The legendary Hemisphere in San Antonio art gets some overdue TLC

It’s one of San Antonio’s largest pieces of public art, and it’s a window into a very important event in Texas history. And now the giant mural above the Leela Cockerell Theater is finally getting some TLC.

That mural is so far off Market Street, tucked behind the Grand Hyatt Hotel that the best way to see it is on a 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.

Confluence of Civilizations Mural by Juan O’Gorman

“I consider it the most important public art in all of Texas and certainly in South Texas,” she said.

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

“It was part of the 1968 World’s Fair, or Hemisphere as we know 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 did all these pieces,” Moya said. “There are over 500 pieces that make up this whole mural. And they were all made in Mexico.

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UTSA Special Collections and the San Antonio Express-News

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

The pieces were trucked in from Guanajuato and arrived for assembly in October ’67 before opening Hemisphere the following April. Hemisfair was a marketing slogan A Confluence of Civilizations, which O’Gorman named Mural. Frost says O’Gorman took the concept literally, by drawing A Confluence of Civilizations.

“The right side with European, Greek, Roman civilization,” Frost said. “On the left side, everything we pull from South America and Mexico. And in the middle — like San Antonio was at the center of civilization, it all comes together here, astronauts and cowboys, and things that are very Texas.”

Unlike many murals, Moya said there is no paint on this one.

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

There are 12 colored stones that make up the mural, 11 from Guanajuato, and one they had to import from Italy. But now, after 55 direct western sun summers, it was decided it was time for repairs and cleaning. Richard Oliver of the town said that given all this, it is well kept.

“That mural, as good as it is now and with only a few tiles missing over the years, says something about how amazingly it was put together, obviously, because the conditions, as we all know, in South Texas are harsh,” he said. .

Fixing the stone after 55 years is no small matter.

“The real maintenance of graffiti is under arts and culture,” Oliver said. “They’re looking for missing tiles, matching colors. I mean, it’s a complicated process.”

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A good description from The Confluence of Civilizations

According to Crystal Jones, director of the Department of Arts and Culture, there are about 500 panels to make up the mural, and each panel contains hundreds of colored stones.

“There are a lot of pieces of rock, about 400,000 pieces there. And if you’re looking at it from the Riverwalk level, it looks pretty intact,” Jones said. “Those rocks are so small you can’t tell.”

Workers at Noble Texas Builders put up scaffolding to get a better look, and discovered something uncomfortable.

“That’s when we realized that there were about 100 rocks missing. And that’s when our team started working on really attractive and sourcing rocks that match the original,” she said.

They have found matching stones from Texas and around the US. As for how many rocks they had to replace, Nobel Foreman Sergio Grosso said as much.

“It’s divided into grids of, say, two-and-a-half squares and in each where they had a total of five to 10 rocks to replace,” Grosso said.

The Lilla Cockerell Theater and mural were built to welcome international visitors to San Antonio’s World’s Fair, and Grosso said it A Confluence of Civilizations The subject was smart and optimistic.

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

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

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

Jones said they’re almost done with the cleanup, and soon you’ll be able to see the walls repaired and pristine.

“All the scaffolding will come down. It will be a neat O’Gorman mural,” Jones said. “And for all of us to enjoy for generations to come.”

A very good view of the mural is standing right next to the river in Carlos Mérida’s Glass Hemisphere era tile mural. A Confluence of Civilizations.

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A confluence of civilizations straight across the river from Carlos Merida’s O’Gorman’s mural

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