An essay exploring the curatorial theme and historical aspects of
Jay Hester: “TEXAS – Stories of the Land”
-Gabriel Diego Delgado
“There is history that is based on hard, documented fact; history that is colored with rumor, speculation, or falsehood; and history that exists in what might be termed the hinterlands of the imagination.” – S.C. Gwynne
In S.C. Gwynne’s Empire of the Summer Moon, a book on the rise and fall of the Comanche tribe, the nonfiction writer pens a simplistic sentence that encapsulates a complementing narrative to the preceding introduction of the upcoming solo exhibition by Boerne artist, Jay Hester, at J.R. Mooney Galleries. The statement addresses the chronological irregularities of scholarly history in which we draw historical conclusions based on writers, historians, and deemed academics’ biased or unbiased judgement of events that shaped these great lands.
In Jay Hester: “TEXAS – Stories of the Land,” a solo art exhibition at the J.R. Mooney Galleries of Fine Art in Boerne, opening October 8, 2016, the artist visually pieces together a multitude of historic ‘stories’: encounters between the Texas Rangers and the Comanche and Apache tribes; raids and battles in Linnville and Plum Creek, Texas; stoic pioneering personas; and monumental peace treaty signings.
Historians have spent years, decades and centuries putting together accounts of famous and not so famous encounters, battles, raids, and ambushes of the Native American tribes on western migratory settlers and European immigrants as they built homesteads, colonies and compounds to fulfill their need for a place to call home.
As an artist, Jay Hester deeply commits himself to preserving the historical value of these narratives of heartache and triumph. In the new artworks, Hester is influenced by the early era of Texas independence, its seceding mentalities, the Texas Rangers, Native American tribes, cultural skirmishes, pioneering visions, religious and political freedoms, harsh realities and the people that lived and died in the frontier lines of Comancheria. “This show gives me a perfect opportunity to retell these stories and other historical events in the only way I know…through my art,” he says.
By sharing their ‘stories’ through his artistic talent and signature western genre of painting, Hester strives to be true to the city he calls home, the families he respects, and the heroes and antiheroes he holds in high esteem. In an article in the September/October, 2016 edition of Cowboys & Indians Magazine, writer Dana Joseph quotes Hester as stating, “I developed Texas stories through the colorful characters of the times.” This is an accurate description of his newest visual selections that give remembrance, credence, and reverence to an era wrought with swift justice, vigilante mobs, vast armies and the unforgiving principles of manifest destiny. Not always culturally sensitive, empathy driven or politically correct, these ‘stories’ are, however, important to remember and Hester dives deep to accomplish summarized compositional renditions for the gallery.
The largest artwork in the exhibition is a masterful piece titled The Healer. This 48” x 60” oil on canvas painting has Hester elegantly leading the audience through Dr. Herff’s pioneering cataract surgery in the 1800’s that saved a Comanche Chief’s eyesight. Derived from online research, published accounts, passages from Early Texas Physicians, 1830-1915: Innovative, Intrepid, Independent by the Texas Surgical Society, as well as a rewarding conversation with Juanita Herff Chipman, a direct descendant of Dr. Herff, Hester was able to piece together a panoramic view of how the surgery actually occurred. He alludes to the fact that the surgery laid the groundwork for a mutual understanding between some of the Native Americans and the early settlers of Boerne. “Dr. Herff became a larger than life figure in our area with all he accomplished as a young doctor in this uncertain country. His fair treatment of all people gained him respect by many tribes of Indians, as well as the rugged settlers of this part of Texas,” says Hester.
Hester also references this medical driven truce in other paintings in the “Stories of the Land” exhibition, as he walks through the days, months, and years that followed that memorable operation. We learn of the Mexican girl that was gifted to the Herff family as a sign of gratitude for the doctor’s care, her rise within the Herff family and her fairytale-like marriage into an astute and reputable German family. In another painting we see the white feathered arrow that was shot into the fence post of the Herff family ranch (currently the Cibolo Nature Center and Farm) years later by raiding Native Americans, a visual indication of “peace” to this property, a signal that spared the Herff homestead during their pillaging, looting and attacks on settlers in the Boerne area. Through Hester we can witness the discovery of Edge Falls by the Comanche Nation. This mystical waterfall and swimming hole on the border of Boerne and Bergheim, Texas later became a sacred watering ground for several of the tribes that roamed these southern lands.
Balancing the narrative between Native American portrayals and the “white man’s” western expansion, Hester relies on his formulaic teeter tottering of serene imagery. For Hester, Texas Ranger John “Jack Coffee” Hays plays an intrinsic role in Texas history and is present in several of his new artworks. With his trusted scout Flacco, Hays and their horses trot through Joshua Creek, creating a picturesque landscape painting complete with the majestic limestone quarries, cliffs, and bends of the riverbed that runs perpendicular to Interstate 10 West outside Comfort, Texas. In another, Hester places the audience in a tense shoot-out with Hays and a Comanche party in a crevice at Enchanted Rock. In this painting the artist visually references the role that the new five-shooter Paterson Colt played in Hays’s survival; an often-deliberated fact trundled in Texas folklore.
Sometimes history is too jumbled to be believed, where ‘truth is stranger than fiction.’ Case in point, Hester indulges us with his unique perspective of the Linnville raiding war party on their way to Plum Creek (now Lockhart, Texas). We see the incoming party silhouetted with their looted bounty of stovepipe hats, parasols, long pigeon-tailed coats and ribbons. Tonkawa Indians served as Hays’s scouts, outfitted with white armbands and headbands to serve as visual indicators to separate them from the incoming aggressors. Hester delivers a composition that sets the audience behind the front line of Tonkawa scouts; we are, in essence, Hays’s Ranger outfit, poised for battle.
Rounding out the exhibition is a painting titled “Lasting Friendship” with a subject matter more familiar to Hester, the Meusebach Peace Treaty of Fredericksburg, Texas. In 1996, Hester created a monumental bronze sculpture of John O. Meusebach and Chief Buffalo Hump sharing a tobacco peace pipe; a visual depiction of the treaty signing between the Comanche Indians and the German settlers that was unveiled on the 150th anniversary of the city of Fredericksburg, and is currently installed at Fredericksburg’s Markt Platz.
When asked about the “Lasting Friendship” painting, Hester states, “Once again, learning about the German influence and the relationship with the Comanche tribes that roamed the Hill Country…gave me inspiration for my artistic creations”
Jay Hester: “TEXAS – Stories of the Land” runs through November 5, 2016 at J. R. Mooney Galleries of Fine Art in Boerne. More information for this exhibition can be found on the gallery’s website at www.jrmooneygalleries.com and the artist’s website at www.jhestergallery.com.
J.R. Mooney Galleries of Fine Art is a full service fine art retail gallery, specializing in Texas vintage, local & regional, and contemporary art and is coupled with a world-renowned custom frame shop. Locations are 305 S. Main St. in Boerne, Texas (830-816-5106) and 8302 Broadway in San Antonio, Texas (210-828-8214). Gallery Hours: San Antonio – Monday through Saturday, 10 am to 6 pm; Boerne – Tuesday through Saturday, 10 am to 5 pm.
—–Disclosure: Gabriel Diego Delgado is the Gallery Director of J.R. Mooney Galleries of Fine Art- Boerne and the acting curator of Jay Hester: “TEXAS – Stories of the Land”
**As seen in the Oct. 2016 edition of The Explore Magazine and SMV publishing.