By Raymond R. Beltrán
When Guillermo Acevedo first set foot off of a boat and onto a San Diego port over forty years ago, it was decided that this would be the place to begin his artistic revolution. The renowned Peruvian draftsmen found the southern coast of California to be very much like his home in Perú. Eucalyptus trees evoked a nostalgic sense in their aroma, and the 1960s proved to be a very progressive epoch for the Chicano movement, which immediately sparked an interest in Guillermo. He was initially headed to New York City where he wanted to pursue his options as an artist, but the voyage was cut short when he reached this historic border town.
Originally born in Arequipa, Perú in 1920, the man that would become known as Maestro Acevedo moved to Lima, Perú with his family by the age of sixteen and resided there until 1959. His adherence toward portraying people through his drawings began at an early age while being reprimanded in elementary school for doing portraits of fellow students. He pursued an arts education at the Escuela Nacional de Bellas Artes in Lima. Soon after graduating from college, Maestro Acevedo opened his own advertising and commercial arts studio and quickly earned a name for himself. His reputation expanded throughout his homeland due to his sacred affinity towards the adobe architecture of native homes and his unequivocal approach to portraits of the Quechua Indians of Perú.
“The original [pieces] have textures that he painted very rich, there’s emotion, they have sadness and who knows what else. That’s the magic of his work,” says Acevedo’s son, the renowned Chicano Park muralist Mario Torero.
Discovering Southern California and Northern Mexico for himself, Acevedo acquired a sacred affinity to the Chicano barrios of San Diego and enveloped himself into the culture of his new home. During the 1960s, this border town’s tuna fish industry was struggling to keep itself above water, and Guillermo was fascinated with the ports running along the coast so much that he spent most of his free time sitting at the docks and canneries, drawing the tuna fish boats sailing in.
Within almost a decade of living in San Diego, Guillermo was introduced to the Native Americans throughout Southern California. He was so fascinated by the Navajo and the Mexican Indian cultures that he began to paint and draw them in a way that was hauntingly crisp and pristine, a culture that hadn’t been glorified in the eyes of the San Diego masses. According to Torero, it was the nativity for an artistic movement and oppressed cultures was its muse.
“He just liked it. He would paint because it was his passion,” says Guillermo’s wife Lydia. “He started painting the elderly of the indigenous because they were being so oppressed. He saw everyone as a human being.”
By donating his art, Acevedo supported community organizations such as Save Our History Organization (SOHO), the Wounded Knee Support Committee, Friends of Nicaragua, Chileno Democratico, and many others. Because of the Maestro’s “commitment to the preservation of our city’s history and heritage evident in his numerous drawings,” former Mayor Maureen O’Connor announced in 1988 that August 12 would be recognized as Guillermo Acevedo Day.
He had acquired an extensive collection of his indigenous portraits. They include pencil drawings of the Amazones, who Torero says were models because of their continuous efforts to save their environment. Having been a master at drafting, his collection includes architectural designs of adobe houses and the historical Victorian style homes of San Diego in the 1960s as well as paintings of homes in Cusco, Perú, and a “Tejas Rooftop Series.”
The desire to portray a dying culture and its architecture in sketches was deeply founded in the idea of exposing the exquisiteness in oppressed societies and to preserve the historic aspects of San Diego. To Torero, who remembers a time sitting in a house full of Bohemian artists, his father was destined to artistically unite the Americanos, north and south, all oppressed nations. This was his movement.
“When he left Perú, he was already a leader in his own way,” says Torero. “His work is a political message of the struggle and the legacy to save the environment, and it reflects his travels.”
Acevedo moved to San Francisco with his wife, and remained there, continuing his art until he died of cancer in 1988, but not before passing on the legacy to his son.
In keeping with the tradition of unifying cultures through art, Mario Torero, founder of the arts organization FUERZA, and Gladys Jones of the Casa de Perú are presently collaborating with Enrique Morónes of Casa de Mexico to host an art sale and exhibition of Maestro Acevedo’s work. The first fundraising event will also exhibit art pieces from Mario Torero himself and painters such as Christopher Oleata, Victor Gallardo, Ricardo Nezahualcoyotl, and Yolanda Romero. The organizations are attempting to raise $250,000 in order to build a cottage in Balboa Park for Casa de Perú. According to Torero, it would only be the beginning of what will follow. In opening the cottage, the groups hope to precede the project with Casa de México and Casa de las Americas, which, in Torero’s hopes, will bring together all people of the Americas to appreciate indigenous culture. It would be the legacy of a maestro.
This Latin American Art Sale will take place Saturday, November 22 at 6 p.m. It will be held at Casa de Perú, which is, for the meantime, located at 12685 Campo Road in Spring Valley.
“We don’t have a venue with what happened to the Centro [Cultural de la Raza], and we need our own art space,” says Torero. “My father would say, ‘This is what I want to happen.’”
The groups are currently using a ranch in Jamúl as their venue and will be hosting various events, including art workshops that will be open to everyone beginning Saturday, December 6. The ranch lies in the corner of one of many of California’s mountains and is surrounded by its natural landscape. Torero hopes that the scenery will act as a method of meditation for aspiring artist.
“It’s not just producing, but the science of it,” says Torero about the upcoming workshops. “It’s the reflections of the community, the world. We’re using art as a means of expressing. Maybe we’ll also call it La Clinica, where people could come if they need therapy,” laughs Mario pointing into the California landscape. “It’s about having the opportunity to create. In school, you’re in a classroom, and you don’t really want to be there. Why can’t we do something new? With all of our knowledge, why don’t we just try to discover something else?”