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The John Shown Collection-a new addition to UTSA Special Collections

August 11, 2014

During the 1980s, John Shown was an integral part of San Antonio’s art scene. As an artist, Shown specialized in collages and stitchery wall hangings, his creations collected by patrons across the United States and abroad. Shown’s eccletic collages and stitched tapestries graced the homes of playwright Sterling Houston, actors Rex Reed, and Geoffrey Holder as well glamour guru, Vidal Sassoon. Shown was commissioned by many San Antonio residents to create stitchery murals and wall-hangings depicting their residences and gardens. Shown’s collages were displayed in galleries in New York and San Antonio.

John Shown working on stitchery mural for Bexar County Hospital blood bank, undated

John Shown working on stitchery mural for Bexar County Hospital blood bank, undated

John Shown "lost collages 1969"

John Shown “lost collages 1969”

 

Forum Sept/Oct 1986 front cover featuring model Erica Kymes in folded-paper tunic designed by Basil Burgess, photograph by Reuben Njaa

Forum Sept/Oct 1986 front cover featuring model Erica Kymes in folded-paper tunic designed by Basil Burgess, photograph by Reuben Njaa

Shown not only participated in and contributed to the robust art culture of the River City in the 1980s, he chronicled all aspects of San Antonio’s art scene in Forum magazine, an Artists Forum of Texas publication. The pages of the publication stand as an homage to the fashions, events, and unique creativity of the decade. Models are clad in geometric, shoulder-padded couture and heads are coiffed in over-the-top hairstyles so indicative of the 80s. Interviews with local artists, writers, theater folk, and photographers captured the pulse of artistic energy that flowed through San Antonio’s urban environment.

Model from March/April 1986 issue of the Forum, photographer Kelly Sims

Model from March/April 1986 issue of the Forum, photographer Kelly Sims

 

 

Larry Broom with Addie award presented for his design of the Forum logo, March/April 1986 Forum, photograph by Reuben Njaa

Larry Broom with Addie award presented for his design of the Forum logo, March/April 1986 Forum, photograph by Reuben Njaa

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Prior to offering a publication platform for the city’s artsy crowd, Shown along with Don Davenport opened the Shown-Davenport Gallery, a venue for artists struggling to gain exposure. The gallery offered space to any who could pay the nominal fee and served as a censorship free zone where open expression took flight. A plug for the gallery summed up its purpose:

Unknown, offbeat San Antonio artists don’t have to starve anymore, thanks to the recently opened Austin Street Gallery. Called an “alternative” by its creators, transplanted Manhattanites Don Davenport and John Shown, the Bohemian-flavored gallery, with its white-washed high walls and blue wooden floor, welcomes the absure, the rejected, and the conventional in art with open arms:  for $30 a week anybody can show his work. And artists of every ilk are doing just that.[1]

Postcard for Deborah Webb and Laura Wilson exhibit at the Shown-Davenport Gallery, May 1981

Postcard for Deborah Webb and Laura Wilson exhibit at the Shown-Davenport Gallery, May 1981

In the two years that the gallery was open, the venue hosted 497 exhibits and 262 artists. The most popular show drew 500 guests to the space-the “Butt” exhibit featured various forms of artistic interpretations of derrieres and was quite a crowd pleaser.[2] Despite the popularity of the space with the local art crowd, Shown and Davenport called it quits in 1982 having exhausted their financial resources trying to keep the gallery afloat.

 

 

 

 

The John Shown Collection, recently donated by Happy Foundation archivist, Gene Elder, contains slides, photographs, and inventories of Shown’s artwork. Many inventories include snapshots of individual creations with notes about the date the work was created, the patron who commissioned or purchased the work, and the city in which the patron resided. Forum magazine is an important component of the collection, covering happenings in the city’s arts community between 1985-1987.  Also included are correspondence, fliers, and photographs related to the publication. A centerpiece of the collection is a journal created by Shown that contains personal daily entries combined with invitations and artwork. While most of the items in the John Shown collection primarily document the artist’s years in San Antonio, some materials provide insight into Shown’s work as a scenic designer, photographer, and film maker while living in New York. The collection is housed on UTSA main campus and can be accessed by submitting a request access to a collection form.

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[1] The Shown-Davenport Gallery originally opened under the name Austin Street Gallery. Due to confusion about the location of the gallery, Shown and Davenport changed the name. Author and source of this mini-ad are unknown.

[2] John Shown, “Goodbye to an Era in Art,” San Antonio Express-News, August 8, 1982.

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