Courtesy / Jeff Swartz
Though not the loudest voice in the room, Arnold “Pic” Swartz made decisions that helped guide San Antonio from artistic mediocrity to new horizons of cultural sophistication.
As director of cultural affairs for HemisFair '68, he brought to San Antonio art exhibitions that at the time seemed unthinkably cosmopolitan. He also arranged for the Bolshoi Ballet's first performance in Texas. Robert L.B. Tobin, whose endowment was a major underwriter of the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts, took notice and hired the young man. Swartz served as vice chairman of Tobin Aerial Surveys, a mapping company, and became president and managing trustee of the Tobin Foundation for Theatre Arts after Tobin Surveys was sold in 1998. Swartz retired in his 70s.
“Pic was a Renaissance man for San Antonio,” friend and writer Jan Jarboe Russell said. “He knew about politics, children, community, the arts, many things.”
His daughter Mimi Swartz, of Houston, added, “That generation [in the 1960s and '70s] really changed the arts in San Antonio.”
Swartz died on Friday at age 90 in Houston, where he lived with Mimi, an executive editor of Texas Monthly magazine, and her husband, John Wilburn.
The return to clear weather in San Antonio seemed to reflect Houston Rabbi Amy Weiss' eulogy at a Monday service. She observed that Swartz’s eyes would brighten a room and make each person feel his authentic caring.
"He was a champion of, well, everyone," she said. "Each of us was on the receiving end of his interest."
Born in Baltimore on June 28, 1927, Swartz grew up in his family's clothing factory, which crafted suits for senators and congressmen, and served in the Navy at the end of World War II. Two of his greatest joys were his Welsh corgi dogs and being an alumnus of the University of Virginia. He was buried in his UVA sweatshirt, cradling an urn holding the ashes of Wesley, a favorite corgi.
About 70 people gathered under a tent at the Temple Beth-El Cemetery to celebrate Swartz’s life, many of them leaders in San Antonio’s arts and civic sectors: Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff, Opera San Antonio founder Mel Weingart, San Antonio Arts Foundation co-founder Patricia Pratchett, journalists Rick Casey and Jeff Cohen, former editor of the Houston Chronicle, and longtime former curator of the Tobin Collection of Theatre Arts at the McNay Art Museum, Linda Hardberger.
“Pic helped Robert [Tobin] buy art because he got out more,” Hardberger said at a lunch reception at the home of Dr. Lewis "Lucky" Russell and his wife, Jan. “And he would clean up after Robert.”
Sometimes, the cleanup was literal.
Tobin Surveys executive John Harrison, who worked with Tobin and Swartz for 30 years, explained that Tobin enjoyed looking at his art and theater collection, which was stored in a warehouse before the McNay created a library to house it. After unpacking and viewing panels, paintings, sets, and props, Tobin – in his notoriously eccentric fashion – would leave it in disarray. Swartz and Hardberger would put it right and advise him on still more collections.
“Pic was his consigliere,” Harrison said.
“Pic was the good cop, telling Tobin he could buy something,” Hardberger explained. “And John was the bad cop, telling him he couldn’t.”
Through the Tobin Foundation, Swartz also was able to support many local arts organizations through grants and board service. One was URBAN-15, whose co-founder and director of music and media George Cisneros attended the funeral. And he also encouraged at least one business.
Francois Maeder, who has owned Crumpets Restaurant since 1983, said Swartz, a friend and frequent takeout diner, advised him to move the restaurant from Alamo Heights to a Lake/Flato-designed restaurant building on Tobin Estate property facing Harry Wurzbach Road. Though other restaurants had languished and died there, Maeder bought the property in 1997, and Crumpets is still thriving.
Swartz and his wife, artist and jewelry designer Marie Swartz, collected art of their own, supporting local artists such as César Martínez and photographer Kent Rush. They also collected pre-Columbian folk art and prints by well-known artists represented in the 1950s and ‘60s by the influential Stable Gallery in New York, owned by Pic Swartz’s cousin, Eleanor Ward.
After Marie Swartz died in 2009, Pic and his beloved corgis moved to a high-rise condominium building in Alamo Heights. In the stairwell, his corgis and dogs owned by longtime friend Patricia Goldberg became acquainted and led their owners to a happy late-in-life companionship.
The mix of friends, family, admirers, and previous cohorts at Tobin Surveys at the burial and luncheon reflected on Swartz’s approach to life.
"'Your father loved everybody,’ my mother, who did not, would say,” Mimi Swartz said in her funeral eulogy. “But it was true. He was as happy having coffee on the Westside with Rubén Munguía at his print shop on Saturday morning as he was meeting with executives of the Metropolitan Opera in Manhattan. The only kind of people he didn’t love were unkind, pretentious or bigoted, or if they didn’t love dogs, which he considered the best indicator of behavior there is.”
Swartz was preceded in death by his wife, Marie; and parents, Elizabeth and Edward Swartz. He is survived by his daughter Mimi Swartz and son-in-law, John Wilburn; sons Jeff Swartz and daughter-in-law, Alison, and Edward Swartz and daughter-in-law, Nancy Hood; three grandchildren; and his sister, Elsa Rosenthal.