As one century has rolled into the next, the rural economic dynamics of Val Verde County have changed. Yet, that hasn’t precluded the need for a county extension agent here - Harris County still has one too.
Texas A&M AgriLife county extension agent Emily Grant arrived in Del Rio during April of 2018 inclined to assist and guide. She immediately went to work.
Her undertakings include livestock guardian dog demonstrations for county ranchers, involvement in 4-H programs, such as wool and mohair education, the organization of the county stock show and attendance of out-of-town shows as a consultant to local youth.
“I really enjoy being with the extension service because it gives me the balance of working with producers, consumers and our youth. So I really get to a little bit of everything,” said Grant, the former Kinney County extension agent.
She explained that ag extension agents are tasked with using the research provided by Texas A&M and applying it to real-world practices in all 254 Lone Star State counties.
“Me, personally, being an ag and natural resources agent, I work with our livestock and ag and natural resource producers and stakeholders to help them get the information based upon science and research,” she said.
According to Grant, the A&M AgriLife Extension Service mission is to provide an apolitical, research-based service to every county. “Kind of a network for our farmers and ranchers to use.” She coordinates adult and youth programming as it relates to agriculture to better help county producers. In other words, the practical application of A&M scientific research that benefits Val Verde County ranchers and farmers.
What drew Grant to extension? A long and winding background in agriculture.
“I grew up on a farm and raised cattle and goats and so I grew up showing through 4-H sheep and goat program,” she said.
Grant matriculated to Aggieland with the intention of being a math teacher and basketball coach, “which is kind of not where I ended up.” Agricultural blood is thicker than career intentions. “I really wanted to stay in the agricultural field.”
Her father is the superintendent of the Fort Worth Stock Show which enabled her to volunteer there throughout high school and college fortifying and cementing her interest in agriculture. She soon decided that ag was her path. Grant received a bachelors degree in agricultural science and served an internship with the Texas Beef Council but obtained a teaching certificate in case an ag job proved to be too elusive.
Her desire was to educate the public about agriculture on a full-time basis. She said, “There are about five jobs like that in the entire state,” so she taught ag in the Dallas-Fort Worth area for three years - “and really, really enjoyed that job” - before joining the ranks of the A&M AgriLife Extension Service.
Grant indicated that the ag service’s big push now is agritourism. They will be rolling out an initiative to help farmers and ranchers learn about other income opportunities that could be available to them in the form of tourism.
The Val Verde County A&M AgriLife Extension recently hosted a “Birding the Border” event and next year they’re hoping to do something on a larger scale. Grant couldn’t divulge what that was because it isn’t yet official but did say that it would allow the ag producers to directly benefit from agritourism events on their property.
This spring the film, “The Highwayman,” was released highlighting Frank Hamer’s exploits in the apprehension of super-outlaw couple Bonnie & Clyde, Kevin Costner portraying the 20th-century lawman. (Costner seems to have a penchant for playing men of the law: Wyatt Earp, Eliot Ness and Orleans Parish district attorney Jim Garrison.)
While the story is somewhat well-known and Hamer’s reputation familiar to many, what isn’t such common knowledge is that Hamer’s so-called luminous career in bringing justice to the people of Texas began in Del Rio.
The famous Texas Ranger, who also escorted Governor Coke Stevenson to view the box 13 tally sheets at the Texas State Bank in Alice, Texas during the infamous “Box 13” election scandal involving Lyndon B. Johnson, has been lauded and ordained as a law enforcement deity, the film adding buckshot to his legend.
The Hill Country born Hamer earned his badge with the Rangers in 1906. He was just 22 years old. Shortly thereafter, the seeds of a reputation were planted.
Del Rio in 1906 was a town of approximately 2,000 people and the cradle of sheep ranching. During the fall of that year two local sheepmen, John Ralston and Blake Cauthorn (the Cauthorn name a familiar one in Del Rio) disappeared. The Rangers soon commenced an investigation and focused on a man named Ed Putnam who had sold a flock of sheep to Cauthorn for $4,500 (equivalent to $130,000 in 2019).
The Ranger group who embarked to Del Rio included Hamer. According to author John Boessenecker, while searching for Putnam they received word that Cauthorn had been found shot dead in his buggy. Subsequently, they learned Ralston had vanished after completing a sheep deal with Putnam. Boessenecker wrote in True West magazine the citizens of Del Rio fell under a spell of tense animation and duly blamed Mexican bandits for the crimes.
