For 17 years, La Virgen de Guadalupe Veladora has stood like a candle on a windowsill watching over the West Side, but age had worn and cracked its ceramic titles, once colorful but faded by the sun. Water seeping into the mortar had caused many of them to fall off.
After days of restoration using weatherproof ceramics, renowned local muralist Jesse Treviño reflected on his work.
“You go to Europe and you see the mosaics that have been there for centuries,” Treviño said. “That is the kind of stuff that I want to create. One hundred years from now people will think about me. I want to create pieces that last through lifetimes.”
From July 30 through Aug. 2, Treviño, who also created the Spirt of Healing on the side of Christus Santa Rosa Children’s Hospital, among other works, completed the first restoration of the mosaic since his original work was installed on the Guadalupe Theater façade 17 years ago.
The Avenida Guadalupe Association, a community development corporation, and The Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center collaborated to finance the project. Julio Menendez-Martinez, a mason with the Avenida group, assisted Treviño, and because the association didn’t have to use outside workers to cut and mortar the tiles, Gabriel Velasquez, Avenida executive director, estimated the project’s cost at $4,000.
Velasquez reached out to the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center and Treviño, who had already been looking to restore the mural. Velasquez said the mural should have been taken care of better by the City, which owns the property.
“Any major piece of City-owned public art is well worth the City having a line item [in its budget] for annual upkeep, which would be very inexpensive,” Velasquez said. “It has become such an icon of San Antonio. I am hopeful that we can convince the City to treat [the mosaic] much like The Torch of Friendship,” the 65-foot-tall abstract sculpture by Mexican sculptor Sebastián that overlooks the convergence of Lasoya and South Alamo streets downtown.
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The Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center supports Chicano, Latino, and Native American art. Cristina Ballí, executive director of the center, said the mural has become part of the identity of the people in the West Side.
“[The Virgin of Guadalupe] has deep meaning to Mexican-American people and Chicanos,” Ballí said. “It became a symbol of living in the face of oppression and resistance. As a cultural center that is named Guadalupe, the leadership of the center 17 years ago decided that the mural was worthy of investment.”
Treviño did change the mural a bit during the restoration. He restructured her face and chose vibrant brown tones for it and her hands. He said he wants his murals to become part of what defines San Antonio and said he has come to see the Guadalupe Theater mosaic as belonging to the people of the West Side.
“In the houses of this neighborhood, they have little candles like this on their windows, but this one is for the whole community,” Treviño said. “I chose this area to give something to the people here. They feel like it’s there. They don’t have to go across town to see it; it’s right in their neighborhood.”