Celebrated artist Jay Hester weaves tales of western romanticism surrounding legends of the Texas Hill Country in his upcoming solo exhibition: “TEXAS: Stories of the Land.” Hester, a prolific painter with a long career steeped in traditional landscapes and western themes, has created commissioned works for Texas Tech University, USAA in San Antonio, the Zaragosa Theater at Six Flags Fiesta Texas, and the Driscoll Children’s Hospital in Corpus Christi, to name a few. This exhibition, scheduled for October at the JR Mooney Gallery of Fine Arts in Boerne, is the artist’s first solo show in almost twenty years. For this show the affectionately known “Godfather” of the Boerne art scene applies his skills to the histories, legends and characters that helped shape the Hill Country of today.
Hester’s exploration of Western Romanticism is set against an unsure, sometimes violent backdrop of natives, pioneers, and rangers in “TEXAS-Stories of the Land”. His storyboard includes raids, battles, and surgeries with characters such as one of Boerne’s founding fathers, Dr. Ferdinand Herff, and Texas Ranger John Coffee “Jack” Hayes. Hester used historical sources to corroborate with his artistic vision. He is aware of the discrepancies and contradictions that usually come up in historical research. He has many stories to choose from, and Hester tells them in his style using beautiful lighting and tough looking characters. He blends them into paintings that highlight moments of peace and courage during tense times.
The strongest example of the artist’s vision is the show’s center piece, “The Healer.” The painting shows Dr. Ferdinand Herff’s pioneering cataract surgery on a Comanche chief. Dr. Herff was a German doctor for the Prussian army who eventually settled in Texas. He helped start the Bettina colonies as well as Boerne. This revolutionary surgery, possibly the first in the country, was performed in the 1840’s outdoors and without anesthesia. Needless to say, the event created a bond between the Comanche band and Herff‘s group which resulted in some peace. Herff would go on to become the chief medical examiner for San Antonio, pioneering more surgeries and medical practice. He was one of the most sought after practitioners of his day. “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.
Another example of western romanticism inspired by legends about Boerne is Hester’s painting of the white arrow. By the 1880’s most surviving Native Americans lived on reservations. Quanah Parker had already surrendered and the Texas Indian Wars were over. However, there were still small resistance groups of Lipan Apache eking out their existence in the Hill Country. Legend has it that sometime during the 1880’s an elder Dr. Herff took his family to their Boerne homestead for a vacation from the busy city life in San Antonio. At the same time one of those groups of Lipan Apaches raided Boerne. The Herffs quickly boarded up their home and took shelter for the night, able to hear the sounds of pillaging in town. The next morning one of Herff’s sons went outside to survey the damage. To his surprise, their lands were untouched. There was a white feathered arrow shot into the homestead fence post. This type of arrow was a Lipan Apache sign to the raiders to leave the homestead in peace. It was said to have been shot by a Lipan Apache warrior who remembered the doctor had helped his family. Hester’s painting shows the dramatic moment raiding warriors arrive at the Herff homestead. The bold setting sun is surrounded by the dark storm clouds and the white feathered arrow stands out against the darker palette. Hester captures the climactic moment when the leading raider, weapon drawn, turns away.
Other paintings in “TEXAS: Stories of the Land” depict serene scenes that highlight the peaceful achievement of the communities. One showcases the unlikely friendship between Texas Ranger John (Jack) Coffee Hayes and Lipan-Apache chief, Flacco the Younger. Flacco would accompany Hayes on expeditions serving as a guide. The two became close and traveled together until Flacco was murdered, possibly by white settlers. Hester chose to reflect on happier times. The painting shows them riding through quiet, serene Joshua Creek. The steep walls of the limestone cliffs reflect the warm afternoon light and the still creek. Hester’s colorful foliage indicates it is fall and the two ride at a casual pace probably enjoying the nice weather. A sense of companionship permeates the canvas and far away is the fighting that preoccupied much of these men’s time.
Perhaps the most serene of the group, ”Lasting Friendship” depicts the Meusebach Peace Treaty, which was also immortalized by Hester in bronze at the Markt Platz on the main square in Fredericksburg. The painting depicts chief Buffalo Hump offering the peace pipe to John Meusebach. The chief sits calmly with his legs crossed and Meusebach accepts the pipe on bended knee. The Comanche warriors and elders surround him in anticipation. What is of note is that the Comanche treaties were specifically with the Germans. The Comanche considered them displaced people. The tribe did not make peace with Mexico, Texas or the United States.
Finally, the painting “Lena’s Legend” represents hope. Pioneer times in Texas were rough and too often families were torn apart. Even once a settlement was established there was no guarantee it would prosper, let alone survive. There was disease, hunger and the constant fear of raids. No one living there was immune and it was common practice for Comanche to take prisoners of war, or slaves after battles or raids. Lena was a Mexican child living with the Comanche under these circumstances. As a gesture of friendship, she joined the settlers in Bettina colony shortly after Dr. Herff’s cataract surgery on the chief. Although she was not reunited with her biological family, Lena adopted a new one at the German colony. She learned the language and found her place in the community. She married Hermann Spiess, a prominent settler, and had a family of her own proving that a person could survive and prosper in the wild, dangerous country.
“TEXAS-Stories of the Land” runs through November 5th, 2016 at J.R. Mooney Galleries of Fine Art in Boerne. More information for this exhibition can be found at www.jrmooneygalleries.com. Please join us for the opening reception at JR Mooney Galleries of Fine Art in Boerne on Saturday October 8 from 4-8pm.
by: Gina Martinez, art and framing consultant for J.R. Mooney Galleries of Fine Art-Boerne. Originally published in The Dominion Magazine, October 2016