Val Verde County Sheriff John R. Robinson received a tip that Putnam was sequestered at a bordello in Del Rio. On Dec. 1, 1906, the Rangers and Sheriff Robinson along with his deputies converged on the house. Robinson and his men covered the front, the Rangers positioned in the rear of the house. Robinson ordered the women to exit the bordello and then informed Putnam that he knew he was inside. Putnam remained silent.
Boessenecker wrote that as time went by a considerable mob had formed, some of them armed. Apparently, this lent a sense of urgency to the situation compelling Robinson to instruct his men to unleash a fury of rounds on the house.
Meanwhile, in the back, Hamer stood his Winchester carbine down waiting for the opportune time to take his shot. Reportedly, Hamer observed a six-gun barrel protrude from behind a curtain and saw his chance firing his carbine and striking Putnam in the face ending his earthly existence. Hamer, the hero.
Conversely, he was also involved in the racially-motivated Texas Ranger atrocities that occurred in South Texas. The Rangers intimidated, terrorized and even murdered several Hispanics during the World War I era.
According to the Texas educational nonprofit, Refusing To Forget, “In early 1919, State Representative José Tomás Canales, the
only Mexican-American legislator filed a bill intended to prevent a repeat of the Ranger
actions of the previous years by dramatically restructuring the force.”
Supporters of the Ranger force fiercely pushed back attempting to discredit Canales. Refusing To Forget stated Hamer stalked Canales in South Texas and Austin during the hearings. “Canales’ family feared that he would be assassinated.”
Not sure if Hamer, “the deadliest Texas Ranger of the 20th-century,” qualifies as an anti-hero but it appears he operated above, inside and below the layers of justice and it’s certain that he left a historical footprint, dubiously or triumphantly, in Del Rio.
Sometimes necessity or discomfort lead to innovation and creativity. Such was the case with Del Rioan Marco Fernandez.
Fernandez, 39, had spent 13 years at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, before leaving the U.S. Army in 2013. He landed back in Del Rio with not much to his name. He didn’t even have a bed frame to sleep on, only a mattress on the cold floor.
Not entirely satisfied with this sleeping arrangement he felt some type of action was needed to alleviate his comfort woes.
Why not construct a bed frame? So, Fernandez set out to learn how to do it.
“I didn’t have anything…and my bed was on the floor at my house and one day I just got curious and made a little bed frame I guess you could call it to put my bed on and it all started there,” he explained.
A mechanic by trade, hand aptitude was natural to him so the undertaking of a wood frame was not a stretch at all.
After the successful completion of the frame, the former Apache helicopter crew chief rid himself of uncomfortable nights.
The self-taught Fernandez continued crafting wood furniture constructing pieces for his place including an entertainment center and kitchen table.
Amid all this creativity, a seed was planted. He decided to build wood furniture and offer it to the Del Rio public. He called his venture M Squared Projects.
At first, it was a hobby but about a year ago he decided to make it a full-time endeavor. However, his commerce model is atypical but it works nicely for him: Raffles.
Interested parties purchase a ticket at a set price for a particular raffle. Once the raffle closes the number is selected on Raffle.org.
“Wood is expensive and so is electricity, so I figured the only way I could get paid enough to keep this as a hobby was to raffle my things,” Fernandez said.
He comes out with one piece almost monthly, the furniture items taking anywhere from 3-10 days to complete. He posts photos of the finished project on Facebook and then a raffle commences. People are also welcome to come to his workshop and examine it in person.
Fernandez won’t paint anything until it is raffled off to the winner.
“I’ll let them choose the colors they want me to paint it…so it can be specifically for them…The last table I made the guy had his own brand so I branded the head of the table with his brand,” he said.
His next customized table will have the U.S. Marine Corps emblem on top of it.
However, Fernandez is expanding his method of earning income. He recently began selling to customers directly.
“I just started with raffles and it’s just starting now, maybe February, where it’s picking up a little bit,” he commented.
He just finished a kitchen table raffle for a girl afflicted with leukemia. (Kitchen tables seem to be the most popular piece.) All of the raffle proceeds went to the girl.
Though he would like to acquire additional customers, he doesn’t plan ahead for what could be next. It’s literally day-to-day for Fernandez. Creating and constructing a form of therapy for him.
