Postcard from the Coker Settlement: Book-birthing Celebration

Photos accompanying September 8, 2019, book review by Ed Conroy, San Antonio Express-News

Spencer has done a masterful job of sifting through a mass of cemetery and other records, finding the threads of family stories, which she has woven together with great care. They reflect the triumphs and travails of the early settlers and their descendants in what was without doubt, at first, a very tough territory….

What makes this book of exceptional interest for anyone with a deep love for and interest in Texas history is the way Spencer relates the family sagas of the early settlers within the larger dynamics of settlement and colonization in early Mexican Texas and after the Texas Revolution.

We learn in detail of the great challenges faced by empresarios Stephen F. Austin, Henri Castro, Prince Carl of Solms-Braunfels and John O. Meusebach. We learn as well of the settlers who were Mormons and their challenges in the face of intense prejudice in much of what was then the United States.

Most of all, we learn of the interrelatedness of all the families who made up the Coker Settlement, who overcame their cultural and national differences to become, in their own way, Texans and, in time, San Antonians. Spencer deserves considerable credit for the extraordinary amount of detail she provides about the lives of so many settlers, whom she lists at the end of each chapter.

Theirs is a very poignant history, for in time the Great Depression and new sanitation regulations did much to decimate the local dairy industry. Land that was once dotted with dairy farms and their hardworking owners was sold and cleared for tract home developments, schools, the new San Antonio International Airport and malls — and the early settlers were forgotten.

Thanks to Spencer, though, their stories are now well recovered and hopefully will live on for generations to come.

Ed Conroy, San Antonio Express-News, September 8, 2019

Thanks to Ed Conroy for making time to review Haunting the Graveyard: Unearthing the Story of the Coker Settlement.

Please try to join us for the celebration of the publication from 5 to 7 p.m. on Tuesday, September 10, 2019, at The Twig Book Shop at Pearl.

Postcard from the Coker Settlement: Following long gestation, book finally due to arrive

haunting the graveyard

cover designed by Andréa Caillouet; cover photo courtesy of Virginia Heimer Ohlenbusch

Birthing a book can be a long process, but to say the gestation period for Haunting the Graveyard: Unearthing the Story of the Coker Settlement has proved elephantine is no exaggeration. A female elephant’s pregnancy only lasts two years. This birth has taken much longer.

But labor has been induced, and the hefty 400-page baby will be delivered at 5 p.m. for a signing/reading celebration at The Twig Book Shop at the Pearl on Tuesday, September 10.

A lady’s handbag was my first introduction to the Coker Settlement more than a decade ago. As I sat on the carpet of a conference room on the 30th floor of a downtown office building surrounded by stacks of ephemera-filled boxes, the purse was the first thing to catch my eye. So I opened it. The pocketbook belonged to Minnie Tomerlin Voelcker (1904-2000).

last farm standing on buttermilk hillMy nosiness was at the invitation of attorney Banks Smith, a trustee of the Max and Minnie Tomerlin Voelcker Fund. I continued digging through those boxes for some time, uncovering the couple’s relationships with the dairy farmers clustered around them. That led to the 2010 birth of Haunting the Graveyard’s older sibling – Last Farm Standing on Buttermilk Hill: Voelcker Roots Run Deep in Hardberger Park.

Many of those who lived around the Coker Settlement, including Minnie and Max, remained neighbors after their deaths. They were buried in intimate groupings under the spreading live oaks of the Coker Cemetery. The trustees of the Coker Cemetery Association approached me to write a prequel/sequel of sorts to Last Farm to chronicle the lives of more of these early residents.

I revisited the cemetery. Inconspicuously tucked away north of Loop 410 and in the shadow of Wurzbach Parkway, it appeared so peaceful. The Coker Cemetery contains the graves of more than 600 people, but I assumed I already was well acquainted with them from my work on the first book. So my answer was yes.

