Home Culture 73-Year-Old Hoboken Resident’s Exhibit to Be Unveiled at Hoboken Historical Museum on 3/10

73-Year-Old Hoboken Resident’s Exhibit to Be Unveiled at Hoboken Historical Museum on 3/10

by Bertha Solis
Attain Medspa
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Hoboken is home to many businesses, eateries, and local creators like artists and musicians. Artist and Hoboken resident Julio Santiago has always had a close connection to the arts. He moved to Hoboken in the late 1970s after living in Manhattan (before which he migrated from Puerto Rico) for the bustling art scene. From working as an illustrator to a town painter, Julio is now making a name for himself in his hometown of Hoboken. On Sunday, March 10th, Hoboken Historical Museum will unveil Julio’s newest exhibit titled Lugares de Mi Pueblito, Hoboken: Ayer y Hoy— a Spanish phrase translating to Places in My Little Town, Hoboken: Then and Now. Read on to learn more about Julio Santiago’s upbringing, his time in Hoboken, and his upcoming exhibit at Hoboken Historical Museum.

Julio Santiago’s Artistic Journey

Julio Santiago’s story begins in the mid-1970s when he migrated from Puerto Rico to Manhattan, where he was drawn by the New York City art scene. Eventually, life took him through another route where he ended up meeting his future wife in 1977. His marriage led him to migrate to Hoboken, which he now calls home. Julio and his wife raised their children while Julio continued his artistic journey.

hoboken historical museum

Photo Credit: Julio Santiago

Starting as an illustrator in his youth, Julio transitioned to mural art and spent his professional career as the town painter for the Hoboken Department of Environmental Services. Julio also took on side projects where he lent his artistic skills to various real estate agencies, leaving his mark on countless properties throughout Hoboken.

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His artistic journey took yet another turn after he had the chance to meet Bob Foster, the Hoboken Historical Museum’s director. Julio was on one of his jogging sessions at Shipyard Park in Hoboken where he stopped by and had a chance to chat with Bob Foster. The two connected over their share of love for Hoboken’s history. As time went on, Julio showed Bob a couple of paintings. Bob invited Julio to showcase his art, and the Lugares de Mi Pueblito, Hoboken: Ayer y Hoy exhibit will be his first ever museum showing of his work.

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Our Conversation with Julio 

The Hoboken Girl reached out to Julio to learn more about his past and his plans for the future. Here are some highlights from our conversation. 

The Hoboken Girl: What first inspired you to get into the art scene before migrating from Puerto Rico?

Julio Santiago: The town where I am from, Yauco, is famous for its hilly landscape and the way the houses are built on the hills gave me a love for architecture and landscape. All the houses are different colors its very beautiful. The green of the mountains against the colors of the houses was very beautiful and it inspired me to do the same on paper or on any surface I could find. I would draw on sidewalks, walls, furniture, anything that was blank. Growing up in the 50’s on a farm, there wasn’t much to do for a hobby. So I naturally continued painting constantly. I became a known artist around town, a very small community, but I was always the artist among friends and family. It made me happy and i liked to be alone with the art. I have 12 brothers and sisters so it was an escape from the crowd.

HG: How does the art scene compare from Puerto Rico to NYC/Hoboken? What drew you to the area?

JS: In Puerto Rico, it was a very culturally rich island for agriculture, music, dance, food and art. It still is, I am very proud to be from Puerto Rico. But when you grow up on a small island, you always dream of more. I was fascinated with New York City since I was a kid, it was the center of the world. The art scene in Puerto Rico is very Puerto Rican. In New York City there is art from everywhere with many different nations of people around. I wanted to get inspired by Harlem, the Lower East Side, Central Park and other nationalities. I wanted to see more diversity and make art with different groups of people. To this day, I love New York City so much because there are so many languages and cultures and that makes the best art. I’m glad I came here in the 70s. There was nothing like it.

I heard of Hoboken but never been there before while traveling to and from Manhattan and Puerto Rico in the early 70s. In the later 70s, while hanging around my town in Puerto Rico, I met a woman who was living in my neighborhood. She was in school at the University and she told me she is from Hoboken and is living in Puerto Rico for college. We had that in common, I was often in New York City and she was from Hoboken, the town I always heard about. We eventually started dating and got married and moved to Hoboken permanently. Once I came here, I started to love how it was a charming little manhattan, much quieter but still vibrant with the same attitude as NYC. We moved here in 1978 and never left!

julio santiago hoboken nj

Photo Credit: Karinah Santiago

HG: How does it feel to have your first-ever showing of your work at a museum?

