From his humble beginnings in East L.A., Bob Hernandez has transformed his love for art to the children of Santa Clarita with ARTree. PHOTO COURTESY LORENA MAJIA

ARTree founder brings love of art to Santa Clarita

Bob Hernandez always likes a good challenge. As a young boy growing up, first in East Los Angeles then the San Fernando Valley, he found several good role models among his family and community that made sure he could stand up to each test.

His father trekked from Mexico to the United States with a young family in tow, eventually finding a job as a welder at General Motors and buying a house in which the family settled. Education was important to both of his parents and they wanted their four sons to learn English while always being proud of their heritage.

“I remember as a child, I really didn’t know the language and had to learn by assimilation,” Hernandez said. “It was tough. It led to me being very shy.”

He attended school at San Fernando High, in the shadow of his older brother who had great artistic talent.

“He was unbelievably talented,” Hernandez said. “I saw his drawings and try to be like him. His art teacher was instrumental in shaping me and working with me.”

Only 17 years old and never far from family, Hernandez was accepted at Chouinard Art Institute, which is now part of California Institute of the Arts. He talks about those days with wonder, being around so many talented people and learning from them.

“They were as creative as you would imagine,” Hernandez said about his small class located in the MacArthur Park area of Los Angeles. The school “was very concentrated, but I had a lot of freedom. I was pretty shy and didn’t have a lot of friends, so on my free time I would go to the park and sketch. I was very dedicated to my art.”

Hernandez earned a bachelor’s degree in fine arts with honors and found employment in television. He worked as a design director for KCBS, Fox Sports Network and Telemundo, where his talents were recognized with a local Emmy award.

Hernandez also served on the executive board of the Broadcast Designers Association and at California State University, Northridge, where he taught design and experimental film. With the onset of computers and multi-media, Hernandez had to keep up with the times. He loved learning.

“I took a lot of chances in my own career,” Hernandez said. “I always try to push myself. The world was changing and I changed with it.”

About 10 years ago, the City of Santa Clarita was looking for input regarding arts in the community. Hernandez decided he wanted to get involved and went to that meeting. He believed he could bring a love for the arts to Santa Clarita, starting with young children and watching it grow from there. Hernandez sat down with Jeff Barber, arts supervisor for the City of Santa Clarita, who offered to help. From there, ARTree was formed.

There was a humbleness to ARTree, Hernandez said.

“It was community based and we worked with merchants in the area to try to bring more recognition to the arts and entertainment district in Newhall,” he stated. “We got involved right away with city staff, who were a great asset.”

He said he learned to be patient and that things didn’t happen overnight.

“It was important to come out of my shyness and make connections with people in Santa Clarita,” Hernandez said.

Things did happen, however. Just cruising around town, residents can see the beautiful murals that adorn areas of Santa Clarita including an ARTree wall on Railroad Avenue, a tile mural at Newhall Elementary School and a mosaic piece on the Santa Clarita trail by Auto Center Drive.

ARTree also holds classes at their studios off Main Street in downtown Newhall. Most of the classes are free or the cost covers the supplies used.

After more than 10 years, Hernandez is giving up the reins of ARTree to pursue his own art interests.

He plans to spend a lot more time with Diane, his wife of 46 years, and his family, along with “painting his heart out.” He admits that Diane keeps him grounded.

He is very proud of his twin boys, Zack a senior vice president at Sony, and Matt, vice president of CBS network computer graphics and advertising, as well as his four young granddaughters. He is enjoying the irony of being a man with no sisters or daughters who is now enjoying a little female companionship.

Family means everything to Hernandez, and he said it was his childhood that gave him the drive to help the underserved and young children in his community.

“As a kid, back in those days in East Los Angeles, we didn’t have much,” Hernandez reminisced. “My parents provided for us, but they didn’t have a lot of money. We made the best with what we had.”

For Hernandez, that meant making go-carts and games out of nothing, trusting and enjoying the company of his neighbors and taking some real chances.

“You don’t see that much with the younger generation these days,” Hernandez said. “It was a pleasure to bring that to the ARTree.”

Today he is working on some new styles.

“I want to paint what I want to paint and if it makes it to galleries, great.” Hernandez said.

The art community has been well served by Hernandez but he is the first to point out he has also benefitted from his involvement with the community.

The ARTree “presence was important and we had to be constant,” Hernandez said of the organization. “We said we were going to do something, and I think we have. I know there will be a lot more to come.”

ARTree Community Arts Center is located at 22508 6th Street, Newhall. For more information, visit www.theartree.org.

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