I failed to heed the obvious warning signs – several Texas Ranger and Texas Historical markers indicating this turf is fertile with tales. At first their “voices” were mere whispered tidbits here and there. As I poked through mountains of information and interviewed their descendants, more and more of the occupants of those graves seemed to be shouting at me to include them. I heeded the call of as many as possible while trying to remain sane.

So in the near future, expect an invitation to make their acquaintance.* You will encounter some heart-breaking tragedies, a bit of mayhem and even an unsolved murder as their lives unfold in Haunting the Graveyard. Whether focused on the good or skeletons that popped out of the closet, the stories are shared with love for the entire community of farmers I have come to know over the past decade.

haunting the graveyard photos
lila banks cockrell, phil hardberger, scott j. baird*In addition to availability at The Twig Book Shop at the signing, pre-publication orders are being accepted now at Material Media Press.

August 4, 2019, Update: An interactive companion index of people inhabiting the pages of this book helps readers understand how they relate to the family patriarch, Joseph Coker (1799-1881). The list can be accessed now for those who want to know if any information about their particular relatives can be found inside. To check the list, click here: http://cokercemetery.com/pdfs/coker_settlement_index.pdf.

Here is a shorter glimpse of surnames mentioned:

Artist Foundation unleashes another round of creative fervor…

zach-dorn-puppetry

A city teeming with talent. Artists whose creative juices flow constantly, filling them with visionary dreams of projects that will enrich our lives.

If…. If only they had a boost of support. A grant of $5,000 can jumpstart a project, freeing the artist to complete it and share the finished product.

This is what the Artist Foundation of San Antonio, a nonprofit organization founded by Bettie Ward and Patricia Pratchett, does. And does well.

Since 2006, the Artist Foundation has granted 102 artists residing in Bexar County $570,000. And the Artist Foundation recently completed another round of awards.

zach-dorn-performingZach Dorn, self-described as “a theater artist who aims to rediscover the suspension of disbelief from the six year-old within all of us and use it to reexamine life as an adult,” received both the Alan Beckstead Award for Original Production and the Tobin Grand Prize for Artistic Excellence.

Dorn writes:

This delicate resuscitation of the audience’s imaginative spirit has invoked the use of puppetry, live cinematic experimentations, fast-paced storytelling techniques, and reinvention…. Like unruly children, my ideas rebel against traditional performance techniques. My live puppet productions have moved away from conventional staging by transforming entire theater spaces into new and unfamiliar worlds.

Support from the Artist Foundation arrives atop earlier seed money Dorn received from The Jim Henson Foundation, and we will not need to wait long to appreciate the results. An Excruciatingly Ordinary Toy Theater Show will be presented by S.M.A.R.T. and Miniature Curiosa at their new Toy Theater Parlor inside 1906 South Flores at 8 p.m. on March 20, 21, 27 and 28; and April 3, 4, 10, 11, 17 and 18.

 

last-skin

 

 

Poet Barbara Ras received the Department for Culture and Creative Development Award for Literary Arts. Recently published collections of her poetry include One Hidden Stuff and The Last Skin.

In an online “conversation” on Granta, Ras offers this description of poetry:

Poetry, like all creativity, is an antidote to despair. Even the darkest poems are beautiful. For me, poetry is the only way to express what seems to me to be the essential quest: searching in the dark for answers to questions that are unanswerable.

Ras, the director of Trinity University Press, will read selections from The Last Skin during an evening of poetry beginning at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, March 19, at The Twig, 306 Pearl Parkway.

stephen-gaethThe Department for Culture and Creative Development Award for Choreography will assist Stephan A. Gaeth, a founder of The Uptown Studio on Fredericksburg Road, in his efforts to:

…broaden my choreographic horizons by challenging myself to mix genres and styles and learn new ones, while creating and directing the plot and themes of the show.

Expect to see and hear more of Daniela Riojas, a vocalist and autoharp player with Femina-X, who received the Department for Culture and Creative Development Award for Media Arts.

