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The University of Texas at San Antonio Online Magazine

Homegrown artist

Jesse Treviño, M.F.A. '78

Jesse Treviño was a year into art school on a scholarship at the Art Students League of New York when a letter from Uncle Sam arrived in the mail, informing the then- 19-year-old native of San Antonio's West Side that he would be going to Vietnam.


Jesse Treviño

Two months later, on Feb. 23, 1967, an explosion from a booby trap knocked him face down into a rice paddy. Treviño watched the muddy water turn red as he lay dying. As a medic's morphine began flowing through his veins, the soldier had visions of his mom, 11 brothers and sisters, and the people and places of his neighborhood that he loved so much.

"I started thinking about the guy who sells raspas, and I said to myself, 'I bet I could make a great painting of him,' " Treviño said, "and I started thinking about all the paintings that I had done as a kid and still wanted to do. Here I was in the middle of this rice field, and I was thinking as an artist."

Treviño returned to San Antonio, but soon began to lose movement in his right arm and hand. Two years later, his arm had to be amputated because of extensive nerve damage.

"I had to learn to use my left hand," he said. "Having been in New York and studying art on a scholarship and then getting to the point where I couldn't even write my name, it was hard. I felt disconnected from what I used to do."

After receiving a bachelor's degree at Our Lady of the Lake University, Treviño enrolled in UTSA's graduate art program.

Today, Treviño, 63, is among the university's list of distinguished alumni. His work is well known and revered throughout the city, notably Spirit of Healing, a ceramic tile mural of a guardian angel and child on the façade of Christus Santa Rosa Children's Hospital, as well as the towering sculpture Our Lady of Guadalupe Veladora at the Guadalupe Theater in his neighborhood.

Two of his other works— Mis Hermanos and Tienda de Elizondo—are part of the permanent collection of the Smithsonian's American Art Museum in Washington, D.C.

"It means everything to me," the artist said. "Ever since I was a kid, I knew what museums were, and it was the ultimate place to have your works shown if you were an artist."

Arturo Almeida, art specialist and curator for the UTSA Art Collection, said Treviño is one of the most admired artists around the Alamo City. "His work profoundly captures all the grace and poetry of his community," he said.

Treviño recently collaborated with architect Gabriel Velasquez on the design of a 130-foot steel Hispanic Veterans Memorial sculpture to be erected in the middle of Lake Elmendorf on the West Side. The work, which is expected to be completed in about a year and a half, will feature gigantic dog tags representing various branches of the military.

"It will be a monument to honor all veterans, alive or dead. It's a structure, too, that people wouldn't expect to see on the West Side, and it's something people will come to see from all around the country," Treviño said.

Treviño once thought he had to travel to New York or California to find his place in the world. Now, he just looks around the backyard of his home/studio on Guadalupe Street on his beloved West Side.

There's a 5,000-pound, steel-and-concrete, two-sided bench commemorating former City Councilman Enrique Barrera that's still in the works. Next to it is a sculpture of the Virgen de Guadalupe and a wall fountain with the soothing sound of trickling water, surrounded by trees, plants and artwork.

—Rudy Arispe

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Current Issue: Winter 2010

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