Mark Menendez learned in an elementary school social studies book of his Spanish explorer bloodline.
The artist from the North Carolina mountains traced his family’s lineage to Pedro Menendez de Aviles, the explorer who founded the Santa Elena settlement on what is now Parris Island in Port Royal. The discovery led him to Beaufort this week to explain his lineage at an event at the Santa Elena History Center on Wednesday.
On Thursday, Mark will plod through the city in 16th-century garb, shaking hands and kissing babies as part of the center’s new marketing campaign to “Re-elect Pedro Menendez.”
When Mark returned home from school that day in 1965, his father, Jose, told him the Menendez from the social studies book was in their family tree. The connection was based only on oral history until 2012, when Mark paid a genealogist who traced his family back to Pedro’s aunt.
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“The tragedy is I did this after my father passed away,” Mark said Tuesday. “We kept trying to do it on our own and never had any success.”
When Mark was 18, he painted a portrait of Pedro Menendez as a gift for his father and ended up keeping the painting for decades when his father had no place to store it. The work now hangs above Pedro’s original casket in the Mission Nombre de Dios Museum in St. Augustine, Fla., which Pedro Menendez settled in 1565.
Mark has taught art for more than 20 years and continues to paint.
”It’s a blessing to be able to make a living from art,” he said. “Not many people can.”
The visit this week will be his second to Beaufort. In April, he manned the replica Spanish galleon that docked in Port Royal to mark the 450th anniversary of the settlement and was part of the grand opening of the interpretive center on Bay Street.
He’s returning to outline his lineage and will take to the streets in a mock campaign for re-election Thursday.
No one actually voted for Pedro to lead those early settlers, Santa Elena History Center director Megan Meyer points out. Pedro was an adelantado, directed by Spain’s King Phillip II to settle Florida.
The election-themed campaign replaces the initial push to promote the opening of the history center.
“It’s kind of a fun take to hopefully catch people’s attention,” Meyer said. “It’s the next step in building awareness, and we’re having a little fun with it.”
If you go
What: Artist Mark Menendez talks about his lineage with Spanish explorer Pedro Menendez, who founded Santa Elena on what his now Parris Island in 1566.
When: Wednesday, 4 p.m.
Where: Santa Elena History Center; 1501 Bay St., Beaufort.
Details: For information, visit www.santa-elena.org.