May 13, 2017

The Degas of Panama

Art is magical - it not only sparks emotion but it tells a story without words.  Every artist strives to be known for his or her story - hoping that one day they will be remembered as the artist who captured a subject matter and brought it to life through art.

Being a daughter of two artists, I have been exposed to the world of art for as long as I can recall.  I have studied the Masters and appreciate their stories and all that they have taught artists and admirers today.

As a young child, I danced ballet for 14 years.  Needless to say, Edgar Degas was one of my favorite artists.  At first, I admired him because he painted beautiful works showing the world of ballet.  As I continued to study his career and portfolio I learned he was a master at capturing the human figure. 

Blue Dancers, Edgar Degas, 1899

I have always said my father, Al Sprague is the Degas of Panama.  His beautiful renditions of the polleras show not only the beauty of the dancers, but the pride Panama has in a culture that has been passed down from generation to generation.  

Polleras, Al Sprague, 2013

As a young student at American University in Washington D.C., my father painted many paintings of my mother.  Much of these were used for his Master's thesis.   Recently, I received an email from a gentleman inquiring about a painting he had fallen in love with over 30 years ago.  He had cherished it over the years and was digging into the history of the work and confirming that the painting was my father's. When looking at the photo attached to the email, I was shocked to find a painting of my mother.  

Preparing for Bed, Al Sprague, 1964

Just as Degas was mastering the human figure through his early work, so was my father.  This, and so many early pieces of my father's, remind me of Degas' paintings of women combing their hair, taking a bath, and getting dressed. 

Seated Bather Drying Herself, Edgar Degas, 1895

 Looking through the door and capturing the figure "doing everyday ordinary things" was practice for my father.  He continues to use these techniques when sharing a story of the market and lottery vendors, the fishermen, and the pollera dancers dancing down the street.  It is as if he captures them in a moment in time allowing the viewer to witness a story in action.

Venta de Pixbae, Al Sprague, 1988
Lottery Vendor Bronze, Al Sprague, Unknown Date

Pulling in the Nets, Al Sprague, 2013

Very similar to Edgar Degas, my father began his career painting portraits of family and friends.  This provided him even more practice at painting the human figure.  I can clearly remember sitting downstairs under our duplex in Balboa while my father painted portraits in his studio which was actually an enclosed garage.  Today, he still paints in his studio - a converted garage found at his house in Virginia.

Portrait of Betty Goldstein, Al Sprague, 1967

Degas was best known for mastering the human figure in motion.  His paintings, drawings, and bronzes of the ballet dancers are typically what most people recall when they think of Degas and his work.  He captured the beauty of the dance and the drama of the performance. Today, in his converted garage studio, I believe my father has become the Degas of Panama - mastering the human figure in motion and best known for his pollera paintings - capturing the beauty of the dance, the drama of the the performance and most of all the pride in the culture of the people.

Montunas, Al Sprague, 2013

Group of Polleras, Al Sprague, 2012

I know, in my heart, that in years to come, my father's work will be on display around the world and the story of Panama and its culture will be told through his portfolio.  


  1. I just met your dad last week. He seems like such a wonderful and caring man! This alone makes me want to purchase a print of his!

  2. My wife and I have written a new musical PANAMÁ , set in Panama Canal Zone and Casco Viejo in 1927 - would love permission to use some of your fathers work in our set design. Can you connect us?

  3. I am Appraising A large painting by your Father could you assist?
    Thank You,
    Patricia Whiteside

  4. I am Appraising A large painting by your Father could you assist?
    Thank You,
    Patricia Whiteside