Weather Forecast: 11 Days of Confetti Showers Ahead

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Royalty from Fiesta San Jacinto, 1915

Thousands of eggshells from February’s Cowboy Breakfast are recycled annually by volunteers from the San Antonio Conservation Society who stuff them full of colored confetti, transforming them into cascarones to crack over the head of revelers at A Night in Old San Antonio. During NIOSA alone, 200,000 cascarones are cracked. Can’t imagine what the overall total is for the entire 11-day run of Fiesta San Antonio, April 16 through 26.

Although San Antonians continue to exuberantly embrace the more than 100 events packing the calendar, few pause to remember the origins of Fiesta. The festival was founded as a salute to the Texian victory at the Battle of San Jacinto on April 21, 1836.

Perhaps a reporter, though, writing a century ago in the San Antonio Light best summarized what the annual event means for natives: it transports San Antonians “from the prosaic, work-a-day world to a wonderful fairyland” – a ten-day escape from reality.

King Antonio I, 1915, San Antonio Light
King Antonio I, 1915, San Antonio Light

The year 1915 was the first year the king assumed the name of King Antonio. Following his ceremonious arrival aboard a whistle-blowing Southern Pacific train, Dr. T.T. Jackson’s chariot drawn by six milk-white horses transported him to Alamo Plaza to kick off Fiesta San Jacinto.

Queen of Arcady, 1915, San Antonio Light
Queen of Arcady, 1915, San Antonio Light

Later in the week, Josephine Woodhull was crowned as “Her Majesty, the Queen of Arcady” at the Majestic Theater. She wielded her scepter over the “Court of Old Romance.” Edged in ermine, her peacock blue velvet train was embroidered heavily with gems, shimmering as a peacock’s feathers.

Numerous parades filled the week, including the “Pageant of Caliph,” a burlesque night parade staged by the Fiesta Association. The first float in 1915 bore the “Duchess of Frijoles,” satirizing the high society coronation of the prior evening. Politicians, local to international, received “a goodly share of ‘guying,’” including a “Floating Vote” float with politicians portrayed aboard as “pulling the strings.”

A century ago, the Battle of Flowers Parade represented the high point of the week, with floats and carriages laden with thousands of fresh flowers. During the mock battle circling Alamo Plaza, even visiting Governor “Pa” Ferguson was pelted with flowers.

battle-of-flowers-11

Somehow, the flower-pelting tradition was allowed to continue, despite its tumultuous first year. The following is pulled from a post from several years ago. Sarah Reveley transcribed the description of the 1891 melee from an April 25, 1891, edition of the San Antonio Daily Light:

…The procession contained over 100 carriages and other vehicles, all gaily decorated and many containing decorations of real artistic merit. Mr. Madarasz’s carriage, decked in pure white lilies and variegated grasses, with honeysuckle was plain, pretty and neat. Col. H. B. Andrews’ pony phaeton, with four Shetlands drawing it, was exquisite, and J. J. Stevens’ children in a four-in-hand Shetland surrey, representing a yacht, was also very pretty….

On arriving at the plaza the police divided the procession into two lines, each half going in opposite directions and passing around the park were brought, face to face with each other. The crowd on foot pressed the carriages closely and the fight began and waged furiously for nearly an hour. The occupants of the carriages had all the ammunition while those on foot had none. They began picking the fallen roses from the pavement, and even tore off the trimmings of the carriages, and soon had the best of the fight.  Heavy bunches of laurel thrown soon had their effect, and many ladies lost their temper and used their carriage whips indiscriminately on the crowd. One lady struck Mr. Doc Fitzgerald, a passive spectator, a severe blow on the face with her whip, but did not see fit to apologise for her mistake. Mr. H. P. Drought made an ugly cut with his whip into the crowd…. One young angel with white wings appealed to the crowd for protection from the missiles saying, “I wish you men would make them quit….”

