The Faces of South Texas, Part 1

by William Sarradet February 20, 2023

Para leer este artículo en español, por favor vaya aquí. To read this article in Spanish, please go here.

As part of an explorative trip to the southernmost part of Texas, Glasstire News Editor Jessica Fuentes and I met with artists, curators, museum workers, and collectors to better understand the needs and desires of the region’s creative community. South Texas contains multitudes; the city of Laredo falls on the U.S.-Mexico Border and sees tens of thousands of people crossing in and out by foot every day. The region also contains the Rio Grande Valley, which features a smattering of small towns, each with their own unique artistic movements and collectives. Finally, Corpus Christi and Rockport, both along the Gulf Coast, have the benefit of tourism in addition to their museum and gallery offerings. I took portraits of the people we met along the way in order to help put faces to the names of those who contribute to the cultural production of South Texas.


Gil Rocha (Left) and Maritza Bautista (Right)

Gil Rocha (left) and Maritza Bautista (right)

Gil Rocha, Laredo artist, and Maritza Bautista, Executive Director of Cultivarte

We started our trip in Laredo, kicking it off with an extended evening chatting with local arts organizers Gil Rocha and Maritza Bautista. We took photos in Rocha’s studio, using props from his workspace, and walked down to the border entry, all the while talking about how Laredo contains a constant transience of foot traffic because of its proximity to the border. Over dinner, we discussed both Rocha’s and Bautista’s strategies for programming, their roles in multiple organizations across the region, and their longstanding commitment to art.

Rocha described his recent curatorial efforts, including Contemporary Art Month in San Antonio this spring and The Border is a Weapon exhibition, in which Bautista was included as an exhibiting artist. Bautista expressed how excited she was that the different cultural organizations in Laredo had recently collaborated to offer residency space for artists. The two are, separately, powerhouses of cultural work, and it was reassuring that they felt their capabilities were compounding at the present moment.

Anastacia Perez

Anastacia Perez

Anastacia Perez, Marketing and Development coordinator at the International Museum of Art & Science (IMAS)

Anastacia Perez toured IMAS with us, describing the joys of working within an institution that seeks to combine arts and science. The Museum’s programming includes contemporary art exhibition space, as for Mexico-based artist Monica Chang’s solo exhibition of self portraiture, as well as scientific exhibits developed in partnership with the Smithsonian Museums. Currently upcoming is a showcase of the museum’s collection of folk arts of the region, much of which has been donated by local collectors. Perez had this to say:

“We’ve been really trying to incorporate a lot of our collection into what’s on display. Especially since 2018, we pulled out a lot of our Latin American folk art collection. And since then, we’ve had a couple options — two opportunities to get our education staff to curate exhibits from our collection within their special interests, whether it was pottery or ceramics and textiles, and we have a couple more coming up this year that will feature landscapes and seasons. And then we have a fairly complete set of Picasso prints. That has been on exhibit before, and it’s coming back out again this year. So we try to pull out our collection to help let people know not all museums have a collection, especially not one as extensive as ours.”

Rosie Santos

Rosie Santos

Rosie Santos, Executive Director of the Laredo Center for the Arts:

Rosie Santos has a very busy year ahead of her. She oversees all programming at the Laredo Center for the Arts, which includes an annual theatrical production for the community to enjoy. This year they produced Hedwig and the Angry Inch, and converted their downstairs gallery into a theater with some installed bleachers and floor tables. She also expressed her excitement in supporting Laredo’s artists with a contemporary art acquisition program, which the organization will continue this year.

Julio Mendez

Julio Mendez

Julio Mendez, volunteer with Casa Ortiz

Don José Reyes Ortiz received the land that Casa Ortiz sits on as a part of a land grant from the King of Spain in 1826. Shortly after, Ortiz constructed the home between the years of 1829 and 1830. Casa Ortiz’s website states that the European influence makes the structure a significant part of Laredo’s aesthetic environment. The zanguán, or enclosed driveway, along with the illustrated tile work in the kitchen and the large cistern in its central courtyard all add to the environment, which would be better suited in Spain than in Texas.

The building is “associated” with the Laredo Heritage Foundation and is under the management of Texas A&M International University. Our visit was coordinated by Julio Mendez, who relocated to Laredo in 1971 from Cuba. He enjoys guiding visitors through the building’s historic domestic spaces and showing them the orange tree-lined brick slopes which lead down to the bank of the Rio Grande River. I asked Mendez about what motivates him to volunteer with the organization:

“The enjoyment of being a volunteer at Casa Ortiz, home of the Laredo Cultural District, comes from knowing its history. As the original homestead of one of Laredo’s founding Families, it gives me a sense of pride in being one of the stewards of this magnificent historic property. Casa Ortiz gives us a base from which to speak to our community about the importance of keeping alive Laredo’s culture. It is enjoyable and humbling to provide local artists with a venue to exhibit their artistic talents, be it the plastic or performing arts, while providing visitors with an iconic building in downtown Laredo, next to one of Texas’ oldest churches, while also providing a window to our past, looking at the future, all with a beautiful view of our neighboring Mexico.”


William Sarradet is the Assistant Editor for Glasstire.

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1 comment

Elyse A. Gonzales February 26, 2023 - 11:07

Thank you for this series and other articles like this! I really appreciate being able to learn about colleagues, organizations and artists throughout our (big!) state. So helpful and meaningful.


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