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Educator and poet Muna Lee de Muñoz Marín offers her opinion about the Exposición de Aguafuertes y Litografías [Exhibition of Etchings and Lithographs] organized by Walt Dehner for the Universidad de Puerto Rico, in April 1931. It was the first of its genre in Puerto Rico to exhibit works on loan. Among the works shown were prints by Rockwell Kent, Wanda Gag, Yasuo Kuniyoshi, George Biddle, Martin Lewis, and Mabel Dwight, as well as other artists, most of them were Americans. In the writer’s opinion, all these artists display different styles and approaches to both social criticism and surrealism.
This was the first exhibition to come to Puerto Rico as a short-term loan, based on arrangements previously made by Walt Dehner.
Edited by Muna Lee de Muñoz Marín, this issue of the newsletter, Art in Review, discusses the exhibitions organized and the works acquired by Walter Dehner (New York, 1898–California, 1955), the director of art at the Universidad de Puerto Rico at that time. This issue, which was published in 1937, offers an early view of the artistic and cultural scene in Puerto Rico. These mostly little-known documents also illustrate the importance of the Universidad de Puerto Rico as the primary venue for the first exhibitions held on the island. Related documents include: “Art Exhibitions in the University of Puerto Rico 1929–1938” (doc. No. 824716), the cover of the issue of Art in Review (doc. No. 823185), and “Other Gifts to the Art Collection of the University of Puerto Rico” (doc. No. 824943).
Muna Lee (Raymond, Mississippi, 1895–San Juan, Puerto Rico 1965) was an educator, translator, and writer of poems, stories, and novels. The United States Secret Service recruited her as a translator during the First World War, stationing her in New York. In 1919, she met Luis Muñoz Marín, governor of Puerto Rico from 1949 to 1965, to whom she was married for twenty-seven years. Lee was the source of moral and economic support for her husband throughout a tumultuous marriage that ultimately ended in divorce after a number of separations. Muna Lee was the chair of the advertising department at the Universidad de Puerto Rico from 1927 until 1946, when she resigned. At that time, she was on unpaid leave while working in Washington, DC. Muna Lee was a close friend of feminist journalist Ruby Black, who gave Muñoz Marín direct access to the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration. Lee worked at the Latin American Bureau of the State Department, and served as a specialist on Puerto Rico under presidents Harry S. Truman (1945–52), Dwight D. Eisenhower (1952–60) and John F. Kennedy (1960–63).
Known as “Walt,” Dehner was not only an art educator in Puerto Rico from 1929 to 1946, but also a painter, lithographer, and photographer. Aware of the limitations of the island’s artistic milieu, he did what he could to encourage and support Puerto Rican artists. An important aspect of his work in education was organizing exhibitions, including Primera y segunda exhibición independiente de arte e historia (First and Second Exhibition of Art and History, 1929–1931); Exposición de grabados y litografías (Exhibition of Prints and Lithographs, 1930–31); Progressive Conservative Show (1931); Exposición de arte americano en blanco y negro (Exhibition of American Art in Black and White, 1932); Tercera exhibición de arte puertorriqueño (Third Exhibition of Puerto Rican Art, 1933); and Exposición de arte contemporáneo de México (Exhibition of Contemporary Art from Mexico, 1935).