[Our next title, The Clear Blue Line, is coming out July 1. We'll be running a series of posts about the book, the author, the sport of free diving, and maybe even Panama. Here is the first.]
Sometimes you meet someone who's so unusual or has led such a fascinating life, you're not only delighted to know him, you're also thinking he'd make a great character. (At least that's what you're thinking if you're a writer.)
Al Sprague is like that.
He was born and raised in Colon, Panama. After attending college in the United States, he returned to Panama to teach art in high school and college for 15 years. During that time, he painted the landscapes and people of Panama, one of the first artists to define the Panamanian culture through art. His most noted works depict native Panamanian women dancing in the traditional costumes of the pollera and the montuna as well as fisherman who troll the Pacific Ocean for snapper, grouper, and dolphin. Al, an avid fisherman himself, creates fishing lures that are works of art.
Through painting, Al captured the Panama Canal and the men who keep it running. A number of his works were purchased by the Panama Canal Commission and presently hang in the Administration Building of the Canal. Two of his paintings were made into postage stamps of the now defunct Panama Canal Post Office and remain collectors’ items. At least two other paintings were recreated as postage stamps for the Republic of Panama.
Al’s one-man show of Panama Canal artwork opened the new Museum of the Panama Canal in 2000. Many of his paintings of Panamanian fishermen and native dancers hang in banks and museums throughout the country of Panama and have been purchased as gifts of state for the presidents of Spain, Venezuela, Mexico, Brazil, and the United States. In addition, his paintings are included in the Presidential Libraries of Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan. Al was selected as the official combat artist for “Operation Just Cause” and created a series of paintings which form part of the army art collection in the Pentagon and were featured on CNN.
A consummate storyteller, Al took up fiction writing in his 70s. He is co-author of The Mahogany Tree (El árbol de caoba), published in 2010. This is his first adult novel.
His paintings are gorgeous. You can see them on Al's website and on his daughter's blog.
Photo: Brian La Barr
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