A Portrait of Tranquility: A Visit with Salvador Soltero

Portraits of Resilience: Metro Atlantans Share their Stories of Life during the Pandemic

For adults ages 65 and older, the past two years have been especially challenging. As we enter the third year of the COVID-19 pandemic, we take a look back to see how the lives of metro Atlanta residents have been impacted. During the month of March, we will share the stories of older persons from across the region weekly.

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Salvador stands in front of his painting of poppies on a grassy background, which his wife titled "Tranquility."
Salvador Soltero poses in front of one of the paintings he created during the pandemic.

Salvador Soltero worked as an architect for decades. In his native Puerto Rico and on the U.S. mainland, he designed performing arts centers, hotels, pharmaceutical plants, and much more.

Upon retiring in 2006, he took up painting, a passion he’s had since childhood. Over the past two years, in the midst of mask mandates and staying indoors, his art has continued to flourish. The ebbs and flows of the COVID-19 pandemic have in some ways inspired his most recent work.

“I painted more because I had nothing else to do,” says Salvador, who is 85. “We stopped going out to eat at restaurants, and stopped going out in groups.”

His colorful works cover the walls of his Buckhead home, where he lives with Ary, his wife of six decades. Salvador’s art comes alive with thick brushstrokes and layers upon layers of paint, all while exuding serenity. He paints portraits, flowers, still lifes, and action shots of surfers. His art is inspired by his family, life, and nature. His artistic style ranges from Abstract to Impressionism. Salvador says he doesn’t sell his art because for him, “they are like my children.”

One of Salvador’s pandemic works is a stunning oil on canvas of a green field illuminated with clusters of red poppies. Ary, who gives names to her husband’s works, titled it “Tranquility.” “It brings me a lot of peace,” she says. “I love the flowers and the field.”

Salvador and his wife Ary smile in front of Salvador's painting, a portrait of Tranquility.
Ary stands with her husband in front of the painting she titled “Tranquility.”

This painting makes no allusions whatsoever to the pandemic, but he added the now famous COVID-19 virus graphic to an abstract work nearby that he painted more than six years ago. He painted tulips at the beginning of the pandemic, and then magnolias. Most recently, he painted a scene of a bullfight for one of his grandsons.

Salvador studied architecture at Syracuse University, but he always wanted to be a visual artist. His parents steered him to architecture. Although he painted and sculpted on and off through the years, he’s happy to work on the canvas full time. When Salvador paints, he gets immersed into what he’s doing.

“I start painting, and I forget about everything,” Salvador says. “Everything else disappears. I don’t think about the pandemic. I’m totally concentrated in painting.”

The lull of the pandemic has also given Salvador more time to read and watch Netflix series. Among his favorite reads has been “A Short History of Nearly Everything.” He also enjoys playing golf and watching “Outlander.”

The couple met when they were both 9 years old in the city of Ponce in southern Puerto Rico. Salvador attended an all-boys’ school, Ary an all-girls’ school. He would follow her around on his bike, Salvador remembers.

Salvador sits in his art studio among his easles and finished paintings.
The master artist displays his studio.

Salvador and Ary, who have three children and eight grandchildren, moved from Puerto Rico to Atlanta in 2017 after Hurricane Maria ravaged the island. Over the past two years, their active lives have slowed, and they’ve had to cut back visits with family. “That was the highlight of our lives, going to visit them,” Ary and Salvador say.

Life is slowly coming back to how it was before the pandemic. Family visits and outings with friends have resumed.

“We are feeling hopeful about the future,” says Ary.

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For more information about services for older people and people with disabilities in the Metro Atlanta area, check out our Service Provider page, or visit the Empowerline website to be connected with counseling

Arin Yost

Arin is a Lead for America fellow with the Aging & Independence Services Group working with the Live Beyond Expectations team to identify and address disparities in life expectancy throughout the Atlanta region. In their free time, Arin enjoys gardening, creating zines, and spoiling their pet tortoise, Michel.