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Faux Bois Sculptures of Dionicio Rodriguez

The Martha Stewart Show, March 2008

Author and artist Patsy Pittman Light spent a decade documenting the imaginative sculptures by Mexican faux bois artisan Dionicio Rodriguez for her book, "Capturing Nature." Many of Dionicio's projects in San Antonio are found within a few miles of Patsy's home, and one summer day in 1995, she grabbed her camera and began photographing his pieces with a fellow historian. Patsy realized that his work in Arkansas and Tennessee had been listed on the National Register, and originally set out to list his work in Texas, but the project quickly exceeded her expectations when she found his unique sculptures in seven other states.

The fantastic faux bois sculptures capture the essence of nature. He possessed the ability to mimic the natural shapes of trees, branches, and rocks. The bases of his pieces were created with rebar and metal lathe, with a first coat of concrete. With simple homemade tools, like combs and homemade brushes, he sculpted the final textures with pure Portland cement.

Many visitors to San Antonio are familiar with the Japanese Tea Garden in Brackenridge Park. In 1917, the City Parks Commissioner of San Antonio asked a Japanese artist named Mr. Jingu to help him design the garden and live in a house there with his family. But after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the city turned off the Jingu's water and they were forced to move because of anti-Japanese sentiment. The garden didn't have a gate back then, and Dionicio and Maximo Cortes, another faux bois artisan, were hired by the City of San Antonio Parks Department to sculpt a Torii-style portal. The calligraphy reads "China Garden." But in 1980, a city councilman made a suggestion to invite the Jingu family back and honor them by renaming the beautiful area "Japanese Tea Garden," although Dionicio's stunning gates say otherwise.

Resources
Learn more about the amazing faux bois sculptures of Mexican artisan Dionicio Rodriguez by checking out Patsy Pittman Light's "Capturing Nature." Special thanks to Texas A&M University Press for giving copies of Patsy's book to our studio audience.

Comments (8)

  • 13 Oct, 2012

    oh, ok I see.....so Julius Tober is the so called great uncle now.......is kind of confusing now....all $emantics stuff. let me do some more research. I will be back.

  • 14 Aug, 2012

    Julius Tober (aka Julio Tobar) was an interpreter, friend, confidant, right hand assistant and compadre to Dionisio Rodriguez; and, also my maternal grandfather. He traveled with Rodriguez and was involved with projects in Texas, Arkansas, Tennessee, Alabama, Maryland, Illinois, Michigan and Ohio. My father, Maximo Cortes, met my mother's family because of his relationship with Dionisio Rodriguez and consequently later met and married my mother, Alicia Tober Cortes. The three generations are; maternal grandfather, father, and myself. A direct bloodline is just semantics to me and not necessary to claim a generational or craft relationship with Dionisio Rodriguez. The purported or rumored marriage of Rodriguez was to a relative of my maternal great grandmother. The information stated in the National Registry and in Patsy Pittman Light's book "Capturing Nature' is information gathered from interviews done mostly with family members. To address the issue of superior craftsmanship, I have to express my opinion; as far as artistic ability, Rodriguez had, and to this day, has no equals, but in reality, the fact that most of the work is in some sort of disrepair speaks for itself. Again, and I reiterate, the craft, the process, can be passed down from one generation to the next; what cannot be passed down is the God given artistic ability of the individual. My hero is my father, who continued the craft for more than 40 years after Rodriguez died and taught it to me. I continue the craft in the manner that it was done by Rodriguez and the person or persons that came before him and I am proud to say that the next generation; my children, are showing an interest.

  • 11 Aug, 2012

    Cortes's Master Craftsmen by virtue of his hard work & dedication to the craft I agree 100 %, what needs to be clarified is the 3rd generation claim that is seen in numerous web sites and articles, 3rd generation would indicate a direct blood line to dionicio, the National Register of Historic Places states that: "Though rumored to have been married as a young man, he left no immediate heir. Though he trained workers to assist him on his commissions, many of whom have continued to work in his style, he jealously guarded his special techniques, particularly those relating to the tinting process, with the result that none of his assistants has approached his level of craftsmanship.

  • 9 Aug, 2012

    To clarify a post above...
    Carlos is a friend & colleague that I have the highest respect for. As a person & as an artist. He has never claimed to be a blood relative of Master Craftsman Dionicio Rodriguez. Dionicio was only related by marriage, was Godfather to Carlos family, & friend & partner to Maximo Cortes, Carlos father. As for the ($$$$$) comment, that is unworthy of a response. Carlos has earned his position as a Master Craftsmen by virtue of his hard work & dedication to the craft.

  • 2 Aug, 2012

    The works of mister Dionicio are wonderful, thanks to Martha for bring it back to attention in the media, however, technically mister dionicio was NOT the ''great uncle'' of carlos cortes, like many people says, this 'story' has been ''manipulated'' for other interests ($$$$$$$), Dionicio never gave his secrets to anybody, the real story is totally different. tell a myth so many times until it becomes the truth.

  • 9 Jul, 2011

    The link above for the "Star News'"article no longer connects. Go to fauxboisconcrete.com for all the information you could want for restoring pieces of this popular folk craft from another era.

  • 13 Aug, 2010

    There is a faux bois artist restoring the sculptural concrete at the Japanese Gardens at Huntington Library in San Marino, CA. His name is Terry Eagan, and he is an exceptional artist.
    Read more: http://www.pasadenastarnews.com/news/ci_15434972#ixzz0wVctvKKX

  • 16 Mar, 2008

    An excellent presentation, Patsy! congratulations on your new book. I am looking forward to seeing it in person.//Bill Maltsberger