Maria Salazar never imagined the first challenge of her summer internship in Ecuador would be simply seeing and breathing.
“I had forgotten my glasses at home in the U.S., a whole continent away,” she said. “I spent a month squinting and trying my best.”
Salazar, a senior Illustration major, spent six weeks in Quito, Ecuador’s capital, which sits 9,350 feet up in the Andean foothills. Philadelphia is just 39 feet above sea level.
“It took me a while to adjust to it (the altitude),” she said. “I’d be sitting at work … and I’d just be wheezing because I couldn’t breathe.”
Salazar was born in Ecuador, and moved as a very young child to the United States. Her family lives in Vineland, N.J., but she still has relatives in Quito. When she was awarded the Penny Fox Internship Fellowship this past spring, she decided she wanted to spend time in her homeland.
“I asked my grandmother if she could go looking, and try to find somewhere related in the arts that might have a place open,” Salazar said. Her grandmother suggested Fundación Guayasamín, a museum dedicated to Oswaldo Guayasamín.
“He is revered as the most important Ecuadorian painter of the twentieth century,” she said. Guayasamín’s former home serves as the museum, where Salazar became the in-house illustrator. Guayasamín’s children run the museum, and Salazar had the opportunity to interact with several of the artist’s grandchildren.
Although she didn’t realize it at the time, Salazar grew up surrounded by Guayasamín’s art. One of his pieces hangs on a wall outside her bedroom.
“We grew up looking at his images, because (my parents) have little trinkets of his work – it’s very common in the artisanal markets and as souvenirs,” she said. “We knew his work, we just didn’t know where to put the name on it.”
Salazar lived with her grandparents during her internship, and her grandfather drove her to and from the museum each day. On her first day, she took a guided tour of her new workplace.
“I learned about (Guayasamín’s) process and his life and a little more about Ecuadorian culture,” she said. “I am always trying to learn more about the culture I come from. Being raised in the U.S., I don’t think I got exposed to a lot of that.”
Every day Salazar walked by works of art that Guayasamín collected and traded his art for, including a Picasso, on the way to her workspace in the library of the museum, which was once Guayasamín’s bedroom.
Guayasamín’s life figures prominently in Salazar’s senior thesis.
“Because of my internship, I’m doing a children’s book based on the life of Oswaldo Guayasamín,” she said. “I’d like to be a children’s book illustrator.”
One of Salazar’s duties as an intern was to design a logo to celebrate the artist’s 100th birthday next year. She also made illustrations of Guayasamín that were turned into cut-out figures for tourists to stand next to and take photos.
Now she has come full circle, with her art decorating his house.