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CCU gallery exhibit explores Hemingway-Evans connection

August 18, 2006

A traveling museum exhibit, "Ernest Hemingway and Walker Evans: Three Weeks in Cuba," will be on view at the Rebecca Randall Bryan Art Gallery at Coastal Carolina University from Tuesday, Sept. 12 through Friday, Nov. 3. The exhibit is free and open to the public, and a public reception is scheduled for Wednesday, Sept. 13 from 5 to 6 p.m.

In the spring of 1933, the lives of two legendary American artists - writer Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961) and photographer Walker Evans (1903-1975) - intersected for a brief but eventful three weeks in Havana, Cuba. Evans was on assignment to take photographs for a book about Cuban dictator Gerardo Machado, and Hemingway was writing the stories that would eventually form his novel - To Have and Have Not.

Along with images of common Cuban families, children, and social landscapes, Evans documented the undercurrents of political unrest brewing in the country. Several of his pictures are of armed soldiers in the streets or of dead men, the victims of Machado's strongmen who were often found with their tongues cut off or throats slit. Evans also copied several gruesome pictures from Cuban newspaper stories.

Fearing that his photographs might be confiscated by the secret police, Evans gave Hemingway a batch of prints for safekeeping. Evans eventually left Cuba with some 400 negatives but never asked Hemingway for the other pictures back. He would soon become famous for the photographs he would take of Americans suffering in the Great Depression. The two men never met again, and their association was forgotten by history - as were the missing Cuba photographs.

From 1939 to Hemingway's death in 1961, the pictures were stored along with some of the author's other possessions in the back room of Sloppy Joe's, the Havana bar he made famous. After Hemingway's death his wife Mary gave some of the items to various libraries and museums, and some to Hemingway's friends Toby and Betty Bruce. In 2002, the Bruce's son identified more than 40 Evans photographs in his parents' collection.

Two years later, the Key West Museum of Art and History organized an exhibition showcasing the rare photographs. The exhibit also includes many of the recently unearthed Hemingway items, including letters and personal effects such as his leather drinking flask and a printer's mock-up of "Death in the Afternoon."

Although their association was brief, experts believe that the relationship influenced the work of both men. Some authorities (including Hemingway's son Patrick) think that Evans' Cuba photos inspired certain descriptive passages in - To Have and Have Not - Evans was a great admirer of Hemingway's work, and critics discern a similarity between the photographer's precise, spare style and Hemingway's rigorously economical prose.

The Rebecca Randall Bryan Gallery is located in the Thomas W. and Robin W. Edwards College of Humanities and Fine Arts. For more information, contact Cynthia Farnell, visiting director of the gallery, at 843-349-3466.