Drivers on Fredericksburg Road will notice examples of the Art Deco-style architecture that earned the area its Deco District designation alongside an eclectic variety of small businesses, restaurants and cafes.
What might not be apparent is how many artists’ and artisans’ studios are nestled in the neighborhood, a fact that put Bihl Haus Arts Executive Director Kellen McIntyre into action 15 years ago.
McIntyre met with several artists in the neighborhood, and out of their discussions the On and Off Fredericksburg Road Studio Tour was born. Known colloquially as “On and Off Fred,” the annual tour is now in its 14th year, back after a one-year pause during coronavirus pandemic. The last tour took place in February 2020, just before the pandemic descended.
For year 14, the tour has expanded to two weekends, now April 23-24 and April 30-May 1, with an opening reception Friday, April 22 at Bihl Haus. Participating artists open their studios to the public from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. each weekend day.
With more time to wander and about half the pre-pandemic number of participating artists (several declined to participate this year due to health concerns), McIntyre said, “it’ll be a little more leisurely, a little less pressure than it has been in the past if you want to see everything.”
A 100-page full-color catalog is the ticket to gaining access to the studios and seeing artwork by 55 featured artists, along with about 100 guest artists hosted by the featured artists and small businesses throughout the neighborhood.
A good place to start would be Bihl Haus, McIntyre said, where one work by each participating artist will be on view. Catalogs will be available at Bihl Haus Friday night for $10, and for $15 over each weekend. The catalog can also be purchased in advance at several Deco District locations, including Deco Pizzeria, Junction Antiques and Vee’s Hair and Spa, and at The Twig Book Shop at the Pearl.
McIntyre recommends buying the catalog early to view examples of each artist’s work and to dog-ear pages of particular interest.
Page 36 features stained glass artist Esther Ortiz, who joined the On and Off Fred studio tour in 2019.
Ortiz had initially taken up stained glass making in her youth, fascinated by windows in the Ursuline Academy and the Little Flower Basilica. After marrying and having kids, she put away her tools, giving them to her father, Pedro, affectionately known as “Grandpa Pete.” When he died in 2018, Ortiz found the tools among his belongings and took it as a sign to get back to work, using her craft as a means to deal with her grief.
Her sister, artist Thelma Muraida, convinced Ortiz to participate in the On and Off Fred studio tour in 2019, and the renewed stained glass artist said she had a very successful weekend.
McIntyre was also very encouraging, Ortiz said, “and I just kept at it,” making sales in the months following the studio tour, and earning several commissions.
Ortiz said she makes stained glass pieces affordable by limiting their size, but doesn’t skimp on the colors, textures, and “flow and movement” of her curvaceous patterns meant to evoke natural forms.
To return the favor to her sister, Ortiz will also feature Muraida’s work in her small garage studio, alongside the work of her friend Lesta Frank and some examples of Grandpa Pete’s woodworking.
Though many featured artists have participated annually, including founding artists David and Maria Guerrero, new artists join in each year, McIntyre said. The artists of the Clamp Light Artist Studios and Gallery collective are also back on the tour after a brief hiatus, including some well-known names from San Antonio museum and City collections and exhibitions: Raul René Gonzalez, Sarah Fox, Xavier Gilmore, and Daniela Oliver de Portillo, among others.
When the participating artists gathered at Bihl Haus last week to celebrate the return of the studio tour, McIntyre said the enthusiasm was palpable.
“We are so excited, the artists are just pumped,” she said. “I think it really bodes well for a great weekend.”
For more information on the On and Off Fredericksburg Road Studio Tour, visit the Bihl Haus Arts website. In addition to the paper catalog, an online catalog is available.