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By chance, an alliterative string of “c”-words rolled off the tongue of artist Rudy Marco Herrera, while describing the content of his new Fredericksburg Road mural design: coins, corn, cannons, Cool Crest, caduceus, Cuauhtinchan.
But the most important word for the mural project, led by The Bubble Bath Car Wash and San Anto Cultural Arts, is community.
“Our mission is to foster human and community development, and community-based arts … which is the reason we’re here today,” said Ben Tremillo, executive director of San Anto Cultural Arts, during a presentation of the mural’s final design at a Dec. 4 community meeting.
The meeting was the last of four weekly meetings at the Wonderland Mall of the Americas, inviting Fredericksburg Road-area community members to contribute ideas for the mural, then to assess what Herrera and his team of artists, including Jason Eric Gonzáles Martínez and Doroteo Albert Garza, came up with.
“We had an influx of images, ideas, words … we had a wellspring of ideas that we could pluck from,” Tremillo said, including key references to the early history of Fredericksburg Road, which evolved from the Old Spanish Trail, an ancient route leading from Mexico City into the northern reaches of New Spain.
A longtime community arts supporter, Bubble Bath founder Larry Lopez realized the 120-foot wall of the new car wash tunnel provided the perfect spot for a mural. The wall became “the canvas for these artists to try to capture the rich history of this street, that probably just started as an animal trail, then was picked up by the natives, the Indians, then the Franciscans, then became the cattle trails. All the commerce that has grown here has grown in response to the needs of the travelers,” he said, including his own business.
Lopez attended the meeting and approved of the mural’s final design for his car wash, located at 3934 Fredericksburg Rd. Before the meeting, Lopez said he appreciates that commercial interests and art can both be focused on improving the life of the community.
“Art is really important to balance our lives, with not just our needs but our aesthetic desires,” Lopez said.
His son Nicholas Lopez, Bubble Bath director of operations, concurred. “It also helps us breathe in our souls, the depths of who we are. … What we do is business in the sense that it serves a purpose, and this [mural] serves a need,” he said.
The history of the Fredericksburg Road corridor focused community input for the mural’s content. Larry Lopez brought in his cousin, noted writer and scholar John Philip Santos, to the first meeting in November to talk about the Old Spanish Trail, which eventually became the present-day, well-trafficked Fredericksburg Road.
The long history of the trail also parallels the Lopez family history in San Antonio, which goes back 11 generations, according to Lopez, who learned the information from a third cousin. They were an immigrant family, he said, citing the earliest known ancestor’s surname as “Engel,” a woman from England.
The 16th-century Map of Cuauhtinchan No. 2, an ancient drawing by indigenous peoples depicting the early route from Cholula near Mexico City to Chicomoztoc near the Rio Grande, provided another main source of inspiration for the muralists to begin their work.
Herrera recognized how snake-like the Old Spanish Trail appeared on the ancient map. Given that animal’s relationship to the founding of Tenochtitlan, the Aztec capital that evolved into Mexico City, the snake seemed appropriate as a symbol to tie other visual elements together along the long mural wall.
“The on-ramp [of the Old Spanish Trail] was in Mexico City and Tenochtitlan, where it starts,” Herrera said.
Tremillo said the success of the mural project, and others like it, ultimately depends on community input. About 50 community members in total attended the meetings to share thoughts and ideas that were worked through by Herrera and his team. The design was ultimately approved at the Dec. 4 meeting, following some questions about the meaning of various symbols, and some mild joshing of Lopez about his earlier idea to include a “robo-snake” to represent the future.
Herrera said as an artist, it’s his job to work with community ideas. His solution for Lopez’s idea became a diagram of a Ferrari transmission, which combined the technical notion of the futuristic snake with the automotive focus of the business.
Though complete consensus is difficult to achieve on any mural project, Tremillo said, this process came as close as he’s seen.
“I think we try to get as close as we can to the heart and spirit of what was said over the course of the meetings, and the artists are really good at putting aside their own personal vision and taking in what they hear from the community,” he said.
The community will also be able to have a hand in the actual painting of the mural, Tremillo said, by seeking volunteer painters to help the artists. Such participation has been a tradition for San Anto Cultural Arts mural projects throughout its existence.
“We want adults, youth, kids to participate in this, so paint is a good way to do that,” he said. “Part of what we do is carry over the culture of muralism, actual painting, touching the wall with a brush, having the artists understand and feel that, and people can participate too.”
Contact the organization here to volunteer. No experience is necessary, Tremillo assured, but evening work is required, as the artists paint from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. each day, after closing hours.
Herrera, Martínez, and Garza will begin work on the mural at the car wash on Monday, Dec. 10, and work through February, weather permitting. A public unveiling of the mural is scheduled for March 9.