Oswaldo Guayasamin

A r t i s t  &  h u m a n i t a r i a n

by Patrick Kapty


Oswaldo Guayasamin was born on July 6, 1919, in Ecuador, the son of an indigenous Quechua Indian father and mestizo (mixed race) mother. He was the oldest of ten children, and early on developed a talent for art. His father was a hardworking man who was distant with his son, often physically abusive, and consequently their relationship was never a close one. On the other hand, Oswaldo loved his mother dearly, and credited her with fostering his love of the arts and supporting him in the early stages of his career.

Because of his mixed racial heritage he experienced racism and discrimination on a personal basis which became a major theme in his artwork later in life. At the age of 12 he started art school, and not long after lost one of his closest friends in the bloody 4 day civil war in Ecuador in 1932. This personal loss was another major influence on his artwork and on his development as a political activist and humanitarian.

At the age of 21 in 1940 he married another artist, Maruja Monteverde, and over the course of their 15 year marriage they had four children--two boys and two girls. In 1941 he graduated at the top of his class from art school and, right from the start, met with success.  A major exhibition of his artwork was, by chance, viewed by Nelson Rockefeller who bought five of his paintings from the exhibit. The next year Rockefeller arranged for Guayasamin to receive a grant to visit the US for several months and to show his art to an American audience.

Green Quito
c. 1948


On his way home from his sojourn in the US, Guayasamin visited Mexico where he developed friendships with some of the prominent artists and authors of that era, including Jose Orozco and Pablo Neruda.

Guayasamin spent some months traveling throughout Latin America where he personally witnessed the ravages of war, and the deplorable poverty of the majority of the people. He was greatly influenced by this experience, and his desire for peace and justice for the downtrodden became a major theme in his artwork.

Las manos del terror
c. 1973

By the 1950s Guayasamin was already developing an international reputation and had begun to receive the first of many prestigious commissions and awards. In 1956 he won the top award at the Spanish-American Biennale in Barcelona, where, because of his convictions, he refused to shake hands with the fascist dictator Franco. It was also in 1956 that Guayasamin separated from his first wife with whom he remained a good friend.

In 1959 he was invited to Cuba by Fidel Castro in order to paint the Cuban leaders portrait and they developed a life-long friendship. Guayasamin would go on to paint many portraits of important artists, intellectuals, and political leaders from around the world.

The artist in front of a wall covered with his ceramic designs and a pair of Inca statuettes
Quito, 1971

Around 1960, Guayasamin was invited by a friend to design jewelry for an international jewelry collection. He he found designing for others too constraining, however, and shortly after he started his own company INTI CORI with his ex-wife. He designed jewelry in both silver and gold, and used colorful gemstones including jade, emeralds, turquoise, topaz, aquamarines, amber, and polished Ecuadorean stones. His jewelry designs were exclusively crafted by hand by local craftsmen.

INTI CORI jewelry catalog cover

INTI CORI JewelryCatalog (above and below)

Guayasamin found much inspiration for his jewelry from pre-Columbian art that, with its bold geometric patterns, is surprisingly modern in style  His early jewelry pieces were marked “Guayasamin” and were only occasionally marked for metal content. He used 900 silver and 18K gold most often, though he did make a few pieces in copper. Later, in the early 1980s, the mark was changed to “Taller Guayasamin”, and this has been how all pieces have been marked up to the present.


The artist at work in his studio



Silver & onyx necklace




Maker's mark from above necklace









Colgante Unico
silver collar
with pendant             

Copia de Collaroro
Gold & Topaz Necklace & Earrings

Silver & chrysoprase cuff

18K gold & tourmaline ring

Photograph courtesy of
 Patrick Kapty

Silver & gemstone ring

Silver & gemstone
 geometric ring

Silver and amazonite hammered necklace and earrings
c. 1960s

Silver & turquoise ring
Photo courtesy of M. Schon

Taller Guayasamin maker's mark

Taller Guayasamin
 silver & turquoise pendant

Taller Guayasamin silver & amethyst pendant on chain

Photograph courtesy of Patrick Kapty

Guayasamin also made many striking sculptures throughout his career. He began designing with copper that was hand-worked by a variety of techniques, and later went on to work mostly in bronze. The sculptures were usually marked “Guayasamin”, although smaller sculptures from the 1980s onwards were marked “Taller Guayasamin”.

Bronze sculpture

Bronze sculpture


In the late 1970s and 1980s, Guayasamin created the Foundation Guayasamin to preserve and house his artwork. A museum was built on land that he donated to the Foundation, and he transferred many of his artwork to the museum along with his large collection of over 3000 pre-Columbian artifacts and hundreds of antique Ecuadorean colonial-era items that he had collected throughout his life. Nearby is built the famous Capilla del Hombre (Chapel of Man) which Guayasamin built because “many temples are built in honor of the gods, but none to celebrate man”, and this unique architectural treasure houses artwork by Guayasamin as well as ancient art and architectural elements of the indigenous peoples of Ecuador. The Chapel is meant to illustrate not only man's inhumanity to man, but also the hope that we all share for a better future. In addition to the Museum and the Chapel, there is also a jewelry shop where visitors can buy original jewelry designs by Oswaldo Guayasamin, and nearby are several workshops where other craft items are made for sale in the shop.

Capilla del Hombre - Chapel of Man

Chapel of Man interior (above and below)

Oswaldo Guayasamin died on March 10, 1999 in Baltimore Maryland where he had traveled for medical treatment. His death was marked by the indigenous people and others of Ecuador with a day of strikes in his memory, and he is still considered a national treasure of the Ecuadorean people.
In 2008 the exhibition, “Of Rage and Redemption: The Art of Oswaldo Guayasamin” at Vanderbilt University Fine Arts Gallery became the first exhibition in the US in over 50 years of the artwork of Guayasamin. He is now generally recognized to be one of the greatest artists of Latin America, if not the world, of the 20th century.

Of Rage and Redemption
Vanderbilt University
Fine Arts Gallery

Self portrait                                                       


Many thanks to the Foundation Guayasamin, and the family of the artist, in particular thanks to Gabriella and Martha for all their help in assembling information and photographs for this article.

The catalog for the exhibition for “Of Rage and Redemption” can be purchased through the Vanderbilt University Fine Arts Gallery online:

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Article by Patrick Kapty, “Patrick Kapty California Dreamin Retro Modern” (760) 671-4879 

Photographs courtesy of Foundation Guayasamin unless otherwise marked

Web Design by Marbeth Schon


© copyright MODERN SILVER magazine, 2012