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Artful New Stretch Of San Pedro Creek Culture Park Underway

courtesy The San Antonio River Authority
The murals will go on those prominent places at right

The San Pedro Creek Culture Park is a 2.2-mile linear park and is being transformed from a mix of concrete drainage ditch and creek into something that will tell a slice of the city’s history — and in an artful way. Now with the awarding of a project on a small section of it to a pair of local artists, a new landmark has begun to be created.

San Pedro Creek Culture Park Public Art Curator Carrie Brown said the long-range vision is a transformative one.

Maru Castro
Lionel and Kathy Sosa at work in Mexico

“It is primarily a flood control project. But the county in the city and the river authority together had a vision to create a destination and a culture park,” Brown said. “So you're not just coming to see lovely waters of the creek. You're also coming to see artwork and enhance design features and come for an event or program.”

The Culture Park has four phases, and this particular one-block stretch is still in Phase 1, running between Commerce and Dolorosa Streets. Brown said Artists were chosen this month to create an installation there to illustrate the history of San Pedro Creek.

Sosa_Panel 1_draft.jpg
courtesy the artists
Panel 1, Foundation

“They came with a great group of artists and historians and cultural planners, as well as installers and fabricators. We felt their team was really, really well rounded and best suited for the project,” she said.

Kathy Sosa is one of those artists, and she feels the weight of the necessity of getting it right on her shoulders

“It is an awesome responsibility. And we considered that as we put together our team to go for the project,” she said.

Artists Kathy and Lionel Sosa had the winning concept, but she is quick to praise the team who helped them with understanding the history of that creek.

“That team included John Phillip Santos, Ellen Riojas Clark, Carrie Latimore, Jennifer Speed,” she said. “We have true confidence in their ability to get the story right.”

That story is compressed into five separate murals, 26 feet wide by 12 feet high, each representing a specific period of creek history.

Sosa_Panel 5_draft.jpg
courtesy the artists
Restoration panel

“First of all, the Foundation — Fundación. That is pre-conquest San Pedro Creek, where Coahuiltec Indians lived in a very lush, almost tropical environment,” she said. “The second phase is conquest and after which was the time of immigration and confrontation, and that lasted for centuries.”

The next era was what she called a period of Separación — of Separation — where the creek wasn’t just a creek.

“The creek has really become a demarcation line between the West Side or the Hispanic part of San Antonio, Bexar County and the rest of the city, and inequality,” she said.

The fourth period represented is the one where previous efforts at flood control left the creek boxed in as a drainage ditch.

“This is where we have the giant destructive floods. She — meaning the creek — rises up over her banks in the force of destruction that wipes out so much of the built environment and so many of the people and families,” Sosa said.

The final mural represents both the present and the future of San Pedro Creek.

Sosa_Panel 4_draft.jpg
courtesy the artists
Inundation panel

“The creek is being brought back to a natural state that everyone can enjoy, lets her meander, as she has done, and filled it with natural plants and with art,” she said.

Those are the five murals. They tell the complicated stories of each by employing a cultural icon that’s used in many different cultures, called The Tree of Life.

“You can use a Tree of Life form to tell almost any story. So what happens is there is a human figure at the bottom and the tree of life combined with that, that some people see as a headdress. Some people see as a halo. Some people see as a thought bubble,” she said.

That “thought bubble” behind the figure contains many different elements — all are aspects to the story needing to be told. Artist Lionel Sosa said another way these stories will be told is through technology.

“We were able to have a feature on this where you can actually click your phone pointed to the person featured on the portrait and the portrait comes to life and starts talking to you, telling you a bit of that phase of the story,” he said.

Sosa_Panel 2_draft.jpg
courtesy the artists
Immigration panel

As to the actual painting of the murals, Kathy said it’s already begun. But not in San Antonio.

“We moved our studio to Mexico for the whole summer. We went ahead and brought enormous canvases and enormous stretchers and all our paints and several easels and everything,” she said.

Yes, they’re painting all summer, but no — the murals on San Pedro Creek won’t end up as paint.

“They will start out as paintings, which we're doing between one-third and one-half scale,” she said. “And then the paintings will be captured. And then the captures will be sent to the fabricator of tile.”

Painted, photographed, then transferred to tiles, which will be fired, ensuring the tile images will last decades longer than painted murals might have. Lionel Sosa said their timeline is a quick one.

“Everything will be installed and up for the public to view in mid-March, possibly late March,” he said.

One of the installation’s stipulations is that the project needs to be able to withstand occasional flooding. Kathy Sosa said that with the mural printed to fired tiles, that won’t be a problem.

“Water isn't going to damage it. It's going to last a lot longer than Lionel and I will,” she said.

Jack Morgan can be reached at jack@tpr.org and on Twitter at @JackMorganii