A Sunday afternoon gathering at Blue Star Contemporary Art Museum acknowledged and documented the adoption of the work of the late Chuck Ramirez as the latest inductee to the public art collection of H-E-B.
“We jumped at the opportunity to host this event,” said Mary Heathcott, executive director of the museum. “Chuck is a big part of the legacy and the spirit of Blue Star.”
The pieces on display will be a part of the permanent exhibition at H-E-B’s new South Flores Market in Southtown. At 12,000 sq. ft., it is the smallest in the grocer’s fleet but perhaps the most talked-about. Ramirez, a celebrated local contemporary artist, died in a cycling accident in November 2010. He was 48.
(Read more: Works by Chuck Ramirez to Adorn South Flores Market)
He worked for years as a graphics designer at the H-E-B Arsenal headquarters designing and photographing packaging for Hill Country Fare and other H-E-B manufactured products.
“When we open a new store, we are looking for ways to connect with the community. This location is particularly special because it represents the corporate headquarters,” said H-E-B Director of Governmental and Public Affairs Dya Campos. She said choosing Ramirez was not only a sound business decision, but also a decision of the heart.
“This is a great example of a corporation elevating art in San Antonio,” said Susan Oliver Heard, who owns Cinnabar, an art gallery in the Blue Star Arts Complex. Friends, family, and fans gathered to commemorate Ramirez and the new exhibit. The event was a who’s who of the local art scene.
“You must have lived a very good life to have so much love after five years gone,” said Norma Bodevin, a local arts supporter.
Jorge Elizondo, vice president of Customer Insight at H-E-B, was born in San Antonio, and educated at Yale and Stanford. This hometown boy understands what ticks.
“This is an opportunity to share art with the people of San Antonio,” Elizondo said. “This is the ultimate in accessibility. There is no fee. This is art that is accessible to everyone.”
His husband, Steve Trevino, serves on the Blue Star board of directors on behalf of H-E-B. They are a powerhouse and deeply immersed in the contemporary art community of San Antonio. They both worked with Ramirez when he was a graphic designer at H-E-B.
But that’s not where the idea for the Ramirez gallery in South Flores Market began. Campos tips her hat to the strength of serendipity for the inspiration.
“I met with the Walleys to discuss their documentary about Ramirez, ‘Tia Chuck,’ and this meeting prompted me to ask a lot of questions about Chuck internally,” Campos said.
“We knew we wanted to work with an artist for the opening, but we didn’t know who, and then the Walleys called to talk to us about Chuck’s work here and we knew immediately it would be a perfect fit for the South Flores Market,” Campos told the Rivard Report earlier this month.
Patricia Ruiz-Healy represents the estate of Chuck Ramirez. She represents all of her artists passionately, but this event was especially poignant for her. “I am very happy that this is happening because Chuck was a part of this community. To see him honored in this way is very humbling. Chuck would be thrilled with this collaboration with H-E-B.”
It’s been a busy year for the estate. As of September, Ramirez’s “Suitcase Portraits” can be found at the San Antonio International Airport.
H-E-B worked for months with City staff, neighbors, the King William Neighborhood Association, and other stakeholders to work out a deal that would allow its corporate headquarters on Arsenal Street to expand, closing off a section of South Main Avenue. The trade deal included H-E-B building the new market and street improvements including bike lanes, traffic lights, and sidewalks. In return, the City allowed H-E-B to close the street. After heated debates at neighborhood meetings and in City Council chambers, the deal was unanimously approved in December 2013.
Work has already begun on part of H-E-B’s $100 million master plan to expand its downtown headquarters by 27 acres and hire an additional 1,600 additional employees by 2030.
Some “Save Our Streets” signs can still be found in some King William yards, but as construction nears completion on the South Flores Market – set to open on Dec. 2, 2016 – neighbors seem more curious about what prices and options the store will offer rather than furious over the South Main Avenue closure.
*Top image: Photo prints by Chuck Ramirez will soon live in H-E-B’s South Flores Market. Photo by Page Graham.