This week, two new sculptures entitled “The Crossroads of Enlightenment” by artist Angel Rodriguez-Diaz will be unveiled at the intersection of Blanco and Basse Road. The two pieces, made of steel, stand atop 10-foot stone pedestals and resemble the large smokestacks located at the nearby Quarry Market, once the former site of the Alamo Cement Company.
It is by far the most elaborate and visible public arts project the artist has done to date.
In November of 2008, Rodriguez-Diaz, along with the city of San Antonio, unveiled “The Beacon,” an obelisk shaped sculpture made from steel, which stands at a roundabout at the intersection of Fulton and Blanco Road. Referencing the predominant architectural style of Beacon Hill, the neighborhood in which it stands, Rodriguez-Diaz incorporated an Art Deco motif into the perforated design patterns of the piece.
Now, almost six years after “The Beacon” was first installed, Rodriguez-Diaz will transform the nearby neighborhood of Los Angeles Heights with his latest work.
“This is a project that resulted from the 2007 bond program,” said James LeFlore, manager at Public Arts San Antonio (PASA) about the current “Crossroads” project. “We did a call for artists and we got artists to submit their portfolio and background information from both here in San Antonio and from, really, all over. Angel Rodriguez-Diaz was a real favorite of the selection panel that met specifically to look at the different projects that were associated with street improvements from the bond program. And I think part of what the appeal was was the project that he had done previously at the Blanco and Fulton roundabout.”
“It’s about the production of cement in San Antonio,” Rodriguez- Diaz said, revealing the inspiration for his latest work. Referencing the company town of “Cementville,” the two new sculptures bring forward a history that may not be known to all the neighborhood residents.
Cementville was founded in 1908 by the Alamo Cement Company as a community where its mostly Mexican-American employees could live and work. With the nearest public transportation located miles away, the workers of Cementville were often isolated from the rest of the city, thereby depending on the company store for many of their basic needs. It is a history of exclusion and exploitation not often discussed.
“It’s an important part of our history that a lot of people don’t know. So that’s why I wanted to incorporate this,” Rodriguez-Diaz explained. “You look at it in metaphors. You look at it, and you get it, or you don’t. If you’re interested, then you pursue it, otherwise you lose it and that’s all right. I mean, because art is something that is a very personal experience and you have to be willing to let that happen to you, because if you’re resistant, then you miss it.”
As with “The Beacon,” the new sculptures incorporate the idea of a luminaria as a metaphor for knowledge. “It’s about enlightenment, you know, knowledge. It’s about being aware, all those things. It’s much-layered,” he said, referring to the link between “The Beacon” and his latest work.
With patterns and designs cut into the body of the sculpture, “The Beacon” appears as a giant luminaria when it lights up at nighttime by a lighting system that is placed inside. The two new sculptures, which compose “Crossroads,” also have perforated design patterns that reference the neighborhood, from the floral patterns mimicking the nearby Olmos Creek, to the banner near the top of the smokestacks reading “Cementville.” The new sculptures will be painted red on the outside and yellow on the inside, which will give the works a “glowing” effect even when not lit during the day.
“(Selecting a design motif for the new sculptures) is very simple,” Rodriguez-Diaz said. “It’s just – how do you endow something with a meaning? And then, how do you communicate that meaning? I’m trying to do something that has all the imagery but at the same time is not so overwhelming that people don’t know what it’s about. Because sometimes things get over-designed, so I wanted to maintain that balance.”
For Leflore, the new sculptures symbolize a possible resurgence for the neighborhood.
“The artwork has a sense of uplift, a sense of the opportunity for a rebirth to the area, and of taking things that may have at one time been seen as something kind of closed off, and re-looking at it in an open, accepting way in terms of – that the future is bright,” he said. “I think that the artwork, and the aspect of the illumination, and the aspect of these tall proud towers, are an appropriate symbol.”
Certainly, much can be said about the transformative power of art, and public art in particular.
In recent years, the City of San Antonio has seen a rise in the support of public art. “I think our city as a whole has done a lot of positive things in recent years. That positive growth includes the trajectory that public art is having,” Leflore said, adding there has been a conscious effort by PASA to bring more public art to the inner city.
“We have public art that’s along the river. We have public art that’s out at the airport and the convention center, and we’re trying to establish a focus where public art can begin to reach into the different areas of the city – north, south, east, west, and some of that is going to happen through the street improvements, and park improvements and projects,” he said.
Rodriguez-Diaz’ “Crossroads of Enlightenment” is an example of that.
“The (two sculptures) are colorful. They are decorative, but, at the end of the day, they are about transformation,” he said.
Once considered a problem area for traffic congestion, the intersection at Basse and Blanco has seen vast improvements in recent years, including the realignment of Basse Road for a smoother transition across Blanco Road.
Now, area residents will have new works of art to admire that will tie the history of the city with the present.
“The Crossroads of Enlightenment” will be officially unveiled Wednesday, Nov. 19, during a special ceremony at 5:30 pm.
*Featured/top image: Concept rendering of ‘Crossroads of Enlightenment” at Blanco and Basse roads. Courtesy image.