New Exhibits at Special Collections
During October and November, UTSA Special Collections at the John Peace Library is featuring exhibits on two San Antonio artists, Gene Elder and John Shown. The exhibits showcase elements of two extraordinarily creative men’s lives, including: personal journals, original works of art, and newsworthy moments. The exhibits can be viewed in the JPL Special Collections reading room (located on the fourth floor of the library), Monday through Wednesday from 10-3.
With a passion for art and activism, Gene Elder has become an integral part of San Antonio community and culture. Merging these two interests, Elder identifies himself as artist-activist through original artwork, exhibits, written work, performance pieces, and involvement with the local art community.
A steadfast supporter of local artists, Elder has created many venues for art, first at his MUD gallery in the mid-1970s, and then in his promotion of multi-artist exhibits during the 1980s.
Equal in measure to the significant role Elder played (and still plays) in the art scene, is the part he assumes in advocating for gay rights. In 1979, Elder ran for mayor of San Antonio under the “Party Party” banner-he spoke up about not only the importance of art, but also about society’s infringement on gay rights. Materials from Elder’s mayoral bid include hand-painted campaign fliers, an election ballot, and news articles documenting Elder’s race for the mayor’s chair.
In addition to materials highlighting Elder’s run for mayor, on display are several personal journals, hand-made paper fans, and photographs. An online guide to the Gene Elder Papers provides more in-depth information about items in the collection.
A man of many talents, John Shown donned the caps of artist, gallery co-owner, writer, editor-in-chief, lighting and scenic designer, and photographer. Shown spent many years in San Antonio, but his creative style was known throughout the nation and even abroad, with his works of art finding glamorous homes in such places as the Boatman Gallery in New York and the homes of Rex Reed and Geoffrey Holder.
Shown graced the San Antonio art scene with his eclectic collages and wall-hanging stitchery, and quickly came to hold an important role in the art community not just for his contributions, but also for the support he gave other artists.
In 1981, Shown ,along with Don Davenport, created the Shown-Davenport Gallery, a censorship free zone for artists. Knowing all too well the difficulties of living a life dedicated to one’s art, the Shown-Davenport Gallery only charged a nominal fee, allowing several struggling artists the opportunity to gain exposure.
Shown later went on to provide another medium for artists with his creation of Forum, an Artists Forum of Texas publication, where Shown paid tribute to the San Antonio art scene.
One of the events featured in Forum was Cornyation, a wonderful parody on the San Antonio tradition of coronation during Fiesta week, where creative expression and satire were encouraged.
The John Shown exhibit displays Cornyation photographs, exhibit posters, personal journals, and snapshots of some of Shown’s original work, including his stitchery and “Lost Collages, 1969.” More information about John Shown and the items in his collection can be found in the online guide for the John Shown Collection.