Torch of Friendship to Get a Bright New Coat of Paint

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Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

Tourists walk by the Torch of Friendship sculpture at the roundabout at Commerce and Losoya streets downtown.

Once derided, the 65-foot-tall enameled iron sculpture La Antorcha de la Amistad (Torch of Friendship) has become a San Antonio icon. When it was dedicated in June 2002, La Antorcha was a bright, glossy shade of red-orange, but weathering has caused the statue to fade to a dull, pale reddish hue.

Starting June 10, the sculpture will receive a new coat of paint, in anticipation of a citywide retrospective honoring its maker, Mexican artist Sebastián.

“It’s been the symbol of our city,” said Debbie Racca-Sittre, executive director of the Department of Arts and Culture. “When you watch the Spurs games on TV, you see the Torch, and we want it to shine.”

The sculpture was originally commissioned by the Asociación de Empresarios Mexicanos and given to San Antonio as a gift from the Mexico City Government. According to the Department of Arts and Culture website, the doubled looping form of the sculpture “represents two cultures, two languages and two roads merging into one.”

Scaffolding will be installed beginning Monday, according to Carol Schlesinger, assistant communications and marketing manager. The work will result in lane closures, affecting traffic around the perimeter of the roundabout that functions as the sculpture’s base.

One lane of Losoya Street, the left turn lane onto South Alamo Street from Market Street, and a number of parking spaces on Market Street will be affected. The work is expected to last through July 3.

The actual repainting will begin two weeks after the scaffolding is erected, Schlesinger said, with an official ceremony to commemorate the sculpture’s restoration. Sebastián will be present for the ceremony, which will be held June 19 or 20, and he will administer the first paint stroke, said Racca-Sittre.

In addition to the restoration of La Antorcha, the department also worked with the artist to mount a citywide retrospective chronicling 50 years of Sebastián’s art, which will take place October through May, with more than 100 works of art in 20 or more locations throughout San Antonio.

“The artist loves San Antonio,” Racca-Sittre said, noting Sebastián maintains a home and warehouse in San Antonio in addition to a residence in Mexico City.

An interior exhibition of sculptures will take place at the Mexican Cultural Institute, an important partner for the project, Racca-Sittre said. The institute already hosts another iconic Sebastián sculpture his cobalt-blue Unamita which has stood in Hemisfair between the UNAM building and the institute since 2004.

Plaza de Armas will host a second indoor exhibition, including works on paper, and UTSA also is confirmed as a partner and artwork host. Other locations and details on the retrospective exhibition will be announced at the Arts, Culture and Heritage Committee meeting on June 18, Racca-Sittre said.

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