 

The artistic statement for the “avant-garde power-pop band,” reads:

Using a blend of electronic beats, atmosphere, and foundational live instruments, the music stems from a hunger to evolve and merge magic with blues, trip-hop, jungle, and pop. Through a primal-meets-modern hybrid of machine and (wo)man, it actively hones in on the colorful space between any and all labels, while creating unconventional fusions – taking from sounds of nature, ancestors, electricity, modernity, and visions of ecstatic living.

Known for his mastery of danceable Latin-infused yet experimental beats, Alex Scheel from local psych-rock band, Pop Pistol…. conducts electronic programming while skillfully toggling from voice to guitar to laptop…. Jeff Palacios, deepens the overall landscape with the unique task of being a rhythmic yet melodic counterpart to the electronic bass and sub-bass movements. Chris Cooper humanizes quantized beats with frenetic poly-rhythms and four-on-the-floor power. Daniela”s chameleon voice has the range to both coo and siren, lull and frighten, always reaching from a place of passion, imagination, and child-like playfulness….

With a 2014-15 season that includes singing with Opera National de Paris, the San Francisco Opera, the Greensboro Opera and the Los Angeles Opera, Erich René Barbera still thinks of San Antonio as his hometown. The only artist to ever receive three top awards at Placido Domingo’s Operalia in Moscow in one year, the winner of  the TNT Award for Classical Singing is eager to expose children in San Antonio “to such a wonderful art form and encourage them to pursue their dreams like so many others encouraged me to follow mine….”

 

The Founders Award for Music Composition went to a faculty member of the University of Texas at San Antonio, Matthew Dunne. A frequent collaborator with The Los Angeles Guitar Quartet, he has recorded three compact discs: Forget the Alamo, Music in the Mission and The Accidental Trio. Dunne’s grant will help him embark on his first film score project.

 

"The everlasting light bulb," 2014 painting/performance by Christie Blizard

“The everlasting light bulb,” 2014 painting/performance by Christie Blizard

Another professor at UTSA, Christie Blizard received the Rick Liberto Award for Visual Arts. The artist writes:

Much of my work is about exploring the space between painting and interventionist practices. These two fields are usually at odds, but I find it to be a rich pairing to negotiate new contexts, humor, and poetry.

"H," 2014 graphite on paper by Fernando Andrade

“H,” 2014 graphite on paper by Fernando Andrade

Graphic designer Fernando Andrade received the Linda Pace Foundation Award for Contemporary Art. The artist’s abstract paintings “deal with human emotions,” while his drawings often reflect social issues.

His Jugando a la Guerrita series of drawings:

…depicts a combination between my upbringing and adulthood memories in regard to the violence (of northern Mexico) and how it has corrupted society…. Through the images here, I hope to show a glimpse into the life of children growing up around violence and the emotions like revenge and anger that those children are likely to take into the adult world.

 

"God of Carnage," set design by Jeremiah Teutsch

“God of Carnage,” set design by Jeremiah Teutsch

The Tobin Theatre Arts Fund Awards went to Jeremiah Teutsch in the category of set design and Marcus Cerda for costume design. Teutsch describes his recent focus:

Most of my subject matter of late has been on the topic of and the consideration of death and terminality, and how society moves itself around the nasty business of dealing with the dead and the emotions that are inherent in regarding someone else’s mortality. This common fiber is present in my paintings, sculptures and, more recently, my set designs. It is my goal, in life and in art, to figure out what in the hell is going on.

"Dancer in Red" by Marcus A. Cerda

“Dancer in Red” by Marcus A. Cerda

Cerda’s recent work merges his background in the classical concepts of fashion design with his collage style of synthetic cubist paintings. He explains:

This convergence is applied by creating asymmetrical patterns and drapery to express the human body in a nonconforming and lyrical style. An intricate dialogue where each house has its own agenda but cannot help to feed off the other yet neither can successfully consume the other. Thus, the art for the human form is derived from – inspired by – dictated to – and produced with a strong sense of the radical non-conformist of the individual.

An incredible array of talent is represented by these San Antonio artists. To support the efforts of the Artist Foundation to enable artists to pursue their dream projects, visit the foundation’s website.