PEOPLE OF INTEREST
CRISTINA DE LA VEGA
Lives in: Stuart
Family: Husband, Kenny
Strong; children, Peter,
Alejandro and Marisa
Education: Bachelor of Fine
Arts from Florida State
Hobbies: Art, cooking, reading and gardening
Who inspires me: “Mother Teresa. People who do amazing
things and who do great good.”
Catholic Welfare Bureau, the idea was for parents to eventually
be given a visa so they could be reunited with their
children in the United States.
Her parents, Paco de la Vega and Maria Rivero, signed de
la Vega, 6, and her younger sister, 5, up for the program. In
May 1961, the two girls boarded a ferry to sail to the Port of
Palm Beach to start a new life in a new country.
“When my sister and I left Cuba, our parents drove us
to the port through parts of Havana that we’d never seen
before,” she recalls. “We knew we were leaving without our
parents and we were very scared. My mother, like always,
was trying to make the best of a horrible situation, urging us
to have fun and enjoy the adventure.”
As it turned out, there were some guardian angels on board
who watched over the de la Vega sisters during their trip.
“There were a whole group of nuns, maybe 40 to 50, who
were going to a convent in Jensen Beach,” she recalls. “So my
mom asked them if they would take care of her girls until we
reached Palm Beach. They said sure, and they watched over us.”
De la Vega remembers the ferry trip as an adventure. Upon
arrival, she and her sister were met by relatives who lived
in North Miami Beach. Two months later they were reunited
with their parents and the family moved to Belle Glade,
where her father found work at a sugar mill.
The future artist lived in Belle Glade for much of her
childhood and then relocated to West Palm Beach to attend
a Catholic high school. She says that art was a big part of her
life while growing up.
“I always loved making art,” she says. “I grew up in a family
that was very interested in culture — any art form, really.
So, it was normal for me to be interested in art. Although life
in exile in a small town in the Everglades was a little limiting.”
While attending high school, de la Vega took art classes at
the Norton Museum of Art. She later attended Florida State
University where she studied painting and received a bachelor’s
degree in fine arts. While at FSU, she met her future
husband, Kenny Strong. In 1978, the couple moved to Stuart
where they raised their three children.
De la Vega credits Neil Welliver, noted landscape artist, for
having the most significant influence on her artwork. Welliver
married one of her good friends, and he also headed up
the art department at the University of Pennsylvania Graduate
School of Fine Art. Getting to know Welliver and other
landscape artists helped de la Vega see art in a whole different
way. They encouraged her to focus her work on capturing
“I painted large abstract works all through art school,” she
explains. “Toward the end, I was casting about what I was
essentially interested in and had meaning for me. What did I
have to say? At the same time, I was becoming more involved
in environmental issues and realized that landscape painting
was the right course for me. I think being an artist means you
have something to say, an idea to convey. I want there to be
more than a visual experience.”
Over the years, de la Vega has taught art classes and she
continues to be involved as an artist in her community. Being
an artist has been a lifelong passion where she creates
breathtaking portraits reminding us to savor and preserve the
beauty in nature.
“I don’t think I could have done anything else in my life,”
she reflects. “This is who I am. I’m suited to this life. It is difficult,
demanding, and unpredictable. I think I am every inch
an artist. It has been a very fulfilling life.”
CHRISTINA DE LA VEGA
Painting dramatic landscapes, including this one of Second Florida Bay at
Everglades National Park, has become a lifelong passion.
De la Vega captures a stunning reflection scene at Beluthahatchee Park.