now, as an internationally known artist, she is in high demand and has not stopped selling since. On a personal note, she is childless and her beloved husband of 62 years, who supported her through all those difficult years, passed away in 2000 and so never got to witness her success.

In a 2015 documentary about her life entitled “The 100 Years Show”, now showing on Netflix, she says this about not having children: “We tried everything. Some people said ‘why don’t you adopt’, I said I wanted mine, being very selfish. So now, I don’t have babies. I don’t have grandchildren. I have paintings”.

Her husband may have long passed away but what the documentary shows is the love they both shared. Not only did their marriage survive infertility, he never doubted her talent as a painter, even when she was being repeatedly rejected by galleries because she was a woman. Of that time she said: “Every time I had a crisis of desperation, he will say ‘Come on, just cool it’”.

Usually, it’s the woman who plays the supporting role while the man powers ahead, trying to achieve his career goals. The reversal of roles is of course not lost on me, particularly at a time when the place of a woman was firmly in the kitchen. They got married in 1938.

That idea people had of what a woman’s role should be, explains why she kept being rejected, even when it was obvious that she was talented. Her encounter with a female gallery owner during her years of struggle shows the depth of the prejudice women faced, even from other women. She said this of that encounter: “Somebody showed her my work, she liked it very much. So I said, maybe she’s going to give me a show. So I go to the gallery and she says this to me, ‘you know you can paint circles around the men that I have as artists. But I am not going to give you a show because you are a woman’”. Wow!

I love a good love story, particularly when couples stay together against all the odds. It takes a certain level of maturity and self-confidence for a man to support his wife’s dream even when all the signs are that that dream may never be realised. That he kept encouraging her until the end, is simply remarkable. What a shame that he wasn’t around when she finally made it.

Comments

  1. This life story is just amazing and very moving. Not surprised though about the support she had from her late husband since that is what most men tend to be towards their non-parent life partners. Well done to her that she finally found the success she deserved all along.

    • Hi Nancy. Yes I know. What a story? Life never stops to surprise us. How many people expect to become successful so late in their lives? Thanks to that success, she now has enough help around the house so she can live her last years in her own home, as opposed to going into a care home. She says that herself in the Netflix documentary. She is now wheelchair-bound, but continues to paint.

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