For 50 years, Heredia has been one of Ólger Villegas’ sources of inspiration when it comes to his creative process. Born in the northwestern Central Valley town of San Ramón de Alajuela, the sculptor has become an herediano at heart over the years. In the past several decades, the city of Heredia, north of the capital, has undergone a lot of change, but very little of it has encouraged a connection between Heredia’s citizens and the visual arts, Villegas said.
That is why the acclaimed artist’s eyes light up when he sees his work being exhibited in the province he has come to love as his own.
“For years we didn’t see in Heredia a space where we [sculptors and painters] would be able to showcase our work to heredianos, a place where the people from here would have access to the arts and could learn to appreciate the talent of their own province,” Villegas said, referring to Guilarte, a new space dedicated to art in the heart of the “City of Flowers,” as Heredia is known.
A chameleonic and diverse space, Guilarte combines an art gallery, a photography studio, a framing studio and an art supplies store. Its story dates back to 1958, when Ricardo Guilá, a visionary of his time, dreamed of creating a business that would combine all sectors involved in the visual arts. Ever since then, the Guilá family has been closely associated with the art world through its chain of art-supplies stores that now has 10 locations in the country.
As Guilá’s dream passed from one generation to another, things kept evolving. Ten years ago, the Guilá group opened its first store entirely dedicated to framing in the northeastern San José suburb of Moravia. But nothing was ever as complete as Heredia’s Guilarte.
“We had the idea of creating a space entirely dedicated to the visual arts, but rather than a simple store or a conventional art gallery, we wanted a space artists could feel was their own,” said Felipe Guilá, son of Ricardo Guilá and current executive manager of the group.
To celebrate the opening of Guilarte, as well as the city of Heredia, the Guilá group organized an exhibit titled “Talento Herediano” (“Heredian Talent”).
“The city of Heredia is full of meaning to us, as our family is closely linked to this province. Opening this space, and calling this exhibit our inaugural act, is our way of paying tribute to this city,” Guilá said.
The Guilá group became acquainted with Heredia’s artists through its first art store, located near the National University campus in downtown Heredia. In fact, the Guilarte project stems in part from the relationships the store has established over the years with people from Heredia’s art community.
Villegas is one of those artists.
“I am so grateful to the Guilá family for choosing Heredia to launch this project,” Villegas said. “In this city we have been in great need of opening up spaces that promote the arts. I know that I speak on behalf of all the other artists exhibiting their work here when I say that our only wish is that Guilarte succeeds as a gallery and as a business.”
The “Talento Herediano” exhibit showcases the work of six artists in Heredia: Villegas, José Vargas, Otto Fonseca, Roberto Salazar, Hugo Sánchez and Aquiles Jiménez, all familiar names within the Costa Rican art scene.
Villegas is the recipient of last year’s Premio Magón, Costa Rica’s highest lifetime-achievement award for an artist, writer or scientist. His best-known work is the “Monumento a las Garantías Sociales” at the Rotonda de Zapote in southeastern San José. But the sculptor’s repertoire is much broader, as seen in the Guilarte exhibit, which showcases several of Villegas’ drawings from a collection that recalls the tenderness a parent feels for his child.
“These works date from the time when my children were very young – today they are grown adults,” Villegas said with a smile.
“For us it is a great privilege to have artists of this caliber participate in our first exhibit,” Guilá said. “It is only through the quality of the work that we can achieve our goal: to allow Heredia citizens to value the sensitivity of our local artists.”
Guilarte also organizes painting classes for adults and will soon offer painting workshops for children as well.
“Talento Herediano” runs through the end of August, after which the gallery will announce a new show. The Guilá family wants Guilarte to be an ongoing gallery not only for recognized artists, but also for emerging painters and sculptors around the country.
“It is so important to have spaces where new talent can exhibit,” Villegas said.
The artist, or “worker of the arts,” as he calls himself, added that he recalls seeing a lot of talent go to waste back when he was a visual arts teacher at the Liceo de Heredia, one of the province’s larger high schools.
“People need to remember that artists also have to make their daily bread,” he said. “Buying national artists’ works is something we need to start doing if we want to dignify our national artists.”
All works exhibited at Guilarte are for sale. Prices range from $500 to $5,000 for original works, but authenticated reproductions done with high-quality canvas and paints may be obtained for 10 to 20 percent of the original price. Villegas has selected five of his best sculptures to sell to the public; the works add up to $30,000 in price but can be bought separately.
Guilarte is 175 meters east of the Palacio de los Deportes in Heredia. For information, call the gallery at 2263-2500. Villegas may be contacted at 2237-3979.