Shhhh! Keep this public art project under wraps.

eaglelandSo many choices for early morning walks:  head downtown and loop around the bend or continue north to the locks and dam.  Since this spring and early summer, I have been increasingly drawn southward by the wildflowers blooming along the river’s banks and the water birds hunting for their breakfast of crawdads.  After dining, they always neatly arrange a pair of leftover claws on the sidewalk as evidence of their fishing prowess.           

I like to walk about 70 minutes or so, and Eagleland is not quite long enough.  If you are familiar with the area, you probably know where I head after passing under the railroad tracks….            


I’m never the first one.  Almost as soon as the work crew leaves in the afternoon, southsiders eager for their stretch of the River Improvements Project to be finished begin to mash down the flimsy orange webbing meant to discourage access to the new pathways skirting the river’s edge.  By the time I arrive in the morning, it and its “keep out” message are flat on the ground, easily ignored.           

The San Antonio River Foundation has announced several public art projects for this stretch of the Mission Reach Project:           

But, until now, no one has uttered a peep about the largest environmental art installation.  The mainstream media certainly has missed this boat.  Supposedly, this artist is currently focused on gaining permission to suspend fabric over almost six miles of the Arkansas River, but the following photograph stands as evidence he stealthily slipped into San Antonio to execute a piece reminiscent of his earlier works.  According to the website of the artist and his late wife:           

power plant under wraps
Wrapped Power Plant, rumored to be the work of Christo, on the Mission Reach of the San Antonio River Improvements Project.


The last time an idea for a wrapping came out of their heads and hearts was in 1975, when they had the idea of wrapping the Pont Neuf in Paris, and then it took them ten years to get the permits.           

Remember, you saw it here first, and you should be so grateful to Postcards from San Antonio for giving you the inside scoop that you will not fail to bail Gayle out of jail!         

Update on August 28:  Access to the first phase of the Mission Reach is delayed by typical gardening woes – weeds growing like weeds.  Hopefully the city will use part of this time to round up the stray dogs hanging around entrances to the sidewalks as though thugs hired to guard the paths from impatient pedestrians, runners and bikers prematurely breaching the flimsy orange netting.        

Update on August 31:  Elaine Wolff slipped in to post photos of Anne Wallace’s works in progress.       

Update on September 4:  Not sure the artwork is finished yet, but inspected Mark Schlesinger’s painted crowns on the crenulated footbridge this morning.  It brought back memories of sitting on the floor with a luxurious new box of 64 Crayolas confronted with a coloring book seemingly demanding monochrome castle walls.  Nothing to do but rebel and color each crenulation a different shade plucked from the box.  Same sort of satisfaction as giving a Barbie doll a dramatic haircut, except no one would punish me afterwards.       

According to the website of the San Antonio River Foundation:       

Mark Schlesinger adds color, texture and elements of surprise to his footbridge project, “Up On the On.”  Up On The On integrates a repeating pattern of painted, textured rocks alongside natural river rocks.  Schlesinger uses the same polymer stucco material he used in the Museum Reach and seeks to combine the urban with the natural.  “When, for instance, this urban bridge begins to emerge from a natural flood, it will do so with a colorful, visual softness.”  That softness, Schlesinger says, makes a strong statement, without overpowering the forces of nature.  Several of the blocks will also glow softly at night.       

I found myself wishing his gaudy colors had been applied instead to the giant support columns under the interstate, distracting us like Donald Lipski’s “F.I.S.H.”   The thundering echo of cars and trucks zooming overhead also made me wish it were possible to move Bill Fontana’s “Sonic Passages” there as well.       

In both the Museum and Mission reaches, Schlesinger’s work leaves me cold, but, of course, a major role of public art is to stimulate thinking, reaction and conversation.  And his work achieves that or I would not be blogging about it.      

Update on September 12:  Amazed at how many people of all ages were out on the Mission Reach at dusk and after dark on Saturday night – many on bicycles.  People are ready, even though the plantings are not, even though the banks seem moonscaped more than landscaped.       

We were down there because we finally got around to experiencing G&G Mobile Bistro, tracking them southward to 116 West Mitchell, tucked away behind Boneshakers.  Parking is limited, but, as half the customers seemed to arrive by bike, that presents no real problem.      

Shaded by trees, the new location offers a sweeping view of the river’s voluptuous new curves in the Mission Reach.  Once we have something growing, this could actually turn into the prettiest spot along the river’s course through Bexar County and is ideally positioned to catch the evening breeze from the south.      

We went out back and ordered the five featured courses for $14, no choices to make.  What’s on the blackboard is what you get.  Then we went in to grab a not great, but very inexpensive, bottle of wine from Boneshakers, which boasts a pretty impressive beer selection.      

Arriving at 7:45, just in time to secure prime seating, seating in short supply by 8:15.  Don’t know how they possibly keep track of who ordered one item, three courses or all five, but, somehow our little cardboard cradles came out one at a time, each one delivered to our table precisely as we finished the course before.       

