Solemn epitaph lends

by John Adams

A piece of University history is living on in the basement of Willey Hall this month in the retrospective art exhibit of a former graduate student who died almost two years ago.
The Catherine E. Nash Gallery in the lower concourse of Willey Hall recently opened an exhibit by Santos Fernandez, a former student, graduate student and artist of the University community who died in his art studio. He was 54.
Fernandez died in Aug. 1997 after he was allegedly exposed to a deadly fumigant sprayed in a nearby building that was connected through underground tunnels to his studio on Second Street Southeast.
The University exhibit, titled “Buen Marciano, Gran Artista — A Retrospective of the Work of Santos Fernandez” is a collection of works in watercolors, oils, wood and bronze.
The title of the exhibit matches the inscription on his tombstone, in reference to his work and life in Murcia, a province near the southeastern coast of Spain.
Fernandez grew up in Cehegin, a city in Murcia, where he was an amateur bullfighter before coming to the United States.
The majority of the pieces are rich with Spanish culture and reflect his life experiences. It begins with an old Spanish advertisement inviting townspeople to a bullfight featuring Santos Fernandez. The exhibit ends with two paintings of his hometown, Cehegin, of which his former studio partner said: “The paintings of Cehegin were for himself, and very personal.”
A letter in memory of Fernandez is displayed on the wall near the entrance of the exhibit from Eduardo Romo, Fernandez’s studio partner, classmate and friend for more than 25 years. It is titled “Uniqueness.”
The two met in their first quarter at the University in the fall quarter of 1969. That was the first lecture of current professor, Wayne Potratz. That class began a friendship between the two students and the professor that lasted nearly 30 years until Fernandez died. “We have stories that won’t quit,” Romo said.
The letter referenced Fernandez’s master’s thesis when he quoted Diogenes: “Please don’t take my sun away from me.” The essay ends with, “Part of our sun has been taken away from us with your departure. Santos, we miss you!”
Potratz remembered Fernandez in his class and after graduation. “He was full of life, energy, and always had a snuffed out cigar in his mouth,” he said.
Potratz and Fernandez remained friends, even after Fernandez’ 20 years of University course work. Fernandez was a full-time diesel mechanic during the day and a student of art at the University at night.
Romo and Fernandez shared a studio at school and one off-campus where Fernandez died. “We were like brothers. … I was closer to him than my siblings.”