From Art to Cuba and Back

Patsi Aguero shows Deanna Corarito’s watercolor “Boat on Moonlit Bay,” one of the student paintings that sold during the reception.

Over 200 people attended the debut exhibit of the Gulfport Watercolor Society at a reception on September 1 at the Catherine Hickman Theater. Nine participants who take Gulfport artist Patsi Aguero’s watercolor class each Thursday morning at the Gulfport Recreation Center exhibited three paintings each and had high praise for Aguero’s teaching style.

“We have a lot of fun in our class,” says Aguero.

Deanna Corarito, who has taken the class for about a year and drives to Gulfport from Keystone every week, says, “Patsi makes sure we learn about composition and how to make our work interesting. It was one thing I’d never thought about. The class also provides a real sense of community support, a safe space to work to our own potential.”

Aguero, a National Board Certified Teacher who has taught art at both public and private schools, worked hard to get her students’ work ready for the reception. At the same time, she was preparing for a cruise to Cuba scheduled for the following Monday.

“I wanted to make sure our show went well,” says Aguero. “It was a beautiful reception, and I’m glad so many people turned out. After the reception ended, I concentrated on getting ready to go to Cuba, my lifelong dream.”

Aguero is of Cuban descent. Her grandmother was born there, and she has relatives she has never met who still live there. Aguero was born and raised in Ybor City, and she credits the area’s rich Cuban heritage as an influence in her work.

On Monday, September 4, Aguero and a friend boarded a cruise ship headed for Cuba at the Port of Tampa.

“When the ship got to Key West, everyone was frantically evacuating due to Hurricane Irma,” says Aguero. “But the  sun was shining, and we were all anxious to get to Cuba. The captain said we were safer at sea so we took off for Cuba.”

Aguero woke up the next morning in Cuba. She and her friend went on a four-hour bus tour, visiting different sites and getting a real feel for the country. When Aguero and her friend got back to the ship, there was an announcement that they had to leave immediately because the Port of Tampa was closing at 7 a.m. the following morning. Passengers were given the option of returning to Tampa or being rerouted to Mexico.

“We opted to go back to Tampa, as Hurricane Katia was headed for Mexico,” she says.

On the way back to Florida, there was a dance and karaoke on board.

“My friend and I dressed up in costume and tried to help keep the levity up on the trip home,” she says. “People were freaking out and drinking and eating like it was the last day of their lives.”

The ship got back to Tampa in time. A policemen and his wife that Aguero met on the cruise offered to take them to Gulfport. Due to people evacuating in the Tampa Bay area, Aguero was afraid her ride might get stuck in traffic leaving the west coast.

“We were lucky that we made it home. Many people on the cruise flew in from other parts of the country and were unable to get flights home since Tampa International was closing,” she says.

Aguero only got to spend four hours in Cuba and never did get to meet her relatives, but she was glad to get back to her home in Gulfport and, once Hurricane Irma subsided, to her art and her students.

The Gulfport Watercolor Society art exhibit at the Catherine Hickman Theater runs through September 27. Classes are held each Thursday from 9 a.m. to noon at the Gulfport Recreation Center. For more information, call Patsi Aguero at 727-501-3559.


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