By Sharon Stewart
San Antonio is the home of the Alamo, where in 1836, 183 people fought to the death for Texas independence against 5,000 of Santa Ana's Mexican forces. Forty-six days later, Texas became a nation and remained one for nearly a decade. In 1968. 122 years after the battle of the Alamo, the same city hosted the world in a celebration of creative unity, the HemisFair. Such are the influences and paradoxes of this proud, embracing bicultural city that is also Ihe tenth most populous city in ihe United States.
There is something quite compelling developing on a beautiful estate at 6000 N, New Braunfels, home of the McNay Art Institute and [he San Antonio Art Institute (SAAI). For years a community art facility, SAAI is a school in the state of becoming: becoming the first independent college of art in the Southwest. It will be an institution dedicated to change, a state that will be perpetuated by the plans of Director George Parino, the SAAI Trustees, and architect Charles Moore. When Parrino surveyed art school publics as to the ideal art curriculum, two seemingly divergent replies were consistently given: teach the basics and teach the language of emerging technologies and concepts.
Photography is central to the scheme at the SAAI. with facilities planned for filmmaking, sound generation, video, computer graphics, and still image production. But photography won't be holed away with its own mysterious discipline of chemicals and equipment. Believing the artists to be thinking, philosophical creatures, Parrino and Dean Howard Smagula are planning a program of coursework based on the concept of process. All media will be taught the first two years to give students the expressive language for innovation and conceptualization through the process of planning, making, evaluating, and presenting during their last two years of study. There will also be the injection of reality with two semesters of professional practice. The program will begin in the fall of 1986 if construction of the $8 million facility and recruitment of faculty and students dovetail.
SAAI has exhibited photographs in its present gallery. This spring Constructions/Photographs featured the work of Texas photographers Alain Clement, Manual, Steve Dennie, Nic Nicosia, and Neil Maurer. Both photographs and constructions used in the photographs were shown to give an indication of the artists' working methods. Neil Maurer is head of the photo program at the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA). The core of photographic courses he teaches is augmented by method specialists and photo-historians brought in to instruct the BFA and MFA students. The campus, far out 1-10 West, has a gallery for exhibiting student work and outside work such as The recent exhibition of a local photo collector's holdings.
There are two other galleries in town exhibiting photography. Anne Alexander, owner of the Charleston Gallery at 308 N, Presa on the Riverwalk has consistently shown photographs in her six years of operation and is always interested in seeing new work. UTSA graduate Kathy Vargas is currently sharing an exhibition with members of an Italian photo cooperative. At Objects Gallery, 4010 Broadway across from the Witte, Caroline Lee shows artists who push the edge of their craft, be it photography, ceramics, fabrics, or papermaking. So it was with the photographs I viewed ranging from painted and constructed images to palladium, color, and black and white prints by Texas photographers.
San Antonio photographers have shown their work at the Bank of San Antonio at One Romano Plaza. A bank show you say. Many who have participated in and certainly those who organize the shows view the bank as an alternative space for exhibiting work without the pressure of sales. Margaret Larcade has placed the work of respected San Antonio artists of all disciplines since the initiation of the San Antonio Artist Series in 1979.
In light of this issue's coverage of photographic collections it is significant to mention the four historical archives which canonize centuries of Texas living.
One of these is housed at the Institute of Texan Cultures on the grounds of the HemisFair. 801 South Bowie. First the Texas Pavilion during the Fair, it became the Institute by legislative mandate which placed it in the hands of the University of Texas System, deeming it a research facility and communications center for the study of Texas history, folklore, and culture.
The strength of the Institute's collection begins with images taken during 1924-1939 by San Antonio Light news photographers. This collection was donated by The Hearst Foundation and from it the Institute produced a 1.600-imagc presentation highlighting life in San Antonio in The 1920s and 1930s for visitors to view. Augmenting the collection are copy negatives from private family and town museum collections across the state.
The Institute is currently exhibiting 42 photographs depicting the life of the ranch cowboy during the last decades of the Texas cattle kingdom from the Rector Archives of the Humanities Research Center of The University of Texas Austin, Ray Rector made these images in the early 1900s. The panoramic photographs of long-time San Antonio and world photographer, E. O. Goldbeck will be exhibited in 1985 at the Institute. Staff member John L. Davis authored San Antonio: An Historical Portrait, a short pictorial history and popular narrative published during the HemisFair. Davis drew from the Light Collection and other photo archives including the Texas Research Library that is maintained by The Daughters of the Republic of Texas.
A component of the Alamo compound, the library houses books, documents, maps, periodicals and photographs pertaining to Texas history, particularly the era of the Texas Republic. Many families and individual collectors have donated photographs to the library, most notably early San Antonio architect M. J. Diehlman, Sr., and Edward Grandjean, a local camera store employee who. it is rumored, found a treasure of photos in a trash bin.
San Antonio and regional Texas life arc also documented in the photo archives of the San Antonio Conservation Society, 107 King William. Photographs of San Antonio landmarks. Conservation Society properties, and documentation of current renovations are also included. The Society is quite proud of its collection of 300 glass plates Taken by early 20th century photographer Ernst Raba thai were donated by the Express News Corporation, the publisher of San Antonio's other newspaper.
It was lantern slides from the San Antonio Museum Association's (SAMA) photo collection that Witte Museum Senior Curator Cecelia Steinfeldt used to illustrate another historical survey, San Antonio Was. This 30.000-image collection is a component of a larger collection of 500,000 items including paintings, sculpture, and scientific and historical artifacts, SAMA owns and jointly shares this collection with the Museum of Transportation, Witte Museum, and San Antonio Museum of Art.
Until three years ago — when the San Antonio Museum of Art opened in the magnificently refurbished Lone Star Brewery at 200 West Jones — the Witte was the city's fine arts museum. Its focus is now history and natural history allowing the new museum the fine and decorative arts berth. With new director John Mahee only months at his job and a national search for a curator of contemporary art underway, photographic planning and activity is uncertain
save the September 9 opening of Mexico: The Revolutionary Era. This exhibition of landscape and war photos of Hugo Brehme and Augustin Casasola is drawn from the permanent collection as was a recent Walker Evans show. Sources for exhibitions arc a balanced drawing from the collection. Traveling shows and work of local photographers. The 1983 Contemporary Work Series included the work of local photographers Jessie Mary Garza, Steve Sellars, and Neil Maurer. In the past, these exhibitions were hung in the Photography Gallery of the museum, but this spring other media were placed in the space making it an all purpose gallery.