Discovering Texas’ Artists

Naya Jayaram, Staff Writer

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I have always considered myself a relatively knowledgeable artist, well acquainted with the basics of Monet and Van Gogh. However, after a dinner conversation about San Antonio art, I realized I am completely ignorant about local art here in my home state of Texas. I decided to fill my gap in knowledge by exploring the local art scene in San Antonio. I began my journey by googling San Antonio art galleries, finding first the Hildebrand Art Gallery. Upon further research, I also stumbled upon Charles Morin’s Vintage Texas Gallery and San Angel Folk Art. These galleries had captured my attention, so I visited them. I was amazed by what I found.

In the Hildebrand gallery, I was greeted with a clean yet deserted room covered from wall to wall with paintings in ornate frames. I was given a tour by the amiable owner, Randy Pommerening, a retired teacher. He introduced me to famous Texas artists, the most well known being Jose Vives-Atsara. He is most acclaimed for painting peaceful Texas sceneries on board but is not afraid to whip up an abstract piece or two. He painted leather saddles waiting to be sat upon, woods crooning for children to come in and dance, and Spanish caves housing the mystical. My favorite painting of his in this gallery was actually a canvas portrait of a determined Native American woman looking serenely into the distance, her long black hair flowing down her back like a cape. There was also artist Arthur McCall from Pleasanton in South Texas, a game warden who took up the brush to paint the San Antonio missions, Texas country views, and blooming cacti. Cacti and bluebonnets, I have found, make up a significant portion of Texas artwork. Also, as our state’s female artists should not be overlooked, I will mention Margie Barker. She painted similar Texas scenes but in a somewhat more refreshing style due to her realistic use of shadows.  

I was not so sure what to expect from my next venture, Charles Morin’s Vintage Texas Gallery, which is housed in an inconspicuous structure next to the Rub a Dub Car Wash #6, right around the corner from my house. Charles Morin not only offered me a tour of his art but also a full-blown history lesson. He first led me to his favorite piece, one of rolling bluebonnet hills by Porfirio Salinas. Salinas was made famous by President LBJ, who collected his pieces and ordered his art to give a flavor of Texas to the White House. Salinas started as the cleaning boy in the studio of another famous painter, Robert Wood, a Texas transplant from England. After noticing Salinas’ artistic capabilities, Wood became his mentor. He was quickly surpassed by his pupil, later admitting in a letter that read, “I was the teacher, now I’m the student.” Another interesting fact about Wood is his painting speed. In one single evening, he managed to churn out seventy-five cheap landscapes ordered for Christmas gifts. I was also intrigued by the story of a certain Exa Wall. Her interesting name has its own history: her parents decided that every child in their family would be named Texas. She put an end to this trend, dropping  the “T” and “x” and becoming an artist. My favorite piece of hers is a cloudy expanse of cacti and purple flowers.. Also, I have to mention Margaret Putnam, an eccentric painter who spurned bluebonnets in favor of colorful, abstract styles that were unique and way ahead of her time.

Feeling satisfied with rural Texas landscapes, I decided to turn my attention to folk art in the San Angel Folk Art gallery. Nestled in the Blue Star Art Complex, this small building definitely packs a punch. Upon entering, I was overwhelmed by a space crammed full of colorful pieces of art that screamed festivity and warmth. Shelves were packed with delicately crafted figurines of families, angels, armadillos, and other animals as well as included decorated masks, tapestries, and blankets. Sugar skulls, as well as displays of Mother Mary and Jesus, show the impact of Mexican culture on this art. Owned by Richard “Hank” Lee and his docile, incredibly fluffy dog, this gallery is unique in that it gives grants to artists. This generosity put quite a few of them on the map, including San Antonian Reverend Seymour Perkins, who drew portraits of famous people, including Einstein and Christopher Columbus. He paints on tables, wood, and paper, but also sculpts clay into faces. There is also Keith Davis, who paints in a geometric style on wood. His subjects include animals, cacti, and figures in cowboy hats, showing a deep Texas influence. Another interesting set of works include that of artist Bill Miller, who made beautiful collages out of linoleum floor panels. The contrasting textures of the tiles and a vast array of colors led to truly stunning pieces. I most love the ones with intricately cut out yellow flowers.

 

Walking into this adventure, I had no idea about the wealth of information I had been missing out on. I feel as though I have uncovered a secret truth of our city, one that was hidden away in the nooks and crannies of our San Antonio culture. I now have a renewed respect for the intricate petals of Texas wildflowers, the needles of prickly pear cacti, and the purposeful brush strokes on a piece of canvas.