“I just pray a lot. I tell God to guide me wherever He wants me,” he said. “So I don’t plan anything it just happens. It’s beautiful.”
Before hometown country artist Radney Foster gave America “Del Rio, TX 1959,” a purposeful Swiss photographer named Robert Frank offered the nation “Del Rio, Texas 1955.” Or more accurately, “U.S. 90, En Route to Del Rio, Texas, 1955.”
The photo, part of an iconic collection of Frank photos published in a book entitled, “The Americans,” depicts a black and white truncated image of the Frank family Ford vehicle on the shoulder of U.S. Highway 90. Inside, his wife Mary Frank tiredly stares through the windshield wearing a forlorn expression as their son Pablo appears to be half-asleep.
An essay on the photo written by Adonis Pulatus stated, “Robert (Frank) has chosen to crop this picture in such a way as to draw the viewer’s eye to the front occupants of the Ford. The sectioning of the car in this manner and the long view down the right fender towards the interior – emphasised by the relatively shallow depth of field – is both curious and unsettling. The viewer struggles to make sense of this scene.”
The possibly idling Ford looks as if it was hastily parked in order for the photographer to capture a quick image before arriving in Del Rio; the Texas landscape blurred and obscured, reflecting the mood of the vehicle occupants.
The famous shot was taken when Mary and Pablo Frank came to visit Robert Frank at Christmastime during the end of his project; an undertaking funded by a Guggenheim Fellowship documenting all aspects of American society.
According to The Art Story, Robert Frank “bemoaned their arrival as something of a creative inconvenience,” perceiving it would compromise his artistic objectivity which he felt was needed for the project. He considered “En Route to Del Rio” more of a personal picture in contrast to the others, The Art Story reported.
Interestingly, this photo was the last to appear in “The Americans” casting a special status over its history. Robert Frank’s road trip through America during that time coincided with the travels of Beat poet Jack Kerouac who wrote the introduction to “The Americans.” The two found common threads and weaved together a narrative of America that did not resemble the cheerful facade of 1950s consumer-driven-Leave It To Beaver social conventions.
“If Frank (Robert) was the Beat photographer in style, then as Jack Kerouac well understood, his images reflected and codified the Beat-Hipster ideal,” wrote George Cotkin, a professor of post-war United States intellectual and cultural history at California Polytechnic State University, on Americansuburbx.com.
The book itself debuted in France in 1958 and the U.S. in 1959. Robert Frank shot 28,000 photos during a two-year period and reduced the collection down to 83 pictures for the book.
His rugged compositions and their realism were at first shunned by many but it was soon realized they effectively and poignantly captured the numbing reality of post-war America. A society that had transitioned into cars, credit, instant food and pop culture but also featured blight, racism, discrimination, poverty and despair.
The collection of photos has been exhibited in many of the well-renowned museums of modern art throughout the world and was one of the subjects of a well-received 2017 documentary called “Don’t Blink.”
Robert Frank ultimately drifted away from photography and delved into filmmaking. In the early ‘70s, the Rolling Stones commissioned him to film an uncompromising documentary of their 1972 tour.
Supposedly, it was too uncompromising for the band who sued to avert its commercial release.
Pulatus wrote the “En Route to Del Rio” photo requires the viewer to contemplate Mary. “What is she thinking and feeling during this long and arduous journey…Indeed, there is a Ford in this image. And a highway. But this photograph is about Mary.”
And what the Frank family did in Del Rio or how much time they spent here, and where, is now left to the imagination. The photograph was an end and a beginning.
Weather affects everyone. It has a relationship with all of us. And to have a specialist help you navigate that relationship is more than fortuitous, it’s a blessing.
In Del Rio, that specialist is meteorologist Dan Schreiber of Smalltown Weather.
Established in 2015, the Del Rio-based Smalltown Weather was the brainchild of Schreiber, a former U.S. Air Force meteorologist.
The service, or more specifically, Schreiber, seeks to provide weather expertise and information across a wide spectrum of applications including personal, commercial, legal, educational and public safety.
Most small towns don’t have access to a weather expert so Del Rio having its own is a problem solver.
He has taught meteorology classes for local first responders and school district employees; teaching them to be aware of dangerous weather events moving through Mexico.
