Jennifer Khoshbin's "PLAY Theater" is the first of six public art installations at Yanaguana Garden in Hemisfair Park. Friday, May 22, 2015. Photo by Iris Dimmick.
Jennifer Khoshbin. Credit: Iris Dimmick / San Antonio Report

While local artist Jennifer Khoshbin cleaned the large, steel panels of her first installation on Friday, her 9-year-old daughter, Ruby, let tiny handfuls of dirt slip through her fingers nearby. Ruby is probably the first child to play in the new courtyard between the Magik Theatre and surrounding historic buildings that now serve as extended offices and classrooms for the children’s theatre. She most certainly won’t be the last, thanks to her mother’s installation, “PLAY Theater.”

Khoshbin has lived in San Antonio for about 10 years and usually works in smaller scales with light mediums – usually paper. She explains her aesthetic to me while construction workers carefully lift her latest piece with a large crane (see photo gallery above).

“This is a big leap in materials,” she said, “but I thought maybe I could merge the two.”

She was already fascinated with small, paper theaters that were popular in 19th century Europe as children’s toys. Then she visited a Baroque theater in the Czech Republic that had layered and staggered stage sets in the background to create more depth on stage.

Local artist Jennifer Khoshbin washes her "PLAY Theater" installation. Photo by Iris Dimmick.
Local artist Jennifer Khoshbin washes her “PLAY Theater” installation. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

“Since Magik Theatre was right here, I collaborated with them and they helped me with what would be good symbolism for what they like to do with the kids,” she said. Each steel panel has a different layer of a forest scene that when combined: distant trees and deer, bushes and rabbits, curtains and foxes.

The installation process was laborious, due to the size and weight of the panels, but the work doesn’t “feel” heavy when looking at it. The different shades of blue contrast well with the limestone wall behind it. The panels are thin and flush with the ground. The same scene could indeed be constructed with paper.

“What’s the difference between paper and steel? About 2,000 pounds,” said Khoshbin’s husband Paul Lewis, who is a professor of philosophy at University of the Incarnate word. He stopped by with Ruby to watch the last panel set in place.

From left: Paul Lewis, daughter Ruby, and artist Jennifer Khoshbin pose for a family photo in "PLAY Theater." Photo by Iris Dimmick.
From left: Paul Lewis, daughter Ruby, and artist Jennifer Khoshbin pose for a family photo in “PLAY Theater.” Photo by Iris Dimmick.

Eventually, lighting will be added to highlight the panels and the next phase of the installation will include some fun, magnetic props. Leaves for trees or a top hat for the fox, perhaps.

One more first for the road: Khoshbin’s piece is the first of six public art installations that will be installed as part of Yanaguana Garden’s development as the “playscape” section of the broader Hemisfair Park Area Master Plan. Project Manager and artist Stuart Allen was selected by Public Art San Antonio (PASA), a division of the Department for Culture & Creative Development, to lead the public art projects and a team of featured local artists. All six projects should be completed and installed by the end of the summer.

“We wanted a series of smaller pieces, but we wanted them all to be connected,” Allen said. “So their  concept, when (PASA) came to me, was to have a curated selection of art and artists instead of just dropping random pieces in.”

Yanaguana Garden Public Art Project Manager Stuart Allen and local artist Jennifer Khoshbin. Photo by Iris Dimmick.
Yanaguana Garden Public Art Project Manager Stuart Allen (left) and local artist Jennifer Khoshbin. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

Read more about the public art plan for Yanaguana Garden, which could open as early as July, here.

He is basically in charge of keeping a cohesive vision, along the theme of “PLAY,” that ties all six pieces together. There will be a sound exhibit, three more heavier steel pieces like Khoshbin’s, and a mural exhibit that will rotate through artists every so often.

Allen crafted eight tables and matching benches to fill the courtyard near the new stage sculpture. Three-inch thick, flood salvaged cypress slabs from San Marcos sit atop galvanized steel for a modern, but subtle, look. “Also very heavy,” he said.

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“There was a lot of dialogue amongst the artists in advance of any preliminary designs to talk about what they felt about San Antonio and what they felt about Hemisfair Park,” said PASA Project Manager Henry Estrada. “Many of the artists do not have children, so (the ones that do) talked about what it’s like to be a parent.”

The playscape will be the most family-friendly of Hemisfair’s grounds, including interactive, educational exhibits, slides, water fountains, and playground areas – though Hemisfair staff tries to avoid using the word “playground.” It really is more than that.

Yanaguana Garden rendering. Image courtesy HPARC.
Yanaguana Garden conceptual rendering. Image courtesy HPARC.

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Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick covers public policy pertaining to social issues, ranging from affordable housing and economic disparity to policing reform and mental health. She was the San Antonio Report's...