Three Generations of Asturian-American Painters


About Honnie Amor Wagner (1927 -  )

Growing Up Asturian-American

My parents, Emilio Fernández Alvarez and Aurora Menéndez Conde, left Asturias in 1914, stopping for three years in Havana, Cuba, before arriving in the United States. Once in the US, the family lived in Anmoore, West Virginia, and Bayonne, New Jersey. Both of these cities had large Asturian immigrant communities.

My family spoke Spanish at home and enjoyed Asturian music and festivals. My father followed the news from Spain and Asturias, especially during the Spanish Civil War. He and his brothers César and Anselmo played competitive soccer. We ate Asturian foods, such as fabada and traditional seafood dishes. Every fall my family slaughtered a hog so we could preserve pork for the winter and make the typical Asturian smoked sausages: chorizo, longaniza, and morcilla. When my older sisters left home to live in New Jersey, they wrote home in Spanish.

But we were also American. As children, we spoke English in school. My brothers all served in the military in World War II. Many of us went to college and became teachers. Others went into business, nursing, manufacturing, and farming.

Honnie Amor Wagner, Mary Louise Guedes,  Dora Wentz, & Yankee in yard of home in Anmoore WV

Sisters from left: Honnie Amor Wagner, Mary Louise Guedes, Dora Wentz, & their dog Yankee next to their home

Anmoore, WV
July 1941

Childhood in an Artist's Home

Growing up in a small town in West Virginia with a father who was an artist had its advantages. We were always surrounded by art because original art and copies of famous works hung on the walls of our home. Moreover, my father always had a couple of oil paintings in progress on his easels. I could follow the works' evolution daily, watching for changes and additions.

As a small child I remember gathering clay from the gully across the road, and bringing it home so my father could teach me the fundamentals of clay sculpture. I recall making a couple of clown masks and some small animals.

My father loved reading and had many books about art, especially the great European artists. As the youngest of seven, I could get away with sneaking a look at his books.

Embracing Art as a Career

Nonetheless, it wasn't until my sophomore year in college at West Virginia University that I began considering a career in art, or even a major in art. A class in clay sculpting really caught my attention, and the instructor was very encouraging. As I took more classes in oil painting, watercolor, and chalk drawing, my interest continued to grow. Studying art history and new techniques made me eager to do more and try other media.

My one disappointment in college was that the primary art professor was wholly captivated by abstract art. It was while trying abstraction that I realized I was much more interested in realism, especially pastoral scenes.

Landscape painting presented to my husband as a wedding gift.

The painting I gave my husband as a wedding gift

Honnie Amor Wagner
copy, original artist unknown
oil on canvas

In college I had prepared to become a secondary art teacher, but I ended up teaching elementary school: second grade in Harmony, New Jersey, and combined first and second grades in Jessup, Maryland. In the evenings I painted. My wedding gift to my husband was one of these oil paintings.

When we started our family, I had my own students to care for, so I left teaching. I also found there was not enough time or energy to continue painting as long as the children were living at home.

Honnie, Joel, Joyce, Art, Hap, and John Wagner, Easter, April 17, 1960

I put my creative energy into raising a family

Honnie, Joel, Joyce, Art, Hap, & John Wagner
Easter, April 17, 1960

Pilgrimage to Avilés

My parents, Emilio and Aurora, came from the city of Avilés, which is in the northern Spanish province of Asturias. They were very young when they left, nineteen and twenty years old, respectively. Except for my parents' correspondence with them, I didn't have any personal contact with the families they had left behind in Spain until much later in life.

Finally, In 1977, my husband John and I visited Avilés, staying with my cousin José "Pepe" Antonio Martínez Menéndez, his wife Ramona Ovíes Garcia, their daughter Maribel, son-in-law Manolo, and two grandchildren, Javier and Maria Ester. The family lives in San Cristóbal, a parish which is a short walk up a hill to the northwest of the main city of Avilés. This is the same village where my mother had grown up.

To our amazement, it seemed that I was related on my mother's side to nearly the whole parish of San Cristóbal! My mother and father never returned to Spain, unlike others in the family who had migrated to America. Because the family hadn't seen my mother for over sixty years, they came in droves to meet the "family from America." The following day John and I were taken to visit the remaining Menéndez family members. It was overwhelming to us that there were so many and that all were so very warm and welcoming! After such a caring, warm welcome, it would have been impossible not to fall in love with my extended family and their village.

Jesus Menéndez Conde, my uncle, with me at his home, the family homstead where my mother was born.

Standing with Jesus Menéndez Conde, my mother's brother and my uncle, at his home, which was also my mother's birthplace

San Cristóbal, Avilés, Asturias

We met one of my uncles, my mother's youngest brother, Jesus Menéndez Conde, on the farm where my mother was raised. Jesus showed us the room where my mother was born. He was so excited to see us, he cried, saying "At last, I'm seeing a child of Aurora!" The family home was large, old, and by this time rundown, but it and the horreo (the typical Asturian granary) next to it had become a favorite subject for regional painters.

While in Avilés, we also visited with a cousin from my father's side, Laurita Fernández Prendez, her husband Victor Muñiz Pérez, and two of their children, Victor and Laura. Laurita reminded me very much of my oldest sister, Mary Louise.

Visiting with both the Menéndez and Fernández sides of my family gave us a wonderful opportunity to learn about the extended family and our ancestors.

Asturian mountains on the road from Leon to Oviedo

Asturian mountains on the road from León to Oviedo

Inevitable Return to Painting

Soon after this visit to Asturias and my family, I began painting again. The family homestead was the subject of one of my first works. Most of my paintings have been based on the many photos my husband John took on this trip and later trips to Spain. Looking back at these paintings now, it's obvious to me that I am attracted to the pastoral, rural life of Spain. My future work will no doubt continue to depict these scenes.

Art Zoller Wagner and Honnie Amor Wagner restoring a painting by Emilio Fernández Alvarez, Christ Knocking at Heart's Door

Restoring one of my father's altarpieces with Art Zoller Wagner

Emilio Fernández Alvarez
"Christ Knocking at Heart's Door"
Trinity United Methodist Church
Brushy Fork, West Virginia
originally painted 1946
restored 1993

In 1993 my son Art and I repaired one of my father's large altarpieces. This experience literally brought me up close to my father's work, giving me renewed appreciation for his skill and his positive influence on my development as an artist.

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