“Since the National Weather Service doesn’t provide alerts for storms that are happening in Mexico…I provide that expertise to the community, largely…the emergency folks here so that they do have a little bit of a heads up on what could potentially happen,” he explained.
Similarly, when Schreiber was stationed at Laughlin Air Force Base most of the aircraft were not under cover. Issuing an accurate forecast was critical.
“If there was a hailstorm coming, you’re talking $1 billion plus of aircraft that were just sitting outside…that happened back in 2016…you’re talking a billion dollars in taxpayer money that could be destroyed in a matter of a couple of minutes,” he said.
Extensive damage to aircraft during that weather event didn’t occur he noted.
Schreiber said that Del Rio experiences unique weather patterns in contrast to other regions in the state; Val Verde County is positioned between three climate zones.
“And never has there been two weather forecasts that have been the same,” he revealed. “Weather’s always changing. It’s always a challenge.”
The native Californian became interested in weather while growing up in San Diego near the beach.
“I got really big into surfing…and obviously, weather impacts waves and the ocean quite a bit,” he commented. “I was always checking the forecast to see if the waves were going to be good if they’re going to be big if they’re going to be blown out.”
In high school, he secured an Air Force scholarship that underwrote his education at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, Arizona where he received an undergraduate degree in meteorology — he has broken the school’s previously-held forecast accuracy record. Next, came a six-year stint as an Air Force meteorologist.
Schreiber gets much of his data from the airport and the weather service supercomputers, distilling it into a forecast that the layperson can understand.
“I’ll take that information…and I’ll start interpreting it to, ‘Well, we know there’s a cold front coming, it’s going to be a little bit cooler, it’s going to be windier, maybe it’s going to be a bit of some rain.” So I’ll look at all that data and come up with a forecast,” he said.
Interestingly, Schreiber consults with lawyers and ordinary citizens who require what he labels as forensic weather reports for airplane crash investigations, house damage insurance claims, personal injury cases, etc. It’s a part-time gig that he would like to see become full time.
“It’s like one of those things that I just got a passion for it…I’m a weather nerd,” he admitted.
What compels a man or woman to run for public office? Good question. One way to find out is to go to the source.
“Basically, I’ve been in public service my whole adult life as a peace officer and game warden. So, this was just a continuation of that,” said Texas State Sen. Peter Flores.
Is it that simple? Not exactly...
“There was a senator in place (federally convicted felon Carlos Uresti) and a machine in place that I didn’t agree with and so when you do that...there’s two things you can do: You can stand by and take it or you can stand up and throw in. So that’s what I did, threw in,” he added.
Flores, who represents District 19, which includes Val Verde County, defeated Uresti in a September 2018 election after losing to the former state senator in 2016.
A few years ago, Flores had been giving speeches around the Pleasanton area where he lives and people began to take note of what was being said. A seasoned public speaker, he soon got the attention of a group of Republicans in Atascosa County who approached him about running for office.
“I just happened to be at hand when it came up...and it happened to be what the Good Lord put in my path,” he said.
The former game warden believes he possesses a life- experience toolbox that contains what is necessary for the legislative worksite.
“I’m from a military family, I grew up on the border...I worked my way through college...a state game warden, I served all around the state,” Flores explained.
He had stops in San Antonio as a captain and regional director of the far west and 10 years in Austin as the top administrator of the law enforcement division of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.
“I worked with the House and the Senate and state government here (Austin),” Flores said.
He said he established relationships on both sides of the aisle in the House and Senate which could prove invaluable as he heads into his first legislative session as an elected official.
“While I’m not a special person, I was specially prepared,” he expressed with humility.
Flores grew up on the border in Laredo and then matriculated to Aggieland before embarking on a career path with the state. He ended his 27-year career as the Director of Law Enforcement, Colonel Warden.
He’s been married to Elizabeth Flores for 37 years and has two daughters and two grandchildren.
Flores is adamant about the issues that are most important to his constituents and Texans. He indicated that property tax reform and school finance reform are the top priorities for the governor, lieutenant governor and speaker of the house.
“And they certainly are for myself and most of my colleagues in the Senate,” he commented.
Flores insists that sticking to the major issues and refraining from tangling with the periphery is best practices-legislation.
“Stay with the basics, stay out of the weeds and let’s take care of the foundations of the house,” he asserted.
And what does Flores hope for after his days in office have run their final lap?
