Antonio E. Garcia, who escaped the Mexican Revolution as a teen, studied at the Art Institute of Chicago before settling in Corpus Christi. His murals and frescoes can be found throughout the area.
Santa Contreras Barraza has spent much of her art career exploring borderlands, the blending of two cultures into a new experience.
In a small building on the edge of Kingsville’s historic district, the Chicana artist now seeks to blend the past and the present with the opening of Barraza Fine Art gallery at 407 South 5th Street.
Santa Barraza opens Barraza Fine Art, Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020, in Kingsville. The “Spiritual Awakening” gallery includes work from 25 artists across the U.S. (Photo: Annie Rice/Caller-Times)
In her 35 years of teaching at Texas A&M University-Kingsville, she found that many of her students had little access to art in-person, and few traveled far from their small hometowns in South Texas.
“There is so much need in South Texas, for art.” Barraza shared. “A lot of my students had never even been to Austin, never out of South Texas and their ambition is to return home.”
She wanted her students to see the work of their contemporaries, how current artists worked, so she developed programs that took the students on fields trips around the country and to study-abroad programs in Mexico.
“How can we acculturate ourselves if we don’t have exposure to arts?” Barraza asked.
“Students need to see contemporary art in person. They need to see the process and technique. When you look at images on the internet, you don’t see the brush strokes, the thickness of the paint, you don’t see the materials they are using.”
So she decided to bring some of that contemporary art to her small spot in South Texas.
Barraza purchased her property in 2001 and has spent the last 20 years restoring the 1,200-square-foot building. The structure was built in the Folk Victorian style around the turn of the 20th century and according to her research, was likely built by Oliver and Ella Watson sometime around Kingsville’s establishment in 1904. Oliver Watson was a justice of the peace and Ella Watson ran a boarding house for the railway workers. The original boarding house, now restored, is next door to Barraza’s property, and the Watsons also built similar homes on 2nd Street in the city.
More: Tejano Talks No. 13: Mother Julia of Kingsville
The restoration has taken time and money. Since retiring from the university earlier in the year, she has finally been able to devote more effort to the building. While she was able to preserve some of the historical elements, like the original beadboard ceiling on the covered porch, some areas — particularly inside — were too deteriorated to save.
The house was built of concrete blocks made from sand from nearby Loyola Beach. The north side of the building was damaged by a hurricane, likely the 1919 storm, and had been replaced with siding. Barraza hired craftsmen from the Rio Grande Valley to restore the wall by casting a fiberglass mold of the existing bricks, matching the texture of the originals.
Barraza Fine Art opens with the “Spiritual Awakening” gallery, Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020, in Kingsville. The art gallery is located in Kingsville’s historic district. (Photo: Annie Rice/Caller-Times)
They also rebuilt the deteriorating porch columns. They created a mold of the original ionic columns and then incorporated their own influences into the reconstruction including adding eyes of Tlaloc, the Aztec rain god.
“They are so beautiful, I love them,” Barraza said, “because it’s a hybrid, a mestizo quality, the blend of the European with the indigenous.” In a 2014 Caller-Times interview, Barraza described the term nepantla, an Nahuatl word for the clashing of two cultures, an “in-between-ness.” The concept infuses much of her own art.
More: #TBT: Don’t know who Antonio E. Garcia is? You should.
The new gallery not only allows Barraza to bring contemporary art to South Texas but to allow her to pursue her own art as well. The gallery includes exhibit space with a small office, kitchen and restrooms. She plans to use the space as her studio when not displaying an exhibition.
The current exhibit, “Spiritual Journeys,” features work from 25 artists depicting visual interpretations of spirituality and continues through Oct. 3. Barraza plans to host three to fourexhibitions a year.
“My little niche will have the opportunity to bring art from even out of Texas, to see what other artists are doing throughout the country.”
IF YOU GO
Barraza Fine Art gallery
407 S. 5th Street, Kingsville
Open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays
Current exhibition “Spiritual Journeys” on display through Oct. 3
Allison Ehrlich writes about things to do in South Texas and has a weekly Throwback Thursday column on local history. Support local coverage like this by checking out our subscription options and special offers at Caller.com/subscribe
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