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ARTS AND CULTURE IN
SAN ANTONIO

By
Mark Glass - Click to Enlarge
Mark Glass

Mark Glass is a journalist trapped in a lawyer's body, balancing his practice with
writing and broadcasting on travel, entertainment and professional sports.  

When most of us non-Texans, think about our ostentatiously large southern state, the last image that comes to mind is the realm of Fine Arts. Visions spring forth of cattle ranches, oil fields and either the type of cowboys who wear Stetsons all year, or those in helmets from August thru January (only December, if they don’t make the playoffs).

Those who know a little better, have learned that Dallas and Houston are, in fact, quite cosmopolitan nowadays. Dig a bit deeper, and one discovers that San Antonio’s downtown River Walk area is as exciting, attractive and diverse as any urban center in the country.

But it required a second visit for this slow learner to notice the splendid array of museums and art galleries there, as well. Not to mention a library - of all places - so stunning it can be listed among tourist attractions. Whadda ya think o’ that, podnuh?

Starting on the grassroots side, the Blue Star Art Space just east of downtown is a double strip of warehouses that was transformed into a non-profit contemporary art center 13 years ago. It includes several studios, exhibit space, a microbrewery restaurant, performance area, and educational facilities for exchanges beteen visiting artists and area schools.

ArtPace reaches further afield, with its International Artist-in-Residence program. The twelve selected each year (half from Texas; the rest selected from a worldwide competition) receive two months of lodging, materials and studio/exhibition space. This ambitious enterprise was endowed by members of the Pace family - best known for salsa, and related food products. They converted an 18,000 square-foot building, built in the 1920s for an auto dealership, retaining the garage doors for any enormous sculptures its beneficiaries produce. Whenever one visits, there will likely be some ever-changing exhibits, and educational or social events on their schedule.

In a more traditional vein, the San Antonio Museum of Art is located in a huge (yet still growing), stately building, with lovely surrounding grounds, which started as a Lone Star brewery in 1884. May as well sample your art in original beer environs to wash down that salsa. The contents of this 104,000 square-foot structure cover the gamut, from Egyptian, Roman and Chinese antiquities to every era of artistic endeavor in the Western Hemisphere. Pre-Columbian artifacts introduce Spanish Colonial works, paving the way for American artists from the 18th Century to the present.

Since that’s still not big enough for Texas standards, another 30,000 square-feet will open this fall, housing the Nelson A. Rockefeller Center for Latin American Art, embracing both the old and the contemporary. Even before the new structure has been filled with the collection, the space was spectacular enough to warrant a lingering glance.

A short drive north of downtown brings one to the McNay Art Museum. The magnificent estate of the late Marion Koogler McNay - a massive Mediterranean-style house on 23 elegantly landscaped acres - is worth the trip before you even get to their fabulous collection of over 10,000 paintings, sculptures and prints. Works by Rodin, Georgia O’Keefe, Picasso and most of the major Impressionists are included. Admission is free, other than a nominal charge for special exhibitions. Besides the museum’s 100,000 annual visitors, we observed several bridal parties staking out spots about the lawn and gardens, posing for pictures in their favorite nooks of that idyllic setting.

The gallery scene is as rich and diverse as the city’s ethnic heritage. The San Antonio Art Gallery Association includes about 20 members, mainly concentrated in the downtown area. Some feature traditional Southwestern and Mexican artists. Others are as upscale and trendy as their counterparts in New York and California. The Parchmann Stremmel Gallery, a block from the Riverwalk, for example, not only offers an impressive array of modern paintings, sculpture and glassworks, but the owner’s office doubles as a cigar bar.

The Market Square area, southwest of the business district, is best known for its restaurants, sprawling shopping arcades, and street festivals, celebrating Hispanic contributions to the local culture. Yet Gallery Ortiz and Si Como No provide a large selection of contemporary art, including many other styles and points of origin.

San Antonio’s burgeoning support of the arts is even apparent from a drive through the city. Exterior sculptures and paintings abound. Most notable is the nine-story ceramic mural on the side of the Santa Rosa Health Care building facing Milam Park, by renowned local artist Jesse

Trevino, "Spirit of Healing". The hospital’s mission of specializing in treatment of children is eloquently depicted in the image of an angel with one broken wing protecting a young boy holding a dove. Trevino said one of his own sons was the model for the boy, and his late sister (who died in childhood) inspired the face of the angel.

And that library I mentioned? Just north of Riverwalk one sees a vast, reddish ultra-modern building, which is more inviting than most public libraries. The interior is as wide open as the Texas plains. Bold colors, high ceilings, skylights, and starkly-angled walls and staircases create such a stimulating environment that teenagers have been known to gather there to study when they don’t even have to!

When you’re ready for brain food of a more playful variety, the Hertzberg Circus Museum houses an engaging collection of memorabilia. There’s also an interactive Children’s Museum, with exhibits that will appeal to all ages.

By all means, savor Riverwalk’s bounty of entertainment choices, including a cruise on one of the flat-bottomed boats plying its winding course (some include leisurely dining). Just remember there’s a wide world of art to enjoy there, as long as you’re in the neighborhood.

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Email:  lotekguy@swbell.net (Mark Glass)

Mark Glass is a Mark Glass is a freelance writer and broadcaster, based in St. Louis, covering travel, entertainment and professional sports for his readers and listeners. Mark was travel editor for "St. Louis Connoisseur", and now have that role for "Life in the Midwest", based in Indianapolis. For the last fifteen years, he's written and broadcast features on travel, entertainment and sports, while maintaining his law practice in the St. Louis area. (More about this writer.)

 

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