Pittsburgh days, Havana nights

Staff member combines data management career with a passion for visual arts

By day, Rafael Migoyo wields Health Studies Research Center data, seeking order from a chaos of information collected in aging studies conducted by Pitt Public Health faculty in the Department of Epidemiology. When the workday ends, Migoyo’s mind is on a different kind of collection—paintings, sculptures, textiles and photography created by artists in his native Cuba.

On March 10, he will lead a group of art connoisseurs on a weeklong tour of the island, including old Havana and the Ernest Hemingway estate, to help them experience the vibrant culture and, hopefully, encourage more than a few new acquisitions to accompany them on the return trip.

“I show my collectors what it’s like to live in a home surrounded and enhanced by art,” says Migoyo, whose gallery and business, Del Caimán, is based in his Lawrenceville residence. “To wake up, look at your wall, and think ‘Wow, someone spent 40 years learning to create that line, or thousands of hours instilling emotion into those brushstrokes or that sculpture.’”

In many ways, Del Caimán, named for the smallest species of freshwater crocodile-like reptile, is also a love letter to Migoyo’s father, Rafael Sr., who managed public art projects in Havana. The senior Migoyo settled the family in Florida shortly after first making the dangerous ocean crossing from Cuba himself in 1994.

“When I was little, I thought the shape of the island looked like a crocodile and I would visualize this giant Godzilla kind of thing floating through the Caribbean with people on its back, dancing, cooking, painting—just living their lives,” he says. “And so, the idea of the name is that no matter where we are in the world, as a Cuban person, we’re all from—or of—the Caimán.”

Now three years old, the company represents artists who work in a variety of media, including paints, prints, photography, sculpture, sketches and mixed materials. Pieces range in price from hundreds to many thousands of dollars, depending on size, elements, and the artist’s prominence in the field.

In June, Migoyo will transition to a part-time position as grant coordinator for the department’s National Institutes of Health-funded research trainees, giving him more time for his growing art business. But his devotion to Pitt, and to Pittsburgh, remains strong.

He sees art everywhere—in the city’s streets, hillsides, and even its often cloudy skies. “The city reminds me of Havana, where I was born,” says Migoyo. “I see texture in a gray sky and history in the buildings and roads.” Hillsides offer vantage points that reveal “a city sewn by houses—like a big quilt,” he adds.

What could be homier than a quilt? Well, maybe a quilt, a fresh, fragrant Cubano, and some rice and beans.

Michele D. Baum