An unseasonably chilly night didn’t keep the PechaKucha audience from catching the spirit of Fiesta of few weeks early at the San Antonio Museum of Art, where seven local creatives delved into history, hats, and Cornyation, topped off by a speed-painting demonstration.
The 33rd edition of PechaKucha San Antonio attracted a crowd that filled seats and picnic blankets all the way to the back of the museum’s western lawn. Snacking on chips and sipping coffee cocktails, the audiences were introduced to the 20-slides-in-under-7-minutes concept with a short film.
Art curator Annie Montgomery Labatt kicked off the evening with a virtual guided tour through ancient Byzantine mosaics and architecture. By learning about Byzantine art, she mused, people could learn about their own shared history. To prove her point, Labatt effortlessly jumped through artworks of past centuries, always drawing parallels to San Antonio in the present.
Pointing out the similarities between the Alamo and the Triumphal arch of Constantine in Rome, she drove the point home with a unifying message: “The more we learn how to look the more we are aware, not only of our shared cultural history, but also of the shared space that is our San Antonio.”
Next up was Texas State Poet Laureate Carmen Tafolla. In her 20 slides, she took the audience through her upbringing on the West Side of San Antonio – specifically San Fernando Street – remembering how much she had wanted to be a writer even then.
“I fell in love with the color of words,” she said.
Retelling the difficulties she had to overcome as a young Hispanic women trying to become a writer, often with humorous anecdotes, she reminded the audience of the power of telling their story by telling her own. Tafolla also teased her upcoming book, as yet untitled, about San Antonio labor leader Emma Tenayuca.
Michaele Thurgood Haynes, a scholar of pageantry who has always been particularly interested in Texas, then went on to prove that Fiesta is nothing like Mardi Gras or Carnival – much to the agreement of the audience. Going all the way back to King Antonio’s introduction of medals to the festivities, she emphasized the historical military background of Fiesta.
And with that, the floor was open for more Fiesta-themed presentations.
Shouts of “Viva Fiesta” rang out as Mr. Fiesta himself, fashion journalist Michael Quintanilla, took the stage for another quick history lesson. He showed an array of the famous, over-the-top Fiesta hats for which he is known. Of course, he also was sporting his current design, a sparkling silver top hat, with the “Viva Fiesta” slogan attached as antennae. During his presentation, he explained the thought he put into each of his masterpieces, including his breakfast taco hat that served as a declaration of war of sorts after Austin claimed the invention of the beloved San Antonio staple for itself.
Of course, confetti was also involved in Quintanilla’s presentation. His collection of hats and shoes will be on display starting April 5 at the UTSA Institute of Texan Cultures.
Not in costume, but still in the spirit of Fiesta were Jesse Mata and Elaine Wolff, emcees of Fiesta favorite Cornyation. In presenting a quickie tutorial on “How to create a Cornyation skit in 20 slides,” the duo struggled a bit with the PechaKucha time limitations but were warmly received by the audience.
Artist Franco Mondini-Ruiz capped off the evening in stunning style, creating an oil painting on stage. A big prepared canvas was carried to the stage, as well as a table full of oil colors and towels. Working speedily and talking breathlessly, Mondini-Ruiz depicted the Alamo in all of its glory, adding some red splashes of paint he called “flowers” to the canvas.
Before the painting was even dry, emcee Justin Parr announced that the painting would be auctioned off to benefit charities that Mondini-Ruiz supports, with bidding starting at
Juan Leon’s bid of $1,500 secured the painting. “I’m feeling like a winner,” Leon said, grinning after the auction. “I collect art pieces, yeah, but I mainly really enjoy art.”