Interview translated by Marisol Jimenez
Artist Maria Tavares feels like she’s finally found a home for her art — and, lucky for us, that home is the Hudson Valley.
Tavares, a resident of Somers, found an interest in art when she was six. Two houses down from her parents’ home in Guadalajara, Mexico, the young Tavares watched a bread maker attempt to paint his store windows to celebrate Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead). She wasn’t impressed with his attempt. “I can do it for you,” she offered — and he let her. In awe of her work, he asked how much he owed her. She didn’t know, so he sent her home with a bunch of bread. With Tavares being the fifteenth of sixteen children, her art was celebrated that day when she came home with enough to feed everyone.
From then on, Tavares drew anything with whatever materials she could get her hands on. In grade school, she won an art scholarship, but her father said they couldn’t afford materials and transportation so she couldn’t go.
But that didn’t stop her from creating. Whether using spare chalk to craft a mural in kindergarten or drawing her shoemaker father’s clients with pencil, Tavares found serenity in creating something that brought joy.
A lot changed when Tavares met her first husband, a man much older than she but who believed in her art, “a man with a wonderful heart from Oaxaca,” she remembers. He paid for her to attend art school under Francisco Toledo, famed Mexican painter and sculptor. “I didn’t realize at the time how important [Toledo] was,” she says. “I was just thankful to paint.”
So she would paint —flowers, scenery, portraits — and give them away as gifts (much like she does today). But her late husband wanted her to make a living from her passion, so he would offer to help her sell her art at his job. And as his coworkers commissioned her work, it was the first time someone paid for her art, for her passion, and she couldn’t believe it.
Years after her husband passed, Tavares met her current husband, who brought her to New York. While he wasn’t too keen on her working as often, every morning she would go to local businesses and ask if she could paint their seasonal window displays.
She started to offer her pieces for restaurant interiors, and through her friend Marisol Jimenez met Scarlett Antonia of The Artist Spot (925 South Street, Peekskill). Antonia quickly set up a showcase of her work, but Tavares only had about a dozen pieces in her home. “I told her, ‘You better get to painting!’” said Jimenez. “That was in April. Now, she has like 70 pieces taking up space in her house. Oops!”
Tavares is now taking off in Peekskill. She has been commissioned to do paintings for a few locals as gifts, like a portrait of Peekskill Mayor Vivian McKenzie and a rendering of the Abbey Inn & Spa for developer Martin Ginsburg.
The artist finds her inspiration from Frida Kahlo. “I love painting Frida because I identify with her. She talks to me. She says, ‘I don’t want to be forgotten. Please paint me.’ So I do.”
Maria Tavares dreams of opening her own studio one day, where patrons can come in to see her art and take a few deep breaths. And where she can offload some of those 70 paintings now in her living room. Some of her work is currently on display at The Artist Spot, and you can find her painting upcoming seasonal window displays in businesses all over the Hudson Valley.
Stephanie Conte is a resident of Peekskill.