Bipeds of Brookland: Carmen Torruella-Quander
Carmen painting a portrait of her great grandmother, who was an indigenous Taino Woman in the Dominican Republic.
Carmen Torruella-Quander grew up in a Dominican family in Adams Morgan and remembers coming to the Franciscan Monastery with her mother for mass in Spanish before it was available in other churches. “Back then, to come from Adams Morgan to Brookland was a good hour and a half or two hours… by bus and a street car.” Brookland always seemed a small town… outside of the city…There were cows at Old Soldiers Home.”
Along with her brother and her now husband, she was one of the first students to integrate Sacred Heart School in 1950. “We had kids from all over the world and we’re still friends today." While art classes were not taught at the Academy of Sacred Heart, she began learning after school. “I was the kid who could always draw… when I graduated from high school … I said ‘I’m going to be an artist’… I walked down to the Corcoran and signed myself in and stayed a couple of years.” Then through the OAS she got a scholarship to the Pratt Institute and went to NY. She needed to work while studying, and she took a job at the Museum of the City of New York, where she was the “first person of color and the first native Spanish speaker” to work there. “I learned how to curate. When you work at a small museum, you learn everything.”
Carmen completed a graduate degree at NYU while working at the university. She returned to DC from NY and worked for 7 years at the Museum of African Art’s department of education, explaining that she had never been taught “a paragraph about African art” in any American school, and that she believed people needed to be taught about African art to learn to appreciate it.
She has taught adults and children over the years, but prefers children “because they have no hang ups. When I taught about Michelangelo, we taped paper under the tables. Learning about Michelangelo you have to get on your back… I just have had a wonderful experience doing what I absolutely love to do.” She opened one of the original studios at the Art’s Walk at Monroe Street Market, and has shown her paintings in NY and DC. “I’m very happy that I did not know that I didn’t belong, because it never dawned on me that I wouldn’t make it."
Bipeds of Brookland is a semi-weekly series introducing the people who make Brookland their home, one step at a time. Article and photo by Tom Sabella