Ajijic, Jalisco (MX);
Bulgarian-born artist and explorer, and long-time Des Moines resident, Dimitar Iliev Krustev, died Monday, February 11, 2013 in Ajijic, Jalisco (MX) at the age of 93. Emigrating to the United States at age nineteen, he became fascinated by the indigenous peoples of the Americas during his lifetime. A member of The Explorer's Club, Krustev traveled throughout Central and South America in the 1960s and 70s in order to document and paint the disappearing, indigenous peoples of the Americas. His paintings from this era reveal a deep sensibility and connection to the spirit of these endangered peoples. In 1968 he became the first person known to have successfully navigated the Uscaminta River on the border of México and Guatemala from its headwaters in the Guatemalan Sierra Madres to the Gulf.
Dimitar received his Bachelor of Arts degree at Kent State University and his Masters' Degree in Art at the University of Iowa. For nine years, he worked as a commercial artist for the Des Moines-based magazine Better Homes and Gardens. He founded the Des Moines Krustev Studio of Art, where he taught hundreds of students and led numerous European art tours over the years. During his long tenure in Des Moines, he was commissioned to paint portraits of many of Iowa's dignitaries. His works have been exhibited all over the world, and are in many prominent, private collections in Africa, Mexico, the United States, and in Europe.
Dimitar was also an avid photographer and writer who published four books about his travels, art, and passion for life: River of the Sacred Monkey (1970), Voices in the Night (1992), The Journals of Dimitar Krustev, an Artist - Explorer (Volume One) (1996), and Black Hand Over the Jungle (1997). His manuscripts and journals are housed in the American Heritage Center at the University of Wyoming. His Lacondón Journal 1969: From the Journals of Dimitar Krustev Artist-Explorer, was recently published in December 2012 by Editorial Mazatlán.
With a sincere love for Mexico, its rich culture, and its people, Dimitar and his artist-wife Helen Marie Krustev moved permanently to Ajijic, Jalisco (MX) in 2000, after traveling back and forth between Des Moines and Ajijic for almost thirty years. There, he and Helen spent their time traveling, painting, teaching, and exhibiting throughout Mexico and Europe.
He is survived by his wife, Helen (Ajijic); three step-children (Sharon Hansen, Milwaukee WI; Thomas Busch, Sabetha KS; and Diane Higgins, Council Bluffs IA); two nephews; one niece; and many grand-nieces and nephews.
Published in Des Moines Register on Mar. 3, 2013