Chin’s enormous prickly pear umbrella offers shelter along the Mission Reach

WHEREAS, A native of the American Southwest and the Sonoran Desert region of Mexico, the prickly pear cactus provided nourishment to the earliest inhabitants of those regions, and both the sweet, fleshy fruit and the broad, flat stems were incorporated into tasty dishes; and

WHEREAS, Tunas, the prickly pear fruit, and nopales, which are made from the stem, have since become staples of the Mexican diet, and their growing popularity in Lone Star cuisine can be attributed to Texans’ appreciation for unusual and distinctive foods; and….

WHEREAS, This adaptable plant can survive under many different environmental conditions, and thus can be found from the hill country of Central Texas to the windswept plateaus and arid mountains of West Texas; because it thrives in a harsh climate that few plants can bear, the prickly pear cactus is often grown as forage for cattle and has had a tremendous positive impact on the vital Texas cattle industry; and

WHEREAS, Rugged, versatile, and uniquely beautiful, the prickly pear cactus has made numerous contributions to the landscape, cuisine, and character of the Lone Star State, and thus it is singularly qualified to represent the indomitable and proud Texas spirit as an official state symbol; now, therefore, be it

RESOLVED, That the 74th Legislature of the State of Texas hereby designate the prickly pear cactus as the official state plant of Texas.

1995 Texas House Concurrent Resolution

Viewed from the east side of the San Antonio River, the graceful arch indeed appears a portal to pathways on the other side. But Mel Chin‘s “CoCobijos” changes appearance as you approach and circle it.

Commissioned by the San Antonio River Foundation to link the Mission Reach of the river to nearby Mission San Jose, the massive steel sculpture represents the pads of two arching prickly pears joined together.

The prickly pear theme arose from two of Houston-born Chin’s first impressions of the area. Interviewed by Jack Morgan for “Texas Standard” on Texas Public Radio, Chin explained:

One: “I was looking at the roofs of the mission and I found that there was a whole planting of them, a bunch of them that have been growing there since the 1930s.”

Two: “After visiting the site… I noticed how hot I was.”

And since: “There’s nothing stronger than the state plant of Texas, I believe.”

Now: “There’s two of them coming together to create a shelter from the sun and a habitat for live cactus growing above.”

According to the San Antonio River Foundation website, Chin reflected about the resiliency of prickly pear and how the plant historically has nurtured people and animals. The lacey steel picado patterns echo the internal structure of nopal pads.

About the same time “CoCobijos” was unveiled in this semi-rural setting, according to Glasstire, Chin was taking over Times Square and several other spots in New York City with multimedia works portraying frightening potential results if global warming is allowed to continue into the future uncontrolled.

The New York installations are gone, but you need only head south from downtown along the San Antonio River to view Chin’s masterful piece of public art now a permanent part of San Antonio’s landscape.

Justin Boyd: Squeezing a year’s worth of river meanderings neatly into a box

Sergio Gonzales and Randy Allee of KLRN on location filming Justin Boyd
Sergio Gonzales and Randy Allee of KLRN on location filming Justin Boyd

The river is an amazing resource.

Justin Boyd

How do you take the essence of something as sweeping as the Mission Reach of the San Antonio River and compress it into a to-go size box?

Artist Justin Boyd does this in a multimedia format incorporating sound and video recordings and natural and manmade found objects in “Days and Days,” an exhibit on display through February 10 at the Southwest School of Art.

Although not as immense as trying to condense a broad landscape into a small box in a gallery, I struggled with adjusting my writing style to a television format in collaborating with the crew at KLRN-TV for this piece for ARTS. Whittling and weaving Justin’s dialogue into a story presented difficult and complicated choices for me, and, in turn, for David Bibbs at KLRN.

Here’s the result on ARTS | January 18, 2013 on PBS.

Although our paths never had crossed, Justin and I walk the same stretch of river often. But he has added new layers to my thoughts – the river representing time and its passage – as I meander southward along the river’s banks.

While celebrating the restoration of the Mission Reach as part of the San Antonio Improvements Project, Justin’s art is conscious of the litter man continually discards:

The impact we have as humans on the landscape…. This impact is so heavy…. Manmade objects are sitting right next to natural objects….

When you are down here everyday, you can’t help but reflect on how we are affecting our landscape.

January 28, 2013, Update:

The photo above was shot at the point where the waters of San Pedro Creek (left) join the San Antonio River. The San Antonio River Foundation recently announced, according to the San Antonio Express-News, the commission of a pair of designers from the firm of Ball-Nogues Studio to design amenities for this point, to be known as Confluence Park:

With vague hopes of developing “some type of gathering place for the community,” the foundation spent about $300,000 on the park site several years ago and deeded it to SARA, said foundation executive director Estela Avery, wife of James Avery.

Plans gathered steam late last year, after Ball-Nogues Studio was invited to offer designs. The award-winning studio has created installations around the world that meld art and function, including works in California, New York, France, Italy and Hong Kong.