“I hope that my great-grandchildren will not curse me for the work I did in the Texas Senate,” he said unaffectedly.
“For I know the thoughts and plans I have for you, says the Lord, thoughts and plans for welfare and peace and not for evil, to give you hope in your final outcome,” reads the quote from Jeremiah 29:11 on the pamphlet of the Casa Hogar El Corazón de Rey children’s home in Acuña.
The mission of White Stone Ministries, who operate the nonprofit home, is predicated on that scriptural verse. The home is a place of shelter, care, comfort and safety for children who have been abandoned, forgotten, abused and neglected. The 6,000 square foot structure is located three blocks from the port in downtown Acuna and currently houses 35 children including infants. The central figure in the home isn’t Ron Sherman, co-founder of the home, but Christ.
However, Sherman, along with his wife Anna Sherman, an ordained minister and native of South Africa, are the Earthly facilitators of El Corazón de Rey home. Setting out to be an orchestra conductor/music teacher, Ron Sherman, who has his Ph.D. in Christian counseling and is a certified behavioral consultant, became disillusioned with public education and took the path less traveled journeying to the deep south to teach at a Christian drug and alcohol rehabilitation center in Alabama. When that facility closed its doors, he was led to open two children’s homes in Uvalde and an emergency shelter in San Antonio. After nine years, the state cut its support for nonprofit children’s homes, which comprised 99 percent of the funding for Ron Sherman’s sites, and he found himself without a home so to speak. “I’m not a fundraiser. Our budget was...a third of a million dollars every year,” he said.
Ron Sherman soon began doing consulting work in Mexican orphanages.
“I just got hooked with what I saw in Mexico, because the orphanages, children’s homes were...they’re bad.” He couldn’t believe what he saw. The first home he was invited to was in Mexico City. Just blocks from the Zócalo. “It was a five-story office building that had been converted into a children’s home and they had 600 kids in there. It was horrible, horrible, horrible in there. Good people...but they would have 35 kids in one bedroom,” he commented. He explained the situation wasn’t intentional, but the staff was completely overwhelmed.
Eventually, he was asked to travel to South Africa to visit a church and orphanages. In local townships and in Zambia, he witnessed heart wrenching and gut-churning situations. One of the first children he held there was dying of AIDS like many of the others who surrounded her. “I never held a child that I knew was dying. That was gonna die,” he said. The administrator at that particular home indicated to Ron Sherman that all the kids there were three to four months away from death. He came back home and ultimately, after walking through a variety of barriers and stumbling blocks in Mexico, started the home in Acuña with Anna.
“A year into it we had a surprise visit from the head lady at the top (Coahuila child protective services), the head attorney for child protective services for the state level and head psychologist...They spent seven hours with us...so when they left they said congratulations you have the best home in the state...and so every year for the last eight years that’s the way we are. And they took our stuff and turned it into a manual for the state,” he said. More than 400 kids have come through the home during the past nine years without funding from any level of government in Mexico.
White Stone Ministries’ funding comes from private donors, churches and their thrift and consignment store in
Del Rio. (Repurposed For A Purpose at 1010 Veterans Boulevard; www.facebook.com/revron209.) For more information on their mission and donating please visit www.facebook.com/whitestone.min and www.whtestonekids.org.
If you’re in want of a hunt rom Barbary sheep to Native American pottery hen Clint Beckham’s your guy. Definitely.
Beckham looks like adventure. It’s displayed on his wiry and rugged frame. A frame that conveys an enthusiastic and optimistic confidence. Hard to believe he spent several years in the foodservice industry. Of course, that was to support his rodeoing habit. At least initially. And now, the varied landscapes of Texas fittingly serve as his workplace.
Beckham’s outdoor work life began when he secured a job as a government trapper in Comstock which quickly morphed into a lucrative hunting guide gig.
“They (the government) said, ‘What do you want to do? Do you want to be an outfitter or do you want to be a government trapper?’” he sardonically commented.
Eventually, Beckham commenced guiding on a remote ranch in the Van Horn area as well where he had a memorable survival experience. After running out of water, with daylight decreasing, he and the client lost their way.
They had to slog their way through treacherous terrain to the polluted Rio Grande. Surrounded by feral hog feces, they drew the border water into a LifeStraw and consumed it. Literally crawling, the duo made it back to their vehicle.