The first course featured a mound of caramelized onion on brie served with croutons and slices of apples.  The apples had a dose of coarsely ground pepper on them, which I wouldn’t have thought would work.  It did.  Next was a plastic glass filled with an acorn squash soup, bravely made without ladling in too-rich cream and unexpectedly spiked with a flavor burst or two from chunks of lime pulp.  Then we were served a great little salad, followed by pork flavored with balsamic perched on perfectly herbed vegetables.  Everything tasted so fresh and healthy.  The only course we didn’t care for was the dessert, a flan-cake.       

My husband kept repeating G&G is his new favorite restaurant.  It’s the type of place you want to tell everyone about on the one hand, but realize the danger that it will soon be too popular for you to get that prime seat.   Shhh….     

Hope they let us return.  Occurred to me on the drive home we committed a food truck faux pas.  We completely forgot to return our wine and water glasses to Boneshakers, rudely left them on the table under the trees.  We’ll be better next time.  

Note Added on September 17:  David McLemore’s take on the Mission Reach

Note Added on October 23

After many a morning walk, I am adjusting to Mark Schlesinger’s Crayola treatment of the crenulated footbridge, but not on any sophisticated terms.  I have decided to view this as a magical place for families to weave their own river-based fairy tales, to invent stories of mischievous San Antonio-bred trolls or gnomes.  Or maybe they are sprites from other parts of the country, hobos who hopped off the train to dwell under the bridge.  Or maybe it’s a spot to ponder philosophically with Winnie the Pooh:

Sometimes, if you stand on the bottom rail of a bridge and lean over to watch the river slipping slowly away beneath you, you will suddenly know everything there is to be known.

The best news is that soon we southsiders will no longer have to be “illegal trespassers” on this portion of the Mission Reach.  While this stretch of the river will not officially open to the public until late November, the San Antonio River Authority’s spokesperson seems a little harsh on those of us who are eager to walk the river’s banks:  

“We know people are already out there,” said Steven Schauer, a spokesman for the river authority.  “Maybe we can open so people are no longer breaking the law when they are trespassing right now.”

November 16 Update:  The “Christo” is now unwrapped; looked better wrapped.  And the River Authority posts photos on its website showing progress along the Mission Reach.

December 30 Update:  Now that the Power Plant is unwrapped, Christo is concentrating on the Arkansas River project.

‘Faux Bois’ Roots Run Deep in San Antonio

Like remnants of an ancient petrified forest blending in with the urban landscape, San Antonio’s cement artworks, faux bois or trabajo rustico, are cherished landmarks.  The rough “bark” of the old trolley stop near Central Market in Alamo Heights; the covered bridge in Brackenridge Park; and the entrance to the Japanese Tea Garden has been rubbed to a sheen by the exploring hands of generations of San Antonio’s children.

The craft of creating trabajo rustico sculptures could have been lost for San Antonio following the deaths of Dionicio Rodriguez and Maximo Cortes, but fortunately Maximo’s son, Carlos Cortes, inherited both the secret formulas and the talent to continue to add prominent public artwork throughout the city.  Carlos installed a graceful “cypress” bursting through the ceiling in the middle of the San Antonio Children’s Museum; built the Treehouse for the Witte Museum; added a trellis to the River Walk; recently completed the massive Grotto for the river’s Museum Reach; and installed benches in a pocket park.

San Antonio’s connections to the art form of trabajo rustico are explored during an exhibit and related symposium, both part of the celebration of Historic Preservation Month.  The Tradition of Trabajo Rustico:  Fantasies in Cement can be viewed in the Russell Hill Rogers Lecture Hall in the Navarro Campus of the Southwest School of Art and Craft through May 30.

Speakers at the symposium on the morning of Saturday, May 15, include Patsy Pittman Light, author of Capturing Nature:  The Cement Sculpture of Dionicio Rodriguez.  Following a box lunch, there will be a bus tour of some of San Antonio’s faux bois landmarks and a demonstration by Cortes at his studio.

The morning session is admission-free.  The fee for lunch and the afternoon bus tour is $25.  For more information, telephone the San Antonio Conservation Society, 210-224-6163.

January 16, 2013, Update: San Antonio’s faux bois art and artists are featured on KLRN ARTS.

Riverside Pocket Park

The teaching-the-teachers workshop conflicted with the February 27 opening of a revitalized pocket park perched above the San Antonio River at Crofton and Constance, directly across the river from the Blue Star silos.  Coincidentally, the historical materials Bill Perryman included for “River of Dreams” attendees included a Crofton Avenue reference from an oral history interview of H.T. Edwards Hertzberg conducted by Lupita Fernandez about the 1921 flood for the San Antonio Conservation Society:

The water was flowing down Crofton Ave. at least three feet deep and our house was sitting on piles just high enough not to be inundated.

Today, the Olmos Dam and a 16,200-foot-long flood tunnel keep Crofton and Constance safe from such dangers.  

In addition to the public sponsors of the park re-do, the King William neighborhood association – thanks to thousands of volunteer hours and King William Fair-goers’ unselfish willingness to consume beer for a good cause – kicked in with a substantial donation to the San Antonio River Foundation

The public/private partnership resulted in two wonderful faux bois benches crafted by Carlos Cortes, whose massive grotto in the Museum Reach invites exploration.  If you can’t visit the grotto personally, explore it virtually via Flicker

Note added March 15:  The Kronkosky Charitable Foundation talks about the value of pocket parks in the community.