Something old, something new along the Mission Reach

In the early 1700s, Native Americans dug an elaborate system of irrigation ditches, or acequias, to water the farmlands surrounding the string of missions founded by Spanish friars. According to an article written by Jose A. Rivera in the Southwestern Historical Quarterly in 2003, the farmlands near Mission San Juan Capistrano were served by this system:

… until the spring of 1958, when a channel improvement project relocated the bed of the San Antonio River two hundred feet away from the headgate of the San Juan Acequia. In the process of straightening, widening, and deepening the river, the site of the original saca de agua (the historic San Juan Dam) was buried with excavated dirt and rubble. The new channel was too far away and deep to supply water to the San Juan headgate by way of gravity-flow irrigation as had been the practice for more than two hundred years.

Secularization of Mission San Juan Capistrano in 1824 included close to 500 acres served by San Juan Acequia. This land was granted to:

… military officers from the Bexar garrison, a former military chaplain, and four women, each coveting the quality of agricultural lands available at this mission site.

It took subsequent landowners decades of litigation and negotiations to regain their water access following the 1950s’ flood-control work undertaken by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the San Antonio River Authority. The oldest water rights in Texas, Rivera writes, finally were restored in 2001, ahead of the San Antonio River Improvements Project.

Now, a short jog off the west bank trail of the San Antonio River Improvements Project leads through a field of wildflowers back to the ancient stone arched acequia, topped once again by water flowing into the restored ditches nourishing neighboring fields. The 13 miles of the recent river project, including the Mission Reach, represent a monumental effort by the Corps, the River Authority, the City of San Antonio and Bexar County to restore the river ecosystem to a more natural, healthy state. The wildlife, fisher-folks, hikers, runners, bicyclists and paddlers using it attest to their success.

Only a stroll away is a contemporary addition to the river’s banks, “Whispers.” In 2015, the San Antonio River Foundation contributed this site-specific sculpture by Belgian artist Arne Quinze to the Mission Reach project. (Read more about Quinze’s sculpture here.)

Lush greenery and wildflowers carpet the banks all along the Mission Reach. Hope you get a chance to walk and explore it before spring is overtaken by the summer heat.

Take pleasure in little unauthorized treasures along the River Walk before they vanish

How could I have missed these voluntary works of public art placed anonymously along the River Walk, coincidentally close to the Southwest School of Art? But I did.

Because they are tiny, probably averaging six inches tall.

Stumbled across my oversight in a clip from a KLRN Arts show, a repeat of a broadcast originally airing this past February.

 

Of course, I went searching for them in the stretch between the North St. Mary’s and McCullough bridges. I know I missed some, but many already are barely shadows of their original selves. They are fading away.

Certainly, I feel guilty publicizing unauthorized art along the River Walk. But these are so small and give those spying them such pleasure.

Their whimsy would be lost if both magnified and multiplied. Containment is an issue. Graffiti-abatement is a constant battle, with inner-city graffiti more threatening than aesthetically appealing. Most of the walls under bridges are coated with graffiti-repellant paint.

But for me, these particular works resound as a call for a different form of public art. Maybe large-scale, expensive undertakings could be supplemented by extremely small installations in unexpected places. Artwork many might overlook, but so rewarding for those who encounter them.

Go on a hunt for these treasures before they completely disappear.

Chalking up the street: Wish the art were not so fleeting

The pavers on Houston Street downtown radiated kaleidoscopic colors today as Artpace sponsored its 12th annual Chalk It Up event.

Yes, there are invited professional artists and school groups, but this elongated public art project is participatory. People of all ages enthusiastically accepted the invitation to pick up chalk and make their marks.

Families flocked to the admission-free event.

Houston Street never looked better. The only drawback is the result is so temporal….