When I was reading about Miraflores Park a few weeks ago the book Capturing Nature: The Cement Sculpture of Dionicio Rodriguez
was frequently mentioned. I found the book at the San Antonio Public Library. The author, Patsy Pittman Light, spent 10 years researching the book, tracking down relatives and friends of Rodriguez. The book’s beautiful color photographs show Rodriguez’ work in San Antonio and also in other states including Arkansas, Tennessee and Michigan.
From 1924 to the early 1950s Rodriguez traveled through eight states creating reinforced concrete sculptural works that imitated rocks and wood. The art form has several names including faux bois (imitation wood) and trabajo rustico (rustic work).
Rodriguez was born in Toluca, near Mexico City, in 1891. In about 1924 he moved to San Antonio to find work. Rodriguez’s first client in San Antonio was Dr. Aureliano Urrutia. Rodriguez created at least nine cement sculptures for Dr. Urrutia’s gardens (now Miraflores Park). Rodriguez completed many other cement sculptures in Brackenridge Park, Stone Werks Cafe in the Quarry Market, Alamo Heights and the Shrine of St. Anthony of Padua. The best-known works are the gates for the Japanese Tea Garden and the footbridge in Brackenridge Park near the Hildebrand entrance.
Before reading Light’s book I didn’t make the connection between Rodriguez’ various projects and the newer faux bois projects in San Antonio. According to Light, Maximo Cortes collaborated with Rodriguez on many cement sculpture projects. Cortes’ son, Carlos Cortes, is now continuing the family tradition creating faux bois sculptures in San Antonio. Carlos Cortez is also Rodriguez’ great-nephew by marriage.
In his studio at 1101 South St. Mary’s Street, Carlos Cortes creates custom faux bois pieces. His works include the Witte Museum HEB Science Treehouse, a pavilion on the grounds of the Landa Public Library, and the grotto in the Riverwalk Museum Reach extension.
Articles about Cortes have appeared in the San Antonio Express-News, The Austin Chronicle, Rare Visions Road Trip, Glasstire, Old House Interiors, Texas Highways, and Martha Stewart Living. MySA videos also has a video of Cortes working on the Riverwalk grotto.
Update: Additional pictures of faux bois sculpture available on this post.