Michael Connors, an expert in Caribbean antiques, is a contributor to numerous publications, including Art & Antiques, Antiques and Fine Art, and The Magazine Antiques. He has a passion for Cuba, which is shown in this beautiful book, which has a real depth and quality to it. The level of access he has received is remarkable and through this he is able to show that many of Cuba’s most iconic and beautiful works have held up well. The imprints of American and European designers and clients remain detectable and delightful.
In the Book
An unprecedented tour of stunning and architecturally significant Cuban palacios, mansions, and private homes that have been meticulously preserved, previously un-photographed, and inaccessible to visitors. At a time when more travelers are rediscovering Cuba, this lavishly illustrated volume offers a different view of the island’s cultural achievements.
It presents not the picturesque Cuba of Castro’s era, with its derelict buildings and peeling paint, but the opulent world of the Spanish Creole aristocracy of the colonial period, with its Mudejar craftsmanship and baroque palacios, the sugarcane plantations (ingenios) and coffee plantations (cafetales), and classically inspired grand mansions. Exceptional preservation work has kept these villas in the magnificent state in which they were first envisioned. The photographs, shot exclusively for this book, show examples in each area of the island-from the interiors and exteriors in Havana, Santiago de Cuba, Santa Clara, Cienfuegos, and Pinar del Rio to close-up details of courtyards, balconies, galleries, balustrades, grilles, and louvered doors in Trinidad, Matanzas, and Holguin. One featured home is Finca Vigia (“lookout house”), the former residence of Ernest Hemingway.
How did you originally get involved in writing this book involving Cuba?
I visited Cuba 12 years ago as part of my research for my first book (Caribbean Elegance) which had a chapter for each country that colonized the West Indies (England, Spain, Denmark, Holland and France.) Once I saw the untapped resources of architecture and decorative arts I immediately begin my second book (Cuban Elegance.) Since those early years I have continued to visit, research and write about Cuban architecture and decorative arts.
What was the driving motivation behind the preparation of this book?
In a sentence, it is the fact that there are examples of every style of architecture of the last 500 years in Cuba. That cannot be said about any other country in the Western Hemisphere.
My perception has become more introspective. I have been able to look pass the architecture that is deteriorating, the laundry in courtyards, poverty, etc. and understand there is something to be said for “preservation by neglect.” There is no insensitive development and I seen tremendous changes in Cuba regarding the preservation of historically significant architecture.
Do you have a favorite extract or story or anecdote from the book that illustrates a key message or theme from this book?
There are so many anecdotes that I could talk about that took place over the 2 years of working on this book. One that stands out took place while we (photographer, his assistant, the stylist, translator and I) were working in Trinidad on the southern coast of Cuba. We discovered a lovely home, knocked on the door to ask for permission to photograph and a small girl answered the door. She said we could not come in because her grandfather was not home but to come back later that day in the afternoon. We returned to find the grandfather who was most welcoming and asked us in. He was very curious about what we were doing and asked us to sit and explain our work. He also asked if we would like coffee. Not wanting to insult his hospitality we all agreed to have coffee.
Well, unknown to us (until we left) there was no coffee in the house. Apparently the little girl was instructed to go out the back door and borrow coffee from a neighbor. Approximately 30 minutes later (and long conversations about our work, the USA, etc.) we all enjoyed one of the best cups of Café Cubano I’ve ever had. We took the photograph we wanted and said our good-byes.
This is one of the many examples of the generosity and hospitality we experienced throughout the island. This family was so poor they did not have coffee in the house but made sure they found some to serve strangers. Strangers from a country that do not allow their citizens to visit an island less than 100 miles from their shore.
What was the most surprising thing you discovered about Cuba during the writing of this book?
I think one of the most surprising things I discovered about Cuba was the character of the Cuban people. They are the most hospitable, generous, resourceful and industrious group of people I have experienced in the Caribbean. They are also very proud of their patrimony.
Do you have any future plans to become involved in Cuba related projects?
Yes, I am writing another book; Cuba, A Century of Change: 1860-1960 (working title) that focuses on the island’s architectural and artistic transition into the 20th century and the modern period. So far it has proven to very exciting with examples that have never been researched, identified, photographed or written about.