San Antonio’s legendary art Hemisfair is getting some overdue TLC

It is one of the largest pieces of public art in San Antonio and a window into a very important event in Texas history. And now the huge mural above the Lila Cockrell Theater is finally getting some TLC.

This mural is far enough from Market Street, tucked behind the Grand Hyatt Hotel, that the best way to see it is by riding the River Walk barge tour.

This 130-foot-long mural isn’t just another piece of public art. Author and historian Susan Toomey Frost says it’s one of a kind.

A Merging of Civilizations mural by Juan O’Gorman

“I consider this to be the most important piece of public art that we have in all of Texas and certainly in South Texas,” she said.

Despite its enormous size and artistic importance, there are probably many of us who don’t know much about it. Not Guillermo Moya’s city of San Antonio.

“It was part of the 1968 World’s Fair, or Hemisfair as we knew it here in San Antonio,” Moya said.

The mural was designed by artist and architect Juan O’Gorman, who was good friends with Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera.

“O’Gorman did the mural in ’67 and they made all those pieces,” Moya said. “There are over 500 pieces that make up this entire mural. And they were all made in Mexico.


UTSA Special Collections and San Antonio Express-News


O’Gorman’s mural arrives by truck in San Antonio in 500 pieces

These parts were trucked from Guanajuato and arrived for assembly in October 1967 before Hemisfair opened the following April. Hemisfair had as a marketing slogan Merging of Civilizations, as O’Gorman named the mural. Frost says O’Gorman took the concept literally by depicting a fusion of civilizations.

“Like the right side is European, Greek, Roman civilization,” Frost said. “The left side, everything we draw from South America and Mexico. And in the middle – it’s like San Antonio is the center of civilization, everything comes together here, with the astronaut and the cowboy and things that are very Texan. “

Unlike most murals, Moya said there is no paint in this one.

“These are solid elements. They are stones. These stones were from O’Gorman’s hometown of Guanajuato.

There are 12 colors of stone that make up the mural, 11 from Guanajuato and one they had to import from Italy. But now, after 55 summers of direct western sun, it was decided it was time for a renovation and cleanup. The city’s Richard Oliver said that all things considered, it was well maintained.

“For this mural to look as good as it does now and only lose a few tiles in all these years says something about how wonderfully it was put together, obviously because the conditions, as we all know, in South Texas are harsh” , he said.

Matching stones 55 years after the fact is no small matter.

“The actual repair of the mural is in the area of ​​arts and culture,” Oliver said. “They looked for the missing tiles matching the colors. I mean, it’s a complicated process.

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fine detail from A Confluence of Civilizations

Department of Arts and Culture Director Crystal Jones says the murals are made up of around 500 panels and each panel has hundreds of colored pebbles.

“There are so many pieces of rock, about 400,000 pieces up there. And if you’re looking from the Riverwalk level, it looks very intact,” Jones said. “These rocks are so small, you wouldn’t be able to tell.”

Workers from Noble Texas Builders put up scaffolding to get a better look and found something disturbing.

“That’s when we realized about 100 rocks were missing. And then our team really got to work engaging and finding rocks to match the originals,” she said.

They have found matching stones from Texas and around the US. As for exactly how many rocks they had to shift, Nobel Prize leader Sergio Grosso had plenty to say.

“It’s broken up into a grid of, say, two-and-a-half by two-and-a-half squares, and on each one, there were probably a total of five to 10 stones to replace,” Grosso said.

The Lila Cockrell Theater and the mural were built to welcome international visitors to the San Antonio World’s Fair, and Grosso said it was a fusion of civilizations The theme was clever and upbeat.

“The story that the mural tells about San Antonio, the intent of the art, I think it becomes more interesting as I learn more about the mural,” he said.

Asked if he felt Juan O’Gorman was looking over his shoulder, he laughed.

“I hope so. And I hope he’s happy with what we’ve done,” he said. “We try to be very respectful of the work we’ve done. I feel really honored to be a part of it.”

Jones said they are almost done with the cleanup and soon you will be able to see the mural repaired and intact.

“The whole scaffolding will fall. It will be a pure O’Gorman mural,” Jones said. “And for all of us to enjoy for generations to come.”

A very good view of the mural is directly across the river, standing next to Carlos Mérida’s Hemisfair-era glass tile mural, also titled Merging of Civilizations.


Carlos Merida’s Confluence of Civilizations directly across the river from O’Gorman’s mural

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