His signature animal is the aoudad. He’s one of the premier aoudad guides in Texas. (Pronounced awe-dad). What is the aoudad? It’s from the goat/antelope family and is native to North Africa. It was introduced to Texas in the late 1940s.
Beckham, who is trained in wilderness first-aid, also offers axis, whitetail deer and hog hunts. Known for his aoudad skills 57 of his clients have registered kills e ironically, has never attempted to bring one down. But that’s about to change. SilencerCo, a gun-suppressor manufacturer, filmed a Beckham aoudad hunt with MMA fighter Chad Mendes ho lost to Conor McGregor in a 2015 UFC main event bout in Las Vegas hich proved to be successful and now want to film Beckham hunting an aoudad.
“They think that it was interesting…they just think that it’s weird that I haven’t killed one…Hopefully, I won’t miss,” he kidded.
More recently, Beckham has received attention for his foray into commercial artifact digs. He had always been a keen collector and forager of well-crafted Native American arrowheads and after attending several digs organized by a particular man an entrepreneurial itch developed. He had observed a multitude of arrowheads on ranches where he conducted hunts.
“I’ve been to a bunch of his and I was paying two to three-hundred dollars a day…and then one day I thought, ‘You know what? If he can do it…I can do that.’” He started a camp in Tarpley, Texas that contained a wealth of artifacts, even a well-preserved tablet with symbols and colors that resembled the rock art in Seminole Canyon.
Rumor has it the Smithsonian is interested in the piece. Beckham said the digger who found it sold it for $17,000 to another person who then flipped it for $50,000. At his digs, what you find is what you keep.
His business services up to 34 collecting enthusiasts a day. Locally, he conducted a commercial dig at a ranch in Comstock that was rich in historical items.
“It was awesome. We found a lot of stuff,” he said. “We dug for like two months. It was a huge site. And now we’re doing cave digs out there.”
At one site, located on Mason Creek outside of Bandera, where pterodactyl claws had been discovered, 22 people found between 100-200 arrowheads each.
Beckham said there are only four to five commercial diggers in Texas and he’s probably the most-respected one.
“People have realized that I’m the most honest…I’ve got them coming from Montana, Idaho, Louisiana.”
Face to Face with the past
It was once written that the late Del Rio artist, Consuelo “Chelo” González Amézcua, was a naive visionary, seemingly implying that she knows not what she did. However, one glance at her work and one pass through her history clearly indicate that the use of a word defined “as lack of experience, wisdom or judgment” is a gross misnomer; erroneous.
So, it is the present’s duty to correct the past’s errors. But let’s start a few months back; give this narrative some context. While digging for research in a file cabinet at the Whitehead Memorial Museum (for a piece on the Border Radio) I came across a manila folder labeled “Gonzalez, Chelo.” I would have skipped over it but a slightly yellowing page from the San Antonio Express-News was protruding and I was able to see “Del Rio artist...Smithsonian exhibit.” The words “artist” and “Smithsonian” aren’t commonly found in the same sentence. Naturally, this piqued my interest. After anxiously consuming the contents of the folder, I soon realized that Del Rio had been home to an artistic icon who, unfortunately, experienced the proverbial 15 minutes of Andy Warhol-defined fame. Actually, you could argue that she should have been as revered and renown as Mr. Pop Art. Anyhow, I quickly decided Del Rio needed a reunion with the artist known as “Chelo.” Anything but would be an injustice. And voila, an article was born. A completely self-taught artist, González’ works were amazingly created in the 1960s with a pedestrian ballpoint pen and cardboard. Amazingly, she was already rolling through her sixties by then.
According to the Express-News article, each drawing required nearly 90 hours of labor spanning a period of 18 days. Hers had to be a cathartic labor of love. The specific work that compelled people to take note was “ABen-amar the Christian,” a drawing steeped in medieval Spanish culture, Moorish structural sensibilities and Arabic designs. It is now housed at the Smithsonian American Art Museum along with “Untitled” and “Prince Abu Zabi y Su Jardin.,” the latter two created in a style similar to “ABen-amar the Christian.” González referred to her artistic creations as “filigree drawings” in reference to a jewelry making style used in Mexico. Born in Piedras Negras, González received only six years of formal education and was working at a dime store when her art was discovered by Dr. Amy Freeman Lee. Lee had given an art lecture at the Val Verde County Library in 1967, and after the talk, she was honored at the home of a local resident. While at the home she noticed one of González’ paintings and was mesmerized. In 1968, the McNay Art Museum in San Antonio hosted Chelo’s first exhibition where every item was sold.
