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At airports, time is of the essence. Most visitors are either in a mad rush to get through to flights or stuck in seemingly endless delays. People in waiting mode slump in chairs, dozing or staring at screens, ignoring the bustling din around them as others rush past.
These conditions were in evidence Tuesday afternoon as Matt Evans, arts and culture manager for the San Antonio International Airport, announced a new three-part Black History Month exhibition to a small crowd of interested parties and media representatives.
Wild was joined for the gala announcement by featured artists Kaldric Dow, Sarah Brooke Lyons, and Everett Fly, along with Councilwoman Jada Andrews-Sullivan (D2) and La Juana Chambers Lawson, president and board chair of the nonprofit San Antonio African American Community Archive and Museum (SAAACAM), an exhibition co-sponsor.
Wild sounded hopeful in announcing the exhibition. Of passengers passing through the airport, he said, “as they’re coming in, it should be like a welcome. And as they’re leaving, it should be a lasting postcard, so they can take that with them and remember when their time was like here, and hopefully encourage them to come back.”
The small exhibition features six paintings on fabric by Dow, a series of 1,005 portrait photographs by Lyons, and 13 placards presenting research on African American cattle brands by Fly.
Dow’s portraits hang in the hallway leading to Terminal B, presenting faces of family and friends, and incorporating printed and textured fabrics to create base skin tones. Dow described his artistic mission as “representation” of brown skin in the dignified fashion of traditional portraiture.
Dow said he hoped his conceptual strategy would eventually land his work in art museums, and Wild announced to the crowd that the airport was akin to a large art museum drawing millions of visitors per year, with 10.3 million passengers embarking and disembarking at airport over the past 12 months.
Fly’s relatively small, subtly hued placards are dispersed throughout the sprawling Terminal B baggage claim area, between advertising and announcement signs. They chart examples of 19th-century cattle brands registered in Bexar County to African American ranchers and land holders. Several members of the audience on Tuesday wore baseball caps with embroidered brands, which Fly, a landscape architect and noted local historian, sells in part to raise funds for SAAACAM.
In introducing his project, Fly said, “My granddad was actually a cowboy. A lot of people don’t know that,” and told of working alongside his elder on the family’s Nacogdoches County ranch.
Of the chance to show the history of the cattle brands to airport visitors, Fly said, “This is an excellent opportunity for us to expose this [story] and show our visitors as well as our residents what we’re about.”
Wearing the brand baseball caps, he said, is a way of “celebrating our collective history, not just black history but San Antonio history, Bexar County history, and Texas history.”
The 13 brand examples are among 75 Fly has unearthed so far during his four years of research. Fly acknowledged audience member Melanie Brooks, a descendent of Jane Warren, one of four female brand holders registered before 1930 and a former slave.
Brooks said she also was descended from Bob Winters, another historical brand owner, and Ellis Griffin, a ranch owner, though the family eventually sold their ranch land to make way for the airport.
Of having the family history displayed in the terminal, Brooks said, “It’s surreal. It’s overwhelming. It’s humbling, and it’s amazing that our legacy is being established like this for us.”
The third part of the exhibition is inside Terminal A, visible to travelers who pass through security. The 1,005 Faces project of Sarah Brooke Lyons lines one wall, compiling multiple portraits each on poster-size placards hanging between pillars.
Lyons said when she initially conceived of the project in 2013 for Dream Week, she actually had hopes that it might one day be on display in the airport. Her hope was to give travelers a glimpse into the diversity and personalities of San Antonio. “It’s such a beautiful city, we really have so many different things going on,” she said. “And sometimes it can be hard to connect all of those things. … This project was intended to do that.”
The exhibition will be on display through March. The works in Terminal B are accessible to members of the public, and Terminal A’s portion of the exhibition is accessible only to ticketed passengers.