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To capture the perfect shot of herons along the river, stop by the Briscoe Western Art Museum to enjoy a pair just waiting to be admired. Thanks to Great Blue Heron Pair, a new bronze sculpture installed this summer, everyone can see these majestic birds in all their glory, shimmering in stunning bronze on the banks of the river.
Walter Matia created Great Blue Heron Pair in 2001 and the sculpture was purchased for the Briscoe by the Jack and Valerie Guenther Foundation. The City of San Antonio and the Office of Historic Preservation approved its installation in February; however, the installation was delayed until this summer due to the museum’s COVID-19 closure.
The sculpture flanks the museum’s River Walk staircase, a natural extension of the peaceful water features greeting visitors as they approach the Briscoe from the river. Along with Camino de Galvez, the stunning bronze by T.D. Kelsey depicting the first official cattle drive out of Texas in 1779, Great Blue Heron Pair gives everyone a glimpse of the Western beauty that fills the Briscoe.
The piece is also a nod to the native flora and fauna that call the River Walk home, including the beautiful great blue herons often seen on the banks of the river. The sculpture is an example of wildlife art, one of the four pillars that comprise the Western art genre. And while it is hard to top the natural beauty of the River Walk, the Briscoe’s collection brings the beauty and spirit of the West to the heart of downtown.
Along with wildlife, the genre’s pillars includes the cowboys, Native American heritage, and Spanish and Mexican heritage. While everyone understands the strong influence of Spanish and Mexican heritage in San Antonio, few realize the city’s importance to the success of the American cattle trade. This is why the Briscoe proudly claims, “The West Starts Here,” sharing that story through art, including 32 outdoor sculptures on display throughout the museum’s campus on Market Street.
Riding high on the corner of Market and Presa Streets, you’ll find Checkmate, Herb Mignery’s piece showcasing a cowboy at work, while the life-sized Camino de Galvez illustrates not only the cowboy pillar, but also the Spanish and Mexican heritage pillar. Enrique “Kiko” Guerra also brings that heritage to life in El Caporal, a highlight of the museum’s McNutt Sculpture Garden, while R.V. Greeves’ Bird Woman shares both Native American heritage and the role that women played in the West.
Great Blue Heron Pair is the second of Matia’s works in the Briscoe’s collection. Matia’s Ghost Bird, 2012, purchased with funds provided by the Jack and Valerie Guenther Foundation, sits in the museum’s the sculpture garden, surrounded by greenery as if the bird is indeed in its natural element. The artist also regularly participates in Night of Artists, the museum’s annual signature event that features the country’s leading contemporary Western artists in the largest Western art auction in Texas – and one of the largest in the world.
The sculpture is the latest of a series of gifts to the Briscoe from the Jack and Valerie Guenther Foundation. One of the founding board members of the Briscoe, Jack Guenther was the visionary behind the McNutt Sculpture Garden. Named in honor of Amy Shelton McNutt, the sculpture garden is a lush public outdoor space that features a beautiful courtyard surrounded by bronze sculptures depicting iconic figures of the American West.
“It’s safe to say that without Jack Guenther and the tireless support of both Jack and Valerie through the Jack and Valerie Guenther Foundation, we wouldn’t have the Dolph and Janey Briscoe Western Art Museum,” said Michael Duchemin, president and CEO of the Briscoe. “Mr. Guenther’s passion for Western art, determination to build a world-class institution, and drive to support the museum financially have helped create a space for everyone to enjoy the stories of the West, a history in which San Antonio played a key role.”
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Asked to explain his dedication to expand the Briscoe’s sculpture collection, Guenther said, “Sculpture is the greatest form of fine art known to man. It tells the history and culture throughout time. It’s been the leading expression for centuries and captures the spirit of the West in a unique way. It’s something we enjoy sharing with everyone and we’re proud to be a part of the Briscoe.”
In the midst of social distancing, exploring the sculptures offers an opportunity to pause and refresh any time you’re exploring downtown. A self-guided tour of the sculptures is possible using the museum’s online map, and tables and chairs within the garden create the perfect getaway to read, enjoy lunch, and admire the scenery.
Museum hours are 10 a.m.–3 p.m., seven days a week. The museum is located on the River Walk, with convenient parking at the Riverbend Garage directly adjacent to the museum or one of many downtown surface lots. Through August, parking is free at city-owned garages, pay-stations, and meters all day Saturday and Sunday. Museum hours and admission details are available here.