(From right) The original Fiesta medal of the Coppini Academy of Fine Arts next to the 2019 medal.
(From right) The Coppini Academy of Fine Arts founder's original Fiesta medal from 1905 next to the 2019 replica medal. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

The Coppini Academy of Fine Arts is offering a trip back in time to Fiesta’s origins 114 years ago.

The academy, in its continuing effort to bring the exploits of artist Pompeo Coppini to light, will sell a replica of its founder’s original Fiesta medal, dated “APR 1905” and made for what was then called the San Antonio Spring Carnival.

The copper-toned medals will be introduced at the Coppini Academy’s Medal Mania event Wednesday from 4-8 p.m. at its Melrose Place home. The souvenirs will then be available for $15 each at the school and The Junction antiques store through Fiesta, April 18-28.

Coppini is noted for his Alamo Cenotaph sculptures detailing the famous defenders who died during the 1836 battle that once defined Texas independence. But the Italian immigrant is more central to San Antonio and Texas traditions than many realize.

As noted in a Rivard Report profile last October, Coppini helped save Alamo Plaza by reportedly introducing historian and preservationist Adina De Zavala to businesswoman Clara Driscoll, who provided the funds to spare the Alamo Mission from the early commercial development that once threatened its existence. Coppini also gathered funders and supporters to establish the Knights of Omala (Alamo spelled backward), headquartered in the Melrose Place studio that still houses his namesake academy. The “K of O” inscription on the replica medal recalls the Knights, who transformed the earlier carnival into the parade-based festival San Antonians know today and became the Order of the Alamo that still presents the Coronation of the Fiesta Queen.

The original medal was intended as a badge for the parade’s King Selamat (the word tamales spelled backward) and depicted a Mexican person with two stacked sombreros partially covering a feather headdress and a half-face mask. According to publicist John Bloodsworth, Coppini intended the composite figure to represent “those who had settled and lived in San Antonio.”

Sean Knoll, onetime director and archivist for the academy, discovered the medal in 2016 while fishing through Coppini’s dresser drawers in the old living quarters above the current academy.

“He was surprised that he ran across that because no one else has ever seen it [in recent times],” said board president Charlotte Cox.

But the Coppini Academy archives are still revealing troves of long-lost information, Cox said, including correspondence between Coppini and De Zavala, a 1940 article by former protegé Waldine Tauch detailing his biography, and a poem written by Patrick Lafferty, one of the members of the Chili Thirteen, the group of businessmen Coppini gathered to start the citywide Fiesta celebration.

Were Coppini alive today, he also would be likely to support efforts to add more sidewalks to San Antonio’s streets. The Civic Improvement League once appointed Coppini to beautify the city, and his solution was to have sidewalks built. He started with persuading friends to build them in front of their residences, then began working on businesses to do the same, Cox said.

“The more I find out about him, he’s more like a visionary person,” she said, noting that his sense of civic duty had him deeply involved in the life of the city he loved.

There are two versions of the medal – a badge closely replicating the original that is given to friends and supporters of the Academy, Cox said, and a ribboned medal version available to all. But with just 300 remaining, she said, supply is running out. The original 1905 badge will be on view in the academy’s museum during the Medal Mania event.

Proceeds from sales of the medal will benefit the Coppini Kids program to buy art supplies for free lessons by academy instructors at a local children’s shelter in June, Cox said.

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Nicholas Frank

Senior Reporter Nicholas Frank moved from Milwaukee to San Antonio following a 2017 Artpace residency. Prior to that he taught college fine arts, curated a university contemporary art program, toured with...