College volunteers work with community to bring Cuban artist to Berks County

Cuban artist Julio Cepeda Duque from Trinidad

Julio Cepeda is pictured with the Penn State Berks faculty and staff members who served on the committee to bring him to Berks County. Pictured, left to right, are Catherine Catanach, Barbara Lessig, Belén Rodríguez-Mourelo, Julio Cepeda and Donna Chambers. Not pictured: Paul Rosa.

Credit: Penn State

READING, Pa. — The journey to bring Cuban artist Julio Cepeda Duque from Trinidad, Cuba to Reading, Pennsylvania, to share his art was a long and windy one. But after three years of concerted effort on the part of many community volunteers, including faculty and staff from Penn State Berks, Cepeda finally arrived in Berks County in mid-August.

Cepeda's "Made in Cuba" exhibit will run from Sept. 7 to Oct. 12 at the GoggleWorks Center for the Arts in Reading, with an opening reception at 5:30 p.m. on Sept. 7 and a special workshop on assembling found art to be held on Sept. 8 and 9. 

Cepeda uses found objects made of various materials, including tools and technology, into his artwork. He said in a recent interview that inspiration often comes from the objects themselves. He explained that using everyday objects creates a connection with the viewer, who may realize that items from his or her daily life can be transformed into art.

According to Belén Rodríguez-Mourelo, a member of the Julio Cepeda Exhibition Committee, there was a strong feeling among the committee members that it was important to bring the Cuban artist to the United States to showcase his work and culture. Rodríguez-Mourelo, head of the Division of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences and associate professor of Spanish at Penn State Berks, has deep ties to Cuba: Her grandfather lived and died there. In addition, she is the author of "Encounters in Exile: Themes in the Narrative of the Cuban Diaspora."

During his time in Berks County, Cepeda will serve as a guest speaker in a Penn State Berks Spanish course on Sept. 26. He will also visit Albright College, Reading Area Community College, and Wilson Southern Middle School.

Cepeda will be in Berks for just two months, but he is already making the most of his time. In the two weeks that he has been in the U.S., he has created a found-object, three-dimensional sculptural artwork in the form of a map of Cuba that will be permanently installed in West Reading's Cherry Street Mural Corridor. In addition, he will be working on a mural in Building 6 of the GoggleWorks from Sept. 10 to 28 and will be working in his studio, Building 4 of the GoggleWorks, during the Reading Arts Festival on Oct. 6-7.

A number of the items in Cepeda's 3D map have specific ties to the West Reading community and to Penn State Berks. For example, an old metal gate made from crankshafts used at Textile Machine Works forms the compass rose that denotes direction on the map. The training school for Textile Machine Works, Wyomissing Polytechnic Institute, was the forerunner of Penn State Berks.

Local artist Martha Ressler is the chairwoman of the volunteer committee. She and her husband, Jay, discovered Cepeda while on a trip to Cuba in 2015 and thought the artist would be a good fit for the GoggleWorks. After getting approval from the GoggleWorks exhibition committee, the volunteers worked to navigate the nonimmigrant visa process that would allow Cepeda to create and display his art in the U.S.

In addition to Rodríguez-Mourelo, volunteers from Penn State Berks included Catherine Catanach, Donna Chambers, Barbara Lessig, and Paul Rosa. Two Penn State Berks students also served as interns on the project: Hallie Kearns and Yarelis Nieves.

About Julio Cepeda Duque

Born in 1973 in the town of Jarahueca, Cuba, Cepeda’s artistic training began in 1995 in the workshops of Julio Neira, a painter and sculptor from the city of Santi Espíritus. In 1997, he entered the professional art academy Samuel Feijoo in the city of Santa Clara, graduating in 2000. His thesis addressed the function of abstraction within the aesthetic. After graduation he worked as a professor at the Raúl Martínez Academy for one year. 

From 2008 to 2010, Cepeda created art independently in Havana, then moved to Trinidad in 2010, where he currently works with a group of artists with similar concerns.