One painting doesn’t tell the whole story...
Artist of the Cuban Exile Era
September 20, 1933 – February 8, 2016
Born - September 20, 1933 in Nueva Paz, Cuba
Died - February 8, 2016 in Newburgh, New York
Spouse - Vincent Trunzo
Children - Vincent “Vinny" Trunzo
Michelle Trunzo was a Cuban American painter. She was best known for her paintings of Cuban scenery, tropical Cuban landscapes, roses, and later she also experimented with architecture and portraits. Her favorite medium was oils. She learned to paint when she was seven years old when her father hired a French painter to teach her the special skills of composition, intensity, and shade. Due to her involvement with a rebellious group against the Batista government, in 1959 Michelle was exiled to the United States for fear she would be killed if she remained in Cuba. She lived out the rest of her life in the US.
While enrolled at the University of Havana in the 1950s as a key-hole puncher for IBM, Michelle was emerging as a very strong and independent young woman. At a time in history when women didn't have many freedoms, or a voice to be taken seriously, she became an advocate for the right to vote for all of Cuba's citizens. In 1952 Cuba's military dictator and President was Fulgencio Batista. Even though the country was thriving under the authoritarian rule of his dictatorship, Batista suspended all free and democratic elections for all Cuban citizens. This only served to stoke the fires that were already burning within certain rebellious groups.
Before the Cuban Revolution of 1959, it was common for students like Michelle to align themselves in some manner with a political party. The president of the most known and the largest of the student group (FEU - University Students Federation) was Jose Antonio Echeverria. He was a founding member of the student group DRE (Directorio Revolucionario Estudantil), which was a militant organization that played an important role in the Cuban Revolution. Through family and extended family members, Michelle became aligned with Echeverria and the DRE. She was often seen by family members wearing a red top with black pants. These colors became known to the locals as anti-government colors.
Just like Jose Marti, Michelle's role model and a Cuban national hero had advocated and died for. Michelle campaigned with other students to vocalize their desire for all citizens of Cuba to have the legal right to vote.
By 1958 the student uprising was getting so fierce, that known members of the FEU were being violently tortured and/or killed in the streets of Havana by the Batista government.
Michelle's exact involvement with the DRE is unknown, however, it was enough that her parents feared she would be prosecuted by the Batista government, so they sent her to live with a married cousin in New York. Her parents did not want anyone to know the real reason she was exiled. The story that was told to friends and neighbors was that she was sent to the US to protect her from her ex-boyfriend because they believed he was going to try and kill her.
When Fidel Castro became President of Cuba in 1959, Michelle returned to Cuba hoping that Castro would give the citizens the right to vote. This would not be the case. Michelle was extremely disappointed and heartbroken and returned to the US after only two weeks of being back in her home country. She never saw her beloved Cuba again.
Back in New York, Michelle married Vincent Trunzo on November 28, 1959. For the next four years, she concentrated all her efforts on getting her parents and siblings from Cuba to the US. In 1965 she gave birth to her only child, Vincent.
In 1971 Michelle and her family moved to Miami Beach, Florida. The following year Michelle finally returned to her love of painting. She began to paint what she remembered of her beloved Cuba. She loved to paint Veradero Beach, roses, Cuban landscape, and Cuban architecture. She also began to experiment with abstract, impressionism, and portraiture. Her painting mentors were the Old Masters, Claude Monet, and Norman Rockwell.
While living in Miami, on August 5, 1988, Michelle became a proud Naturalized Citizen of the United States of America. She voted in every election thereafter regardless of whether it was local, state, or national.
In 1988 Michelle held her first painting exhibit at the Big Five County Club in Miami. It ran for three weeks and was a huge success.
After the death of her husband in March 1992, Michelle and her son moved back to New York. By this time, she has amassed seven series of artwork. In 2003 she held an exhibit at the Karpeles Manuscript Museum in Newburgh, NY. It ran for eight weeks. She held another exhibit in 2004 at the Jadite Gallery in New York that ran for four weeks.
After a series of injuries and illnesses, Michelle passed away on February 8, 2016. It was later determined that her decades-long use and inhalation of turpentine from painting, played a key role in the pulmonary problems she experienced later in life.
Michelle was always serious about education and learning and stated the "great painters study hard and practice their craft". She always gave credit to her French art teacher for her success and would say, "I had a great teacher in Cuba."