The intersection between place and creativity has long intrigued scientists and artists alike. Studies have shown that prolonged periods in unfamiliar territory can nourish creativity in an unparalleled way. James Richards, a landscape architecture professor at the University of Texas at Arlington, finds anecdotal proof in the life of Ernest Hemingway.
A devoted reader of the A Moveable Feast author, Richards has been visiting sites connected to him for years. He has traveled to Hemingway’s home in Key West, his writing studio in Piggott, Arkansas, and various other places he wrote about — including, naturally, plenty of bars. But none can match this past spring’s sketching journey to Cuba, where the writer lived and worked for more than 20 years.
“It’s well known that Hemingway purposefully sought out places that were conducive to his writing, but he lived and worked in Cuba longer than in any other place,” Richards told Hyperallergic. “It must have felt much like his beloved Spain, but within a stone’s throw of the Gulf Stream.”
The country has hardly changed since Old Man and the Sea was published, offering a veristic glimpse into the world Hemingway described. Among the many places Richards sketched was the Hotel Ambos Mundos, where Hemingway lived for seven years during the 1930s; the cafés Bodeguita del Medio and El Floridito, which he frequented along with Pablo Neruda and Salvador Allende; and his workshop tower, constructed by his wife in 1946, though eventually given over to the family’s cats.
“I felt a much closer connection to [Hemingway] having experienced these places,” said Richards, a member of the Board of Directors of the global non-profit Urban Sketchers and the author of Freehand Drawing and Discovery: Urban Sketching and Concept Drawing for Designers, which received an award from the American Society of Landscape Architects earlier this year.
Having sketched on-site in 36 countries, he said his sketchbook has become a passport of sorts, granting him access to conversation, camaraderie, and understanding he wouldn’t experience as a typical turista. In lieu of the ubiquitous camera, Richards’ sketches fuse pen, personality, and locale as a way of honoring place. “When you draw a place, you never forget it,” he explained.