The Art of Friendship|
A Pair of Painters from Operation Peter Pan Has
Opened Miami’s Newest Art Gallery
By Jonathan Wemette
Bustillo and Olga Buffett, whose friendship built a gallery
The Buffett Gallery is a small establishment with one
modest showroom and a cluttered back office. The friendship that built it,
however, is nearly epic in scope.
and Nury Bustillo are the friends and business partners behind Miami’s newest
art gallery. They first knew each other as four-year-old girls in 1950s Cuba.
families were friends, and though the girls played together as young children,
they were not close. This changed when, at the age of 12, they were sent to the
United States together in Operation Peter Pan.
Between 1960 and 1962, Operation
Peter Pan brought more than 14,000 unaccompanied Cuban children to the United
States. After the Communist takeover of Cuba in 1959, parents who opposed the
new government and parents who feared their children would be shipped to Soviet
work camps sent their children to Miami. Financed in part by the U.S.
government, it became the largest exodus of unaccompanied children in the
history of the Western Hemisphere.
oil on canvas, 26x48, 2006, by Olga Buffett
Buffett and Bustillo lived together in a foster home in Florida City and began
to rely on each other for comfort.
hands because we were so scared without family,” Buffett recalls. “At night we
used to pray and then everybody would fall apart crying.”
were together for almost a year before Buffett left for a Catholic boarding
school in Texas. By then, the two had grown as close as family.
we always say we’re little sisters,” Buffett explains. “She always writes me,
and she calls me ‘mi hermanita’ – ‘my little sister.’”
girls were eventually reunited with their families in the United States.
Bustillo moved to New York with her parents and her friendship with Buffett
became dependent on letters and occasional visits.
“We all went
to our own life,” Buffett says. “Nury moved to New York and I went to Puerto
Rico to school, and then I got married and went to Vancouver. So we were apart,
but we kept in touch. Every few years, we’d meet in New York but everybody had
their own life and family to raise.”
Bustillo shows her jewelry with friend Olga Buffett
Then, in the
early ‘90s, nearly 40 years after they first met, both women found themselves
living in Miami again. Their busy lives kept them apart for a while, but a
chance meeting brought them back together in 1992. “We ran into each other again
in a store,” Buffett recalls, “and we’ve been together since then.”
years apart, each woman had dabbled in the visual arts. “I did some painting
when I was in the University of Puerto Rico,” Buffett says, “and Nury took some
drawing courses in New York.” Together, though, the women’s creative
temperaments took off, and they were soon traveling to Europe together to attend
classes on painting technique.
“We would set
up workshops in different cities and go for a month,” Buffett says. “In Europe,
especially in Spain, they take forever to learn techniques, but we would go from
10 a.m. to 6 p.m., take a break, go to eat, and then come back to the school.
One year, we were going to school until 9 p.m. It was very exhausting, but we
enjoyed it because that was our passion.”
13 Good Luck
Corals and a Jet, 2007, necklace and bracelet set, by Nuri Bustillo
A few years
ago, Buffett and Bustillo decided to take that passion and channel it into a
gallery that could showcase their creations alongside the work of their friends
in the local artistic community. The women are members of a devoted group of
artists called the Artists Group of South Florida.
Buffett Gallery is a testament to the ideals and values of two friends whose
lives were shaped in part by the chaos of their childhood migration.
Peter Pan] made us very strong and also made us realize how important love and
peace are,” Buffett says, “because we missed them. In the most formative years
of your life, we didn’t get any of that, so I think we crave for it, we try to
bring it out in everything we do, in our family, the work we do, the community.
I think that’s very important to us.”
with one of her paintings at the Buffett Gallery Photo: Jonathan Wemette
evident in each woman’s talent for tranquil still lifes and serene landscapes.
Bustillo also creates original jewelry using colorful stones and intricate
links. Buffett supplements her ordered sceneries with bolder, wilder abstracts,
currently displayed only in the gallery’s office.
works displayed in the Buffett Gallery, which will be rotated to accommodate as
many artists and styles as possible, further reflect the owners’ artistic
sensibilities. The compositions are beautiful, and there is a strong emphasis on
harmony over discord.
“We are very
spiritual people, we like nature and peace,” Buffett says of their community of
artists. “And I think that’s what keeps us close.”
keeps them as close as Buffett and Bustillo, the Buffett Gallery should have
friends for years to come.
The Buffett Art Gallery is located at 3525 NE 2nd Ave, Miami. The gallery is
open to the public Tuesday-Saturday, 11a.m.-5 p.m. For more information, call
305-323-5295 or 305-975-8868.