JS: I am very excited. It has been unreal (surreal).  I have been painting for a very long time always imagining many people would see my work and it finally came true. I displayed my paintings once, in 1985 at the Lackawanna Station during an art festival but I was one of many. And that was 40 years ago. I was just a number. For the Hoboken HIstorical Museum to feature me and I get to show work at an actual museum for my Hoboken people to enjoy in my hometown has been an honor. I love this town so much and have spent more than half my life here, working and living, that this makes me very emotional. 

HG: Can you explain more about your exhibit and what it represents?

JS: The paintings in the exhibit are of some of my favorite landscapes in Hoboken. There are some buildings I really love so I would walk by them with my dog and sit and admire it for a little while. I always wonder who built the building, who designed it, whos hands were creating this masterpiece. I look at every building as a memory of the people who built them. One thing Hoboken has that is better than anywhere else is the architecture. There is so many buildings that are unique and built so beautifully and classically. They don’t build them like this anymore and they are fun to paint. For example, the firehouse on 13th Street and Washington, the castle-like building on 11th and Bloomfield, Newark Street looking west with its cobblestones, the waterfront pathway and the skyline, Sybils Cave, the old Wallace School before the new one was built in the 70s. I love older buildings. This exhibit represents old hoboken and its charming history, the places in town that fascinate me everyday. There’s no place like it!

When I worked for the city as a painter, we would go through old photos in the attic of city hall. These photos of what the city once looked like were an inspiration to me because it was such a beautiful storybook town, like a movie set. I get very nostalgic and I wasn’t even around in these times!

julio santiago hoboken historical museum exhibit

Photo Credit: Julio Santiago 

HG: What are your favorite things about Hoboken/favorite local businesses?

JS: Everywhere I go, they know me. And that relationship with the local business owners is very important to me. They are my neighbors and my community. We look out for each other. I have been a painter for the City for over 4 decades so all the old timers know me and I know their families. My favorite places are Little Grocery, the married couple who owns it are very nice people. They love my dog Olive! Flo On Wheels has been fixing my bike tires for years, they never charge me! Barbes Restaurant on Park Avenue is one of my favorite places, I love Moroccan food! And the owners Omar and Lisa, my neighbors, they are the best people in the city! I feel like they are my family! City Paint & Hardware has been my place to buy tools and supplies for years. Manny was the owner back in the 80s and 90s. He would always let me buy things on credit. I get my haircuts at Trim Barber Shop on Newark Street when I don’t do it myself, those boys are the best! Sunoco on 13th Street, they know me and my old truck and they’re the best in town! 

HG: Anything else you want to share about your life or work?

JS: Well, I am an old timer here in this great city. I worked for the city since 1979 painting all the city buildings. I seen a lot of people come and go, some very good people. This town is a big part of my life which is why it inspires my art. I’ve seen many mayors, councilpeople, scandals, happy times, sad ones. I watched the towers fall from my apartment on 11th and Hudson on the 5th floor. I watched the high school football team go undefeated for like 5 years straight! No losses! I did a lot here and lived a lot of my life here and I’m very proud of this place. I raised my kids here, put them in the Hoboken public schools, sent them to college and now they’re still here building their own families, also living in Hoboken. We’re going to continue the cycle of being a Hoboken family for generations to come. 

I just want to say I’m very happy to be exhibiting at the museum, a place where I visit often and it makes me so proud to be a part of Hoboken’s History!

About the Exhibit + What to Expect

On Sunday, March 10th, from 2PM to 5PM, the Lugares de Mi Pueblito, Hoboken: Ayer y Hoy exhibit will be unveiled at Hoboken Historical Museum with an opening reception. Per the museum’s website, the exhibit will entail a tribute to the landscapes of Hoboken. No tickets are required for entry and the event is free of charge. The exhibit will be displayed in the Upper Gallery of the Hoboken Historical Museum from March 10th to April 21st. More information surrounding his exhibit can be found here. The Hoboken Historical Museum will also host an artist talk. On Friday, March 8th, 2024 at 7PM, Julio will be interviewed by his daughter, Karinah Santiago, in a one-hour conversation on YouTube.

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