New York has Lady Liberty, St. Louis has it’s Arch, San Antonio has the Alamo, Austin has the “I Love you So Much” street graffiti and Corpus Christi has the Caller Times mural. I always love a backdrop that instantly stamps your location and saves me the angst of having to come up with a clever Instagram caption.
If you have never seen the Caller Times mural do yourself a favor and head downtown to the Caller Times building located right around the intersection of Taylor and Mesquite street you’ll find a huge 2-story bottom to top, side to side bright colored mural. Every time I see it I smile. Located close to one of my favorite watering holes, I have taken many-a-picture in front of that mural with visiting friends. It’s fun, it’s vibrant, it reflects the culture of the city and it adds beautiful artwork to our developing downtown.
After a recent drive by I started thinking about the fact that that mural was a piece of art and I decided that I needed to find out more about the artist. So one afternoon a few weeks ago Sandra Gonzalez and I met up and I had all the questions. To my pleasure, but not surprise, I learned all the answers.
Sandra’s family is originally from Nuevo Laredo and moved to Laredo when she was 14. As a child she always loved to draw. She said she was constantly drawing until she was introduced to acrylics in Art 1 in High School. Her first subject was wildlife and she had such natural talent that as a 17 year old she was awarded with the “Best of Show in State” at the Congressional Award Art Exhibit.
After graduation Sandra attended TAMIU undergrad for an Art Degree and while studying art abroad in Italy at the Santa Reparata International School of Art she was influenced by a Professor of Photography who encouraged her to pursue her Masters in Art.
Sandra felt like that was the next right step so she attended TAMUCC for her Master of Art degree and then felt called to leave South Texas to continue her education at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts where she received a Master of Fine Arts degree in 2013.
After completing her education she became a full time artist for about a year when her interest was piqued by the City of Philadelphia’s mural arts program. She applied for and was accepted into the program and next thing she knew she was creating art all over the walls of the city. On a summer trip home to Laredo she heard there was an opening for a High School Art teacher in town. There was no way she could make the interview and her flight back to Pennsylvania. Sandra felt like it might be time to return to South Texas so she rolled the dice, skipped her flight and got the job.
Finding herself back in Laredo with a unique skill set, Sandra was selected by the city to paint a park fence mural. She continued to fill her portfolio with work and through her TAMUCC network found out about the Caller Times Mural project. Sandra got her proposal in at 5pm on New Years Eve in 2015 and was selected for the project soon after.
The mural represents so much about South Texas. The Hispanic culture is a large part of our identity and is represented by the bright colors, graphics and flowers surrounding the art. We are a coastal town so sea life also plays a predominant role in the piece. In fact, Sandra says the former outdoors columnist, David Sikes, was immensely helpful sending her photos of local fish and wild life so she could make her art as true to life as possible.
It was important to Sandra that the entire community to be a part of this project so for months Coastal Bend residents were invited to help paint the mural in sections. The sections were then pieced together like a puzzle on the Caller Times building so while Sandra is the creative mind behind the project, our community was the hands and feet that made it happen and that is just how Sandra would want it. Sandra continues to give back to our community through her own artwork and as she raises up the next generation of artists as a teacher at West Oso High School.
While her smile is as bright as the colors in her mural and the joy she radiates, in my opinion, is directly reflected in her art she also seems to be a bit soft spoken. After hearing her story and reflecting on her path, though, I’ve realized that she really is quite bold. I’m convinced that our path in life is never haphazardly strewn together and that when opportunities arise in our lives we have to be wise enough and bold enough to see those opportunities and jump at them.
Time and time again Sandra has jumped. She jumped at the chance to study art in Italy, and then listened to wise councel about next steps. She was bold enough to leave the only region she’s ever known to study art and gain skills outside her comfort zone. She’s rolled the dice and followed her heart and walked the path and in the end our community is better and more beautiful because of it.