The police were powerless to keep the people off the park beds, and prevent them from tearing off the flowers. One outright fight occurred. Mr. Phil Shook, one of the horseback party, lost his temper, and cutting a man in the face with his riding whip, was assaulted, and a fist fight on the pavement resulted. Both combatants were arrested by the police. Mr. Charley Baker used his umbrella for defense. While the crowd was very dense on the plaza, waiting for the procession to come along, Mr. Cristoph Pfeuffer’s splendid team and carriage took fright on South Alamo street, at an electric car. The carriage was decorated and contained several ladies, a child and the driver. Dashing into Alamo street, past and into the crowd of people and vehicles, it overturned a buggy and horse at the corner, and its driver jumped out and was dragged under the carriage by the lines. The lady on the front seat caught one of the lines and held it, but the horses made straight for the crowd of women and children in the park and struck a very deep mass of them, it being impossible for them to move out of the way. The ladies were thrown out and their clothing was badly torn. One little boy was knocked senseless, another was bruised, and one little girl had her apron torn off.  Other children were trampled by the frightened people. The plunging horses were secured and the carriage was taken to a side street….

Some irrepressible small boys arranged a dog fight in the midst of an interested crowd of spectators, during the battle, and a regular stampede ensued. Some of the combatants whose supply of ammunition had exhausted, resorted to buggy robes and quirts for aggressive warfare, and umbrellas and parasols for the defensive….

The battle was a success, but if it is given next year, more police will be needed, carriages must not be allowed on the plaza at all, and the participants must not lose their temper.

Let the chaotic merriment begin. Viva Fiesta!

Preserving the Art of ‘Papel Picado’

The American translation I grew up with is hardly picturesque – brightly colored plastic triangles strung along roadways, noisily flapping in the breeze in vain attempts to motivate you to “stop here for gas” or “trade in your car today.”  But, as with many humble or utilitarian objects in Mexico, banners were elevated to a form of art and signified celebrations important to the community.  Papel picado, or punched paper, artists use hammer and chisel to punch designs out of stacks of up to 40 layers of tissue at a time.

As part of the San Antonio Conservation Society’s celebration of Historic Preservation Month, a display of papel picado, or punched paper, by artist Kathleen Trenchard is on exhibit in the Visitors Center of The Steves Homestead.  While her work includes traditional papel picado banners, Kathleen’s contemporary interpretation of the art form includes portraits, buildings and major public art installations – at the AT&T Center, the South Texas Blood and Tissue Center and the Grand Hyatt Hotel.  Kathleen also designed the official Fiesta pin for the Conservation Society’s major fundraiser, A Night in Old San Antonio, or NIOSA.

The legendary printmaker and satirical cartoonist Jose Guadalupe Posada (1852-1913) created his oft-reproduced “La Calavera Catrina” to satirize the lifestyle of the upper class in Mexico in the late 1800s.  In one of the works on exhibit at the Steves’ Visitors Center, Kathleen crafts a skeletal “self-portrait” as a dancing partner of La Catrina.  

“Portraits” of architectural landmarks featured in the exhibit include the Bexar County Courthouse, the Japanese Tea Garden, the silos at Blue Star and the Pig Stand.  The one must suitable for the cause of preservation follows the satirical style of Posada:  “Demolition:  1123 Brooklyn.”

In recognition of her artistic perpetuation of this form of Mexican folk art, the Conservation Society will bestow its Lynn Ford Craftsman Award upon Kathleen at its Historic Preservation Awards Dinner on Friday, May 14.  The Conservation Society established the award in 1978 in honor of Lynn Ford, a craftsman, cabinetmaker, builder and teacher.

Preserving the Art of Papel Picado will be on display at the Visitors Center located behind The Edward Steves Homestead and House Museum, 509 King William Street, through June.  The Visitors Center and Museum are open daily, but hours vary depending on scheduled tours.  For more information, telephone 210.225.5924.

Tickets for the Conservation Society’s Awards Dinner are $75 for individuals or $600 for a table of eight.  For reservations, telephone 210.224.6163.  To find out information about other Preservation Month activities, visit www.saconservation.org.

So what could the “prodigious poster” learn from a form of art where what is eliminated paints the picture?  Cut.

Added on May 3:  Great article on the area of Puebla known for papel amate