In recent months, designers Benjamin Ball and Gaston Nogues have collaborated with local water experts, botanists and others to create tentative concepts for the site at 310  W. Mitchell St.

“We’re working with an idea for a pavilion that will be enshrouded in vegetation, that’s also three windmills,” Ball said.

“We also have some features we’re calling ribbons, which are a man-made geology for the site. We’re trying to create some sense of discovery when you’re moving through the site so that you’re creating different vistas, different moments,” he said.

Added Nogues, “There’s going to be quite an extensive rainwater catchment system, which is going to mimic a cistern.”

Nogues appreciates the river restoration, noting that the Los Angeles River “suffered a similar fate” as the San Antonio River when its natural channel was lined with concrete decades ago. Most concrete has been removed here in the past few years during the river’s ecosystem restoration.

“It’s really an inspiration for what the Los Angeles River could become as  well,” Nogues said.

Foundation interim project manager Stuart Allen said design details are pending, but the park’s purpose is firm.

“We want this park to be a really unusual destination,” Allen said.

“It’s going to be a park geared toward teaching about ecosystems, sustainable living, water transport mechanisms and watersheds. The park will be designed around forms that collect water and direct them to an underground cistern. The water will be recirculated back into the park.”


Fundraising received a major boost from a gift of $1 million for an educational endowment fund from James and Estela Avery.

January 31, 2013, Update: Nancy Cook-Monroe writes about Confluence Park and the announcement of the Avery gift to the River Foundation:

This one, with a water catchment system, solar panels and windmills, will be all about teaching sustainability, stewardship and environmental science. Its centerpiece will be an artistically designed educational pavilion. Other elements will be laced with double meanings, such as a “foraging fence.”

“It doesn’t keep neighbors out but invites them to enjoy decorative and  edible plants,” said planning architect Gaston Nogues of Ball-Nogues Studio in Los Angeles.


Stacy Levy: Interpreting the Connections of Nature and the Built Environment through Art

Often people think that nature ends where the city begins. But natural processes are always occurring in the city. I like to explore the idea of nature in the city and make it visible to people.

Stacy Levy, from her website

For the 2009 Water and Land Festival in Niigata, Japan, Stacy Levy "planted" 600 18-foot-tall bamboo stems, "like tall grasses moving to the choreography of the wind."

As the Mission Reach of the San Antonio River Improvements Project continues to stretch southward toward Mission Espada, the fruit of the fundraising efforts of the San Antonio River Foundation emerges as public art enhancing the linear park skirting the river’s banks. The next phase opens to the public on Saturday, June 25, and will feature a “portal” strengthening the historical connection of Mission Concepcion to the river.

Although based in Pennsylvania, Stacy Levy is an environmental artist of international standing. Recent commissions include “Tide Poles” on the waterfront in Yonkers, New York; “River of Shade” in Harmon Library Park in Phoenix, Arizona; and “Tide Flowers” in Hudson River Park in New York. She taps talents gleaned from an unusually rich interdisciplinary background – studies at The Architectural Association in London; a B.A. in sculpture with a minor in forestry from Yale University; additional studies at Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture; and a MFA in sculpture from the Tyler School of Art at Temple University – for her work.

Stacy shared a flowing description of her impression of the San Antonio River:

The San Antonio River flows through the city, its liquid presence flowing past the hardscape of the urban environment. This wonderful contrast of liquid nature and solid infrastructure is intriguing to me.  Sometimes water works slowly: sometimes languidly carving its path grain by grain, sometimes with the terrible scouring speed of a flood. But whatever the flow of the river, the water is always moving in a particular pattern of fluid dynamics. This pattern is beautiful but rarely perceivable to the eye. I wanted to capture this aspect of the flowing river and to show people another world of water: the pattern of fluid motion.

Her installation reflects not only the water and natural environment but also the built environment nearby, that of the more than 250-year-old Mission Nuestra Señora de la Purisima Concepción de Acuña. Stacy wrote:

…here, the water is evoked by sloping stone walls, so reminiscent of the architecture of the Mission Concepcion. This place of stone and water is where the mission and the river meet in an artful form, borrowing patterns and materials from each of these icons.  The stone seating walls curve and undulate like the major hydrological forces, creating a pattern of vortices made from stone which sweep the park user in. I tried to make this solid and dry environment feel like the swirling movement of river water.  And the walls undulate and slope like the Mission’s walls, are rough and cool to the touch in the shade of the trees planted in the terrace.

Portal at Mission Concepcion as envisioned by artist Stacy Levy

The gracefully curved walls and walkways will be completed in time for the June 25th celebration, but they are only the first phase of her contributions to the Mission Reach. While the final design for the next portion have yet to be approved, Stacy envisions art evocative of the fluid patterns of the river meshed with the original floral patterns found at Mission Concepcion.

More wonderful reasons to keep walking the river (refer to older posts such as this and this). 

Update on June 24, 2011: Preview of the opening of the next segment of the Mission Reach from the Express-News

Update on June 26, 2011: Express-News reports about Anne Wallace’s footbridge and more art to come….