Concrete Artisans Leaving Lasting Imprint in San Antonio

SAY Si, where art is spoken.

Z. Smith ’12

Conventions come and go. San Antonians barely notice their arrivals and departures. But professional artisans are getting a head start to ensure we remember the Concrete Decor Show, February 20-24.

This past week, they have been working with students to transform bare concrete around the entrance of SAY Si into a major display of the artistic side of the craft. A “river” will soon spill out of the building and over the entry ramp:

From the double-glass doors of the entrance, a micro-topping in vivid tones of blues and greens will progress down the sidewalk and descend a vertical wall to terminate in the landscaping. A team of national trainers from Miracote and Butterfield Color, aided by local concrete contractors, will install an earth-toned stampable overlay and add pattern and texture adjacent to the river mural. SAY Si students will add the finishing touches. They will illustrate native flora and fauna along the faux river bank, and permanent inscriptions of words the students find inspiring will punctuate the surrounding areas.

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Concrete cosmetology – 5,000 square feet of it – will continue at SAY Si during the conference itself. According to the show coordinators:

Project teams, pairing industry experts with workshop participants, will create the ultimate makeovers of old, worn and unattractive concrete surfaces. Each area presents a building problem or unique challenge that the team will solve using products donated by leading architectural and decorative concrete manufacturers….

Inside SAY Si, workshop participants will apply a polyaspartic coating in the public gallery where the works of SAY Si students are exhibited. Old concrete floors in several studios where classes are held will be renovated. Two different techniques will be used: grinding and polishing an existing concrete slab and resurfacing another area with an innovative new polishable overlay technology. A special metallic epoxy coating will be applied on the floor in the Black Box theater….

Board member Susan Toomey Frost can barely contain her excitement over this major focus on a sometimes overlooked craft that is part of San Antonio’s heritage. Jon Hinojosa, artistic and executive director of SAY Si, is thrilled over the makeover because:

This project will not only showcase creative concrete master craftsmen, but allow our students to participate and learn a new art form.


SAY Si is a family connected through art.

S. Ramos ’11

Update on February 22, 2012:

In addition to the ongoing workshops dramatically changing the look of SAY Si, Thom Hunt and Mark Whitten are leading a workshop sculpting a realistic-looking Acrocanthosaurus dinosaur at Booth 1309 at the Concrete Décor Show at the Convention Center.

Members of RAT, or Rock Carvers, Artists and Themebuilders, built the basic form in advance of the workshop, during which participants learn how to sculpt the details and add texture. 

After the conference, Mikey, the 10 ½ foot tall dino measuring 29 feet from nose to tail, will be a gift destined to become a landmark on the south side of the Witte Museum adjacent to an entrance to Brackenridge Park.

Update on February 23, 2012:

Click here to see a slideshow of SAY Si’s new waterfall fountain and flooring and the birthing of the dino, actually named Tally, destined for the Witte.

‘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.