“Cultural Interface” Public Artwork

The formal unveiling of a major public artwork, “Cultural Interface,” by noted Texas artist Steve Russell was held December 7, 2023, on the shores of Little Bay in Rockport.  Spearheaded by the Rockport Cultural Arts
District (RCAD), the initiative has been a joint project with the Aransas County Navigation District (ACND), and privately funded through donations from foundations, businesses, patrons, and fellow artists