Spanish Tradition Comes to Pearl in Gigante Form

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A group of artists work together to form a large paper mâché head.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

A group of artists work together to form a papier-mâché head.

San Antonians will have the chance to partake in a revered Catalonian tradition this Saturday, June 30, for the Spanish-themed Olé “Summer of Spain” festival at the Pearl.

Led by cabezudos (giant, papier-mâché heads), gigantes (12-foot-tall iconic figures), and mask-wearing children, a festive Cabezudos Parade will take off from the Pearl Farmers Market at 10 a.m. for a stroll through the grounds of the former brewery.

The parade is open to all, and ends with a free 11:30 a.m. performance by Volcán, a South Texas-based indie-Latin orchestra that has shared the stage with such notable musicians as Tito Puente and Flaco Jimenez.

The cabezudos tradition dates back hundreds of years in villages throughout Spain, said Spanish artists David Ventura and Neus Hosta, who traveled from their hometown of Navata for a two-week residency at the Southwest School of Art to teach public workshops on making cabezudos.

A dozen workshop participants, ranging in age from 16 to 74, attended each day for two weeks in mid-June to work through the process for making the giant heads.

What was once a religious tradition has become a popular, secular tradition, Ventura said, and has only grown in recent decades. “Over there in Spain it’s such a normal thing,” but he will enjoy the relative novelty of seeing big heads walking around San Antonio, he said through translator and workshop participant Maria Monsivais.

Joann Diaz read about the workshop in the La Voz de Esperanza news journal, and invited her friend Diane Zavala-Argo, who invited her mother. All had experience with crafts projects at their senior center, but appreciated the special opportunity to work directly with artists from Spain.

“I’ve seen [cabezudos] everywhere,” Diaz said, in parades, in festivals in Mexico, and in San Antonio Dia de los Muertos parades, but she had never made one until now.

Visiting Spanish artist David Ventura works with Joanne Diaz on her project.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

Visiting Spanish artist David Ventura works with Joann Diaz on her project.

Cabezudos and gigantes are meant to represent iconic cultural figures and “could visually tell the history of the [Catalan] region without words,” according to author Bertrán Pasqual, writing on the work of Ventura and Hosta, and the tradition in general.

For the Pearl parade's cabezudos, the “occupations, legends, symbols, and identity” of San Antonio and South Texas are captured in icons particular to the region: a Franciscan friar, a Native American woman, and a cowboy based on a caricature of John Wayne.

The two gigantes will be David Robinson, the 7-foot-1 San Antonio Spurs center who helped transform the franchise into an NBA championship team, and Lydia Mendoza, the famed Tejano music pioneer of the 1930s.

The Robinson and Mendoza costumes, complete with giant papier-mâché basketball and guitar, were designed by Christine King, a retired art conservator and set designer for local theater. Women from the Fuerza Unida Sewing Collective helped make the costumes, and professional dancers from the Guadalupe Dance Company will animate the figures during the parade.

King was true to her research, mimicking an actual Mendoza guitar. “Oh my God, she couldn’t give me a break – she played 12-string,” King said, pointing out the double rows of tuning pegs on the guitar’s headstock.

San Antonio author Sherry Kafka Wagner, who coordinated the project for the Pearl and Southwest School, worked with youth arts group SAY Sí and the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center to hold afternoon workshops for kids.

Ventura and Hosta helped the group of 20 kids design and make their own clay masks and hand puppets to wear in the parade.

“The wonderful thing I love about this project” is creative collaboration, Wagner said, “because what everybody does is indispensable.”

Sherry Kafka Wagner holds up casts of mask sculptures made by children.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

Sherry Kafka Wagner holds up a cast of a mask sculpture made by a child.

Ventura said he hopes the cabezudos y gigantes tradition will take hold and become a regular feature of San Antonio celebrations, even beyond Dia de los Muertos. “I think it’s possible, because the technique for making them is being taught in the class, then the imagination from the people will take over,” he said.

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