By Stephen Vargha
Convención del 45 has a very interesting history. The barrio, which encompasses about 24 blocks on the west side of Cuenca, was one of three entrances to the city in the 19th century and early-20th century. The other two were El Volcán and El Vecino.
“Many would rest in this barrio before proceeding into the city as it had taken three to four days to haul their goods from Guayaquil,” said Andrés Zambrano.
The owner and chef at La Guarida should know. His restaurant is in his childhood home, located on what was the very western edge of the city and Convención del 45. “People would rest here before going to El Centro as it could take a couple of hours to walk with their goods for two kilometers,” Zambrano said.
Zambrano said the three original entrances to the city all had churches very close to where people entered. For Convención del 45, it is Iglesia Católica Corazón de Jesús, on Calle Gran Colombia. In the 1800s and to the 1930s, mass in these churches were held only in Latin.
“Before entering Cuenca, you had to purify yourself and ask for forgiveness,” said Zambrano.
Blame the brothels near Cuartel Cayambe. The Ecuadorian military barracks, which closed in the 1940s, were the brothels’ biggest clients. Travelers from Guayaquil took advantage of the numerous bordellos before entering Cuenca.
Today, there are still brothels in Cayambe as prostitution is legal for persons over the age of 18 as long as the prostitution businesses are registered with the government and follow health regulations.
The barrio looked totally different when Master Ceramicist Eduardo Segovia was a child. Segovia is a master at his craft and is world renowned. Working with clay and paints as well as other materials comes so naturally to this talented 83-year-old artist.
Growing up, there were trees everywhere in Convención del 45. A river flowed through what is now the tranvía line on Calle Mariscal Lamar. “Segovia would swim in that river,” said Zambrano. “There used to be a lot of rivers in the area when Segovia was young. One of those rivers helped supply power to the mill.”
The mill he is referring to is Los Molinos del Batan, which is now Le Moulin Restaurante. Located on what is now Ave. 12 de Abril, it was a flour mill for making wheat and rye into flour. Zambrano says the mill is almost as old as the city.
Segovia has never left his beloved neighborhood. He is still full of energy and excitement and shows no signs of slowing down. It is very apparent that art is not only his profession, but also his passion.
His love of art has spilled over into the neighborhood. Spearheaded by Zambrano, murals with Segovia’s imprint are being painted throughout Convención del 45. Twelve murals have already been completed.
“The murals are a celebration of his life. It is an honor for him,” said Zambrano. “Segovia is imprinting his memories with the colors of the barrio. He wants to keep the memories alive.”
Segovia wants to show his legacy through the murals to show his love of the neighborhood. “I am very emotional about it as my health is declining,” said Segovia. “But the murals are helping me to be motivated to produce more pieces of art.”
In mid-June, Segovia got a pacemaker. “He rested for two three days,” said Zambrano. “That’s it! Maestro started producing more pieces of art. In less than three weeks, he has made four dozen new pieces.” Zambrano adds Segovia truly wants to finish his lifetime’s work.
This mural project started three years ago when the neighborhood elected Zambrano its association’s president. “I was elected president to get the murals done. Since then, I talked numerous times to the Arts Department with the City of Cuenca,” said Segovia. “It was important for us to get the city’s help to make it bigger and grander.”
It took until June for the city to finally approve the project and provide $1,700 to complete the murals. Even with the nod to proceed, there some who were hesitant to give approval to the murals. “Some neighbors were adamantly against it,” said Zambrano. “Now, they are begging for more murals.”
Six of the city’s best young artists are involved in projecting Segovia’s lifelong works onto the walls of Convención del 45. Zambrano describes Segovia’s art as eclectic with a clash between Pre-Columbian and Joan Miró i Ferrà, the 20th century Spanish ceramicist, painter, and sculptor from Barcelona. He was one of the pioneers of what was called surrealism, specifically its most “childish” side.
The murals are not an exact replica of Segovia’s works. “The Maestro has given me some liberty to adjust the murals,” said Zambrano. “There are places where things are sticking out or the walls are not perfect, so we have to tweak the artwork.”
All of the murals have greatly improved the barrio, which was in great decline four decades ago. “In the 1980s, it was dangerous neighborhood,” said Zambrano. “It had a very bad reputation.”
That is all changing with Zambrano’s restaurant, his neighbor and upscale vegetarian restaurant, El Oasis, as well as the murals. It is why the focus is now on Unidad Educativa Victor Gerardo Aguilar. The public high school has been physically in decline for years.
That has already changed with the students painting the exterior walls white, ridding them of graffiti and swear words. The first Segovia mural has already been painted on one of the school’s walls.
“It is important for the 1,000 students at the high school to be wowed by the murals,” said Zambrano. “Now we want to do a 25 square meters mural for a tall exterior wall of one of the high school buildings.” Zambrano is talking about a mural that would be 270 square feet and would be visible for all to see from the street.
Convención del 45 is looking for donations to make this huge dream a reality in the near future. “We only need $700 to make this a reality,” said Zambrano. “What a bargain! For such a small price, we can have a grand mural memorializing Segovia and his works.” Monetary donations can be made at La Guarida.
Plans are being finalized for Saturday, July 23 to celebrate Segovia’s 84th birthday. It will be a “Tour of Segovia’s World.” The tour will begin with some of his artwork currently on display at the City Museum at Gran Colombia and Benigno Malo.
A tour of the barrio’s murals will follow, with an exhibit of clay making and the history of Convención del 45. It will proceed to a brand-new exhibit at La Guarida that will be black-and-white artwork of the maestro.
The huge celebration will conclude at Segovia’s workshop, where you will be able to see a couple thousand of his pieces. Of course, you can buy as many as you want.
What has been accomplished in a short period of time has turned everything around for this historic barrio.
“I’ve seen a change in the attitude of the neighborhood because of the murals. They are now proud of where they live,” said Zambrano. “I am glad we can honor this humble and talented man with this public artwork.”
La Guarida, Mariscal Lamar y Luis Pauta, Cuenca, 099-806-8071, Facebook
Photos by Stephen Vargha