Marilyn Lanfear buttons up a collection of family stories

I am a visual storyteller who translates personal family stories into a common mythology of family generational connections.

I use wood, stone, paper, buttons – the concept determines the media. I use objects of material culture – cast iron beds, cook tables, cotton gin weights. I use words – embroidered on towels, burned into chairs, stenciled on window shades. I use whatever is needed to tell my story. Subtle elements like the pattern of wallpaper, the use of traditional milk paint, or folded clothes rendered in stone, load the images with irony and symbolism not repeated in the oral tradition. I am a visual storyteller. Narrative is the moving force of my visual language with the history of my Texas family as the core.

Artist Statement, Marilyn Lanfear

Buttons capture the hemline of Laurelis Bessie Nix Moore’s full skirt in this detail of Marilyn Lanfear’s triptych, “Uncle Clarence’s Three Wives,” on exhibit at the San Antonio Museum of Art. The artist obviously spent years rummaging through dark corners of antique shops to assemble thousands of vintage mother-of-pearl buttons to portray her uncle’s three wives on eight-foot-tall linen banners.

More than three-dozen volunteers helped Lanfear sort and sew the buttons to create the portraits in an upstairs space in the Southwest School of Art over a two-year period. The fashions worn by her three aunts conveying much about their personalities and the times in which they lived. And, of course, there are stories behind each wife. Aunt Billie on the left is posed in front of a school in New London, Texas, the site of a huge gas explosion that claimed her life and those of close to 300 students and teacher in 1937.

Lanfear is from Waco, was raised in Corpus Christi and received her Master’s of Fine Art from UTSA in 1978. The Mister and I probably were introduced to her art about that time in the gallery space where we encountered most of the artists whose work now resides in our home, Anne Alexander’s Charlton Art Gallery. Lanfear spent some time in New York and Seattle before returning to San Antonio to focus on the inescapable Texas stories to which she was drawn.

The exhibit awakens nostalgia for family stories left untold, remorse for all the questions you failed to ask older relatives before they departed. Incomplete tales with no one left to fill in the mysterious gaps for you.

And it rekindles my yearning for my grandmother’s button box, a magical tin overflowing with an amazing assortment of buttons leftover from seven decades of sewing clothes for herself, her children and grandchildren. When I was six, Nana (Katherine Ann Conway Brennan, 1887-1972) could keep me entertained for hours selecting some of the most unusual and awkwardly stitching them in nontraditional arrangements on scraps of cloth.

Now, I am left wondering button, button, who got the buttons. But, as the Mister might be the first to quickly point out, my domesticity is somewhat lacking in that area. My idea of replacing a button during our marriage has been to find the nearest safety-pin. When I went to briefly observe volunteers working on the triptych in 2007, that is all I did. Stand. Looking. Filled with admiration for Lanfear’s ability to translate the myriad of sizes and colors of thousands of round buttons into striking compositions.

Including mixed-media work from three decades of the artist’s career, “Marilyn Lanfear: Material Memory” will remain on exhibit at SAMA through November 11.

Postcard from Austin, Texas: Exposing an unpleasant underbelly of America

There is Eugene Delacroix’ “The Massacre at Chios,” with its 1824 showing in the Salon de Paris igniting European concern about tragedies occurring during the Greek War of Independence.

There are Francisco Goya’s “Fatal Consequences of Spain’s Bloody War with Bonaparte, and Other Emphatic Caprices,” prints so controversial they were not published as “The Disasters of War” until 1863, 35 years after his death.

There is Pablo Picasso’s “Guernica,” his 1937 painting of the German bombing of a Basque town that attracted the world’s attention to the atrocities occurring during the Spanish Civil War.

And now there is Vincent Valdez’ haunting 2016 black-and-white monumental depiction of Ku Klux Klansmen in “The City I,” owned and currently on exhibit at the Blanton Museum of Art.

This could be any city in America. These individuals could be any Americans. There is a false sense that these threats were, or are, contained at the peripheries of society and in small rural communities. . . . It is possible that they are city politicians, police chiefs, parents, neighbors, community leaders, academics, church members, business owners, etcetera. This is the most frightening aspect of it all.

Vincent Valdez, Blanton Museum of Art website

Vincent Valdez was born and raised in San Antonio; an artist about whom we boast. Yet you want this enormous painting stretching across the gallery wall to please be a scene from any other city in America. Please not here. Not my neighbors.

The KKK and other racist groups exist throughout the country; denial does not help; you cannot simply wish them away. They might indeed be your neighbors.

The menacing eyes peering out from the holes in the white hoods glare at you, following you around the room. There is no place to hide.

We have interrupted their gathering. The group looks warily at us as we look at them; no one appears to be welcome here.

Blanton Museum of Art website

 

After viewing Valdez’ powerful punch, the antidote in the next gallery, a 2012 neon by Tavares Strachan, offers relief. “We belong here.”

As humans, we all struggle with how we fit in and belong…. Who gets to determine who belongs where? And where is here? And why does it matter?….

I wanted to make a work that everyone can own—one that everyone can have….Because as soon as you read it, you say, “We belong here,” and we do belong.

Tavares Strachan, Blanton Museum of Art website

San Pedro Creek Culture Park: Hideous drainage ditch now inviting urban space

In this place of herons where the grasses sway in starlight I have flowed since the dawn of evermore.

John Phillip Santos, historical text carved in limestone

The stretch of San Pedro Creek between the tunnel inlet at I-35 and Houston Street beside a new office tower climbing toward the sky might only be a little more than four blocks long, but the transformation from drainage ditch to park seems miraculous to me.

Yes, I watched the earlier magic worked on the Museum and Mission Reaches of the San Antonio River Improvements Project, but there was absolutely nothing natural-creek-like remaining following decades of flood-control projects in this neighborhood.

All that remained was a ditch. And then there was a dream. San Pedro Creek Culture Park.

Some dismiss projects like these as “legacy projects” fluffing up politicians’ egos with taxpayers’ dollars. Politically charged, the design process for a project this complex is rarely perfect. There are budget cuts, and still the enormous projects tend to run over-budget.

But, as with the original Paseo del Rio project, they can prove visionary. Development along the Museum Reach demonstrates how quickly highly blemished urban corridors become desirable.

While flood-control is an underlying purpose of the San Pedro Creek Improvements Project, the incorporation of site-specific art reflective of the city’s history and culture gives the new pedestrian passageway a distinctive San Antonio feel.

Bexar County is the primary funder of San Pedro Creek Culture Park, and the San Antonio River Authority is project manager.

looking south from Houston Street

Work is underway on the next phase heading southward from Houston Street. As you can see from the photo, this narrow stretch probably is even more challenging.

In my mind, the photos above illustrate that the complications and difficulties encountered along the way are so worth it. Those involved are leaving a legacy that will enrich the quality of urban life for generations to come. Looking forward to walking the next phase and those to come.