North Fork artist Verona Peñalba with a work she created depcting...

North Fork artist Verona Peñalba with a work she created depcting her mother as a young girl. Credit: Tom Lambui

Sorting through family photos on a visit to her native Nicaragua in February of last year, Verona Peñalba was mesmerized by one of her mother, Carmen, smiling on a beach at the age of 17.

Back home at her studio in Greenport, she made a print of the black-and-white image and began adding strokes of pastel paint over a pale yellow halo. She repeated the process on a photo of her grandmother, eventually turning the paintings into gifts for family members at Christmas.

“The idea is that this card brings you luck and protects you, like a saint card,” Peñalba, 38, explained. The exercise was a way to pay homage to the women who selflessly raised her in a patriarchal society.

“Women in Latin America have a very important role in families. They are the heroes,” she said.

Heritage and Home

  • An opening reception will be held Friday at the Floyd Memorial Library, 539 First St. in Greenport, from 6 to 8 p.m.
  • More than a dozen local Latin American artists will be featured in the show, on view until May 12
  • Greenport Village has about 957 Hispanic and Latino residents, according to U.S. Census data.

The painting, Mamá de la Suerte, or Mother for Luck, will be part of a new exhibit at Floyd Memorial Library titled “Heritage and Home: Latin American Artists of the East End,” which opens Friday and will be shown through May 12.

Organized by library curator Sally Grant, the exhibit explores themes of cultural lineage and the meaning of home while touching on political divides and traumatic immigration memories. It features works by more than a dozen artists, from fine to folk art, that capture many facets of the Latino American experience on Long Island.

She hopes the themes will resonate beyond Latino residents.

"Heritage is so much a part of you," said Grant, who hails from northern Scotland. "My home here is in Greenport, but also will always be in Scotland."

Grant said she hopes the exhibit helps reflect the area’s diversity and makes art more accessible to all.

“I really want to break down that barrier to art viewing. It can be intimidating,” Grant said of traditional art galleries.

She said the library is the perfect venue for that. “We’re already a space that is there to help people, to help raise people up and improve people’s lives.”

About 37% of Greenport Village’s population of 2,583 is Hispanic or Latino, according to U.S. Census data from 2020.

The library hosts English as a Second Language courses and also office hours with Sonia Spar, a Southold Town employee hired last year to help bridge the gap between town government and Spanish-speaking residents.

Two ESL students at the library, both Guatemalan immigrants, crafted piñatas that will be displayed during the exhibit. Another Greenport artist contributed alebrijes: vibrant, ethereal Mexican folk art sculptures of animals and other mythical creatures. A suitcase on display will tell the story of Mexican painter Frida Kahlo.

Visitors to the library will be greeted by three towering sculptures in the garden as part of the “Children of the World” series by J. Oscar Molina, of Southampton.

He created the series to depict the fears, difficulties, dreams and strength of immigrants fleeing violence and poverty through abstract paintings and sculptures.

“My work represents some of that loneliness, coming to a place where you don’t belong,” he said.

Molina came to the United States at 16, escaping civil war-torn El Salvador on a perilous journey through the desert with more than a hundred others.

“My parents made the decision. We all agreed that the best way to survive was just to leave the country. We were all just looking for that safe haven here in the States.”

Molina, 53, wasn’t always an artist, at least not in the traditional sense.

After settling in Southampton, he built a career in construction and masonry, captivated by seeing designs evolve from an idea on paper to tangible structures. In his free time, he’d use those same materials — steel and concrete — to sculpt.

He said he hopes the exhibit will help foster dialogue around politics, culture and identity.

Peñalba has always been intrigued by vintage photos and said there’s a certain magic in the moments captured on film.

“People would think and have an intention when holding the camera,” Peñalba said. “Now, we take 10 photos and hope for the best one.”

This spring, she plans to introduce vintage photo painting workshops at VEME Studios in Greenport, which she co-founded last year. The studio has an “art bar” where visitors can craft projects using mediums like drawing, pottery and painting.

She hopes to encourage others to experiment with the format using their own family photos.

“When you see your grandmother or mother or anyone young, you see them with a different perspective,” Peñalba said. “She's also a human, she also had struggles."

Peñalba, who has lived on the North Fork since 2016, said it’s an honor to see Latin American artists in the spotlight.

“I love for them to see that there are other artists, that they feel represented and they could see their culture being showcased,” she said.

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