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Fermin Castro, January Artist of the Month

Mother and Child by Fermin Castro, photo by Iaritza Menjivar

Fermin Castro, January Artist of the Month

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Fermin Castro, interviewed by Kerrie L. Kemperman

1. How did you come to sculpt "Mother and Child" at Marshall Street playground? How was this project different from the way you usually work? What were the challenges and what did you enjoy?

The idea of “Mother and Child” sculpture came about when the SAC reached out to the Somerville artist community to promote a project to give a second life to the trunk of a deceased red elm tree which had been cut at the Marshall Street playground. This was a unique art project, as it would give new life to the tree which had been there, and I was inspired by a project that I could share with the neighborhood and larger community. 

I usually sculpt with smaller pieces of wood no larger than 2-3 feet long and I had never attempted to sculpt a tree trunk of over 8 feet high where a large volume of wood had to be removed. This was in the middle of a hot 2020 summer and a raging pandemic; precautions needed to be made to maintain distance from curious passers-by, as well as to take necessary safety precautions while sculpting in a public area. The city kept the park closed and set up scaffolding so that I could work on the sculpture.

Many of the neighbors who were out for daily walks, errands, exercise, and to entertain their children stopped by with words of surprise, encouragement, and delight. One neighbor took a series of photos from the inception to the termination of the project and was incredibly supportive throughout. The project became something larger for me as I became acquainted with neighbors and listened to their comments. It was truly an experience I will never forget as it made me that much more appreciative of public art.

2. Who or what inspires your sculpting? Tell us a bit about your background.

I was born in Havana, Cuba and immigrated to the United States in 1994. As with many Cubans who arrived in the US, my life began in Miami among family, friends, and the Cuban diaspora. Later in 1998 I moved to the Boston area, driven by the need to make new discoveries. 

Although educated as a chemist at the University of Havana, I was inclined towards artistic expression from an early age. I experimented in painting using oil, acrylics, and watercolor and crafted small woodcarvings, using whatever materials available, as resources were scarce in Cuba. Sharing ideas and materials with artist friends was the only way to maintain and continuously develop my interest in the arts.

For me Havana was a melting pot of emotions exhibited through vivid colors, an exuberant social life, dance, music, and the visual arts. My style is probably most influenced by my Cuban roots—the Afro-Cuban and Cuban master sculptors and artists. Other Latino artists and both primitive and modern sculptors from many different cultures throughout the world have heavily influenced the way I sculpt. Unlike “Mother and Child,” most of my sculptures are abstract-figurative, a style which I identify with most.

3. How has the pandemic affected you as an artist, or your work?   

Most important, the pandemic has been a tragic loss of lives. It has also made life for everyone, including many artists, an economic challenge. Just as I had created a collection of sculptures with plans to offer my sculptures to friends of the arts and pursue possible art shows, it was no longer possible. Life has been on hold preventing me from having more people view my sculptures, but also to share ideas with other artists. The sense of isolation is ever present with this pandemic. However, I continue to sculpt every day and look forward to better times. 

4. Where can viewers see your work (in person or virtual, links, etc.)?

I have some followers on Instagram (fermin_castro.sculptor) and on Facebook, and I send photos to people interested in my work, but my real interest is to offer viewing of my sculptures at my home, where I have my own workspace and am able to show my sculptures. I can do this presently under very limited conditions—showing to very few individuals at a time, social distancing, and use of masks. [Readers can also visit Fermin’s Brickbottom profile.] 

5. What is your favorite Somerville restaurant, diner, or cafe? Or is there something else you love about living and creating Somerville?

I love the diversity of Somerville, the interest in the arts, the architecture—my wife and I spent approximately seventeen years restoring our Greek Revival house—[I] enjoy the different comfort food restaurants Somerville has to offer: Painted Burrito, il Posto, Opa, Taco Loco, Vinny’s, Paul Bakery and Patisserie, and especially that East Somerville has two other restaurants, La Braza and Fat Hen, which have added to the culinary scene.