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.

Quinze’s “Wind” to blow on the Mission Reach of the San Antonio River

A month in the searing desert sun building a huge wooden structure.

A mere four days to enjoy it. Then setting it ablaze.

“It is not that easy to burn your own installation down,” said artist Arne Quinze during a June 2013 lecture sponsored by the San Antonio River Foundation at the San Antonio Museum of Art. “I still have goosebumps from it.” While an estimated 50,000 people witnessed the conflagration at the 2006 Burning Man Festival in Nevada, “The day after, nothing was left over.”

The Belgian artist’s first public art took the form of graffiti, but his work evolved into large-scale three-dimensional structures, often installed in urban settings, including Nice, Shanghai, Rio de Janeiro, Brussels, Rouen and Beirut. Quinze views cities as “open-air museums,” with art teaching “you to look at the world in a different way.”

Many of his installations are temporal, although not as fleeting as the one in Nevada. His installations sometimes spark controversy, but, by the time they are removed, there are public protests. “When we take it down, the space is more empty than before,” he said. “It makes them realize the importance of art in their lives.”

wind

example of a “pillar” of wind

The artist is drawn to strong hues of red and orange because they are “full of contradictions – a fire burns or warms; blood means life or death.” His series of “Wind” sculptures seem to follow that predilection. On his website, he describes the elements he installs in the landscape as representing “the frozen movement of wind going through a grass field, a sculpture waving like leaves in the sun.”

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Berg’s Mill

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Mission San Juan Capistrano

Perhaps that is what makes “Wind” most fitting for the rural river setting chosen by the River Foundation for his installation. His monumental blades of wind will serve as a gateway transitioning and leading people up from the river to the area where the ruins of the historic Berg’s Mill community are perched on the left and Mission San Juan Capistrano lies ahead on the right.

“Wind,” according to Quinze’s website, is designed to: “evoke emotion, spark conversation and make people stop in their tracks. They will be attracted to explore this surreal experience of the shadow and sunlight shining through the fixed pillars….”

To contribute to public art projects along the Mission Reach and the development of Confluence Park, visit the website of the San Antonio River Foundation.

Looking forward to being stopped in my tracks in 2015.

April 20, 2015, Update: Noticed that Arne has more site-specific renderings for his “Wind” installation posted online now.

And this is from the April 2015 River Reach, published by the San Antonio River Authority:

arne-at-san-juan

October 20, 2015, Update:

Artist Lecture: Arne Quinze will talk about “Wind” installation, his first permanent public art piece in the United States, at Blue Star at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, October 22.

Sculpture Unveiling: Mission San Juan Portal will be unveiled at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, October 28.

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.”

confluence-parkl

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.