Her art was subsequently featured in a multitude of exhibitions at prominent galleries from Austin to New York as well as Mexico. Four of her drawings were included in a one-year national tour sponsored by Illinois Bell Telephone. Chelo’s subject matter was a reflection of her varied interests. In particular, Ancient Greek and Egyptian mythology and Christian themes. What was unusually satisfying about her artwork was the accompaniment of poetry. “ABen-amar the Christian” was complemented with a poem that told the story of a captured Christian woman and the son of a Moor who converted to Christianity. A bio written for a González exhibition at the Galerias Paco in New York stated that Chelo had painted a work on the Texcoco poet and king, Nezahualcoyotl.
Poetry with art is normally associated with Asian artistic practices but Chelo displayed an uncanny and high degree of art intelligence. “She intuitively knew of that tradition and, like the Chinese, wasn’t afraid to include a poem as part of her work,” said Lee in the San Antonio Express-News article. Chelo passed away in 1975 but the impact of her art carried on until the Smithsonian’s acceptance of her work in the early 1990s. After that, her legacy and magnetic oeuvres seemed to have been purloined by time and artistic apathy. This article aims to steal them back.
When Eduardo Venegas stepped foot in Tucson, Ariz. in 1999, after a decade stint in the U.S. Air Force, he wasn’t sure what path life would divert him to. Certainly not one behind a camera or in a room trying to piece together a story through clips and dialogue. And little did he know that his interest in music would be the catalyst taking him into a world of pretend and imagination.
“I had actually heard that there was a director here locally, in Tucson, Ariz., shooting a full-feature film and I had a buddy who mentioned it to me and he said, ‘You know, I know you do music and maybe this guy would be interested in listening to your music,’” said Venegas. The director didn’t have any use for music at the time but invited Venegas to the set to observe the production.
“Lo and behold...I guess the sound guy had not shown up or wasn’t able to make it that day and he had mentioned to me they were looking for a sound guy and if I was interested in helping them out. It was kind of being in the right place at the right time,” he explained.
In due course, Venegas was mentored by the director and his crew, working as a production assistant, loader, gaffer and grip, launching him on a trajectory to produce independent films. “Originally, it was never that I was really interested in filmmaking, I was interested in the process, the production side of everything and obviously the music,” he said. Venegas took advantage of the situation soaking up as much knowledge as possible before venturing out on his own. Ben Lopez, presently the executive director of the National Association of Latino Independent Producers (NALIP) and the director who was gracious enough to invite Venegas onto the set, became his most influential mentor “I wouldn’t be doing films if it weren’t for him,” Venegas asserted. Through a less-is-more pedagogical approach, the teacher encouraged the student to find the answer; to climb the ropes rather than be shown them.
Venegas feels that Lopez’ methodology was a very effective, yet indirect, way to develop his erudition. “It kind of robs you of your own drive when people just kind of give you the answers,” he affirmed. Venegas, who left Del Rio when he was 16 years old, said that growing up in the faded and flat environment of 1980s Del Rio gave him a storytelling platform. A place and time that forced creativity and imagination out of the aspiring artist. “What I latched onto was the ability to tell your own story...It taught me you have to create your own opportunities,” he said.
After staking his cinematic claim, Venegas formed Maldito Films (www.malditofilms.com), his unintended quest to become a filmmaker coming to fruition. Maldito’s most recent project, “Redington” is an engaging short that is a vehicle for a web series based on the story. Venegas has received solid feedback on the production’s acting, aesthetic and editing. But the headliner waiting to go on stage is “Bonaparte.”
A tale of a man detoured from his path by family and the tense and contentious relationship he has with his father. Penned by Del Rio author, Ronnie Stich, the movie was slated to run 17 to 18 minutes. Venegas has shot nearly 60 minutes of film and now is almost certain that it will be turned into a full-length feature film. “Bonaparte is still not a 100 percent out there yet,” he revealed.
Currently, only a trailer has been released. However, that was enough to pique the interest of actor J.T. Campos from the highly-popular USA Network series, “Queen of the South,” who subsequently joined the project.
Venegas is projecting an October of 2018 release. Check Maldito Films out on social media at www.facebook.com/Malditofilms.