George Rothacker's "Havana '59": Hope for Cuba and Fundraising for Eastern University

The Villanova artist makes a political pitch for an end to the Cuban embargo, while supporting EU's David R. Black Academic Enrichment Fund.

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George Rothacker at home in Villanova. (Photo by Jared Castaldi)When Havana ’59, Paintings of Cuba by George H. Rothacker debuted last fall at Radnor’s Bolingbroke Mansion, the artist wore a white three-piece suit he’d bought online for $150, a Panama hat and a vintage 1940s silk necktie with a label that read “Havana.” At the entrance to Bolingbroke, American cars from the 1950s were decked out as taxis. Guests posed for black-and-white snapshots with stand-up figures of Ernest Hemingway, Josephine Baker, Meyer Lansky, Carmen Miranda, Fulgencio Batista and Frank Sinatra. They enjoyed Cuban fare, and a female cigar roller provided the necessities for smoking on the porch.

When Havana ’59 reappears in full this month at the Wallingford Community Arts Center, Rothacker’s wishes won’t have changed for the Cuban people. Mostly they involve freedom, of the kind he enjoys in his work. For the Villanova artist, books like Havana Nocturne: How the Mob Owned Cuba and Then Lost It to the Revolution rekindled the vivid tales of his father’s trips to Cuba in the 1930s. Rothacker finds the island “so corrupt, it’s delicious.” And his own five-day research trip there in November 2009 with his wife, Barbara, and two friends coincided with the 50th anniversary year of the Fidel Castro-led Communist revolution.

If yesterday’s artists were remote, hermetic and reclusive, Rothacker reflects today’s ultra-fast, ultra-political, ultra-immediate global marketplace. In an ever-competitive art world, art needs a cause and a mission for it to resonate. Today, art for art’s sake is passé.

Throughout his career, Rothacker has tied his artwork to social causes that dovetail with philanthropy. Havana ’59’s ambitious underlying pitch is to end the Cuban embargo and the misery it creates. He’s always asked himself what benefit his work might have, incorporating what he calls “a social schematic.”

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