Main Content

Cuban-born artist makes his mark on Abilene

This colorful mural is a new landmark on Abilene's South First Street.
This colorful mural is a new landmark on Abilene’s South First Street. (Photo by Peter Larsen)
Rolando Diaz, center, talks with Tom Rose, who commissioned the mural in downtown Abilene.
Rolando Diaz (center) talks with Tom Rose (left) at the dedication ceremony for his downtown artwork. Rose commissioned the mural after seeing Diaz paint a mural in Peru. (Photo by Peter Larsen)
Internationally acclaimed Cuban-American artist and ACU alumnus Rolando Diaz (’79) has made a big splash on the city where he got his start as a professional years ago.
This particular splash is a nearly 145-foot-long ocean-themed mural along the side of an historic building on South First Street between Butternut and Cedar in Abilene. Diaz, who grew up in Miami, said he was inspired by childhood memories to create the artwork, which he calls “I See the Ocean.”
Tom Rose, owner of Thomas Everett’s Fine Furniture, commissioned Diaz after seeing him paint one on a church in Peru. Diaz had been invited to Peru by missionaries Lee (’99) and Stephanie (Grigg ’01) Fletcher, who happened to be friends with Rose.
The colorful artwork, which takes up 10 panels on the north side of Rose’s building, was dedicated May 26 followed by a reception nearby at The Grace Museum, where Diaz held his first major exhibition in 1994-95.
“I like that the mural is two blocks away from where my career began,” he said.
Mayor Norm Archibald ('76) speaks during the artwork dedication in downtown Abilene.
Dr. Norman Archibald (’76 M.S.), Abilene’s mayor, speaks during the dedication ceremony in downtown Abilene.
His career-launching show, “A Common Thread,” dealt with the poor “and the idea that we are all connected no matter where you are in life,” said Diaz, who now makes his home in Dallas. So it was fitting that during the six weeks he spent creating the mural, he met a number of Abilene’s homeless population.
“I did not realize at the time that so many would pass by there daily,” he said. “I’m never bothered by the homeless. Their insight is always real, because they have nothing to offer but themselves.” Diaz became friends with several homeless Abilenians and even gave one a ride to Oklahoma.
Although it was a steady interruption to his work, Diaz said he enjoyed interacting with everyone who stopped to watch.
“I loved seeing so many friends and people who were strangers who would stop to talk about it. That was one of my favorite experiences,” he said. “Like when I saw a father and his two daughters one day on the sidewalk taking all sorts of photos in front of the mural – laughing and just enjoying that moment so much. Or photographers showing up to take photos. Or a smile or comment. That’s when it all comes full circle. All those hours of working and sweating are not even remembered.”
The reception at The Grace was a special time for Diaz because it gave him an opportunity not only to connect with local residents, “but also give thanks to many who were extremely gracious and kind to me during my college years.”
Diaz immigrated with his family from Cuba as a young boy in 1964 and grew up in Miami, Fla. He attended ACU with his late brother, Christian Diaz (’77), who also was a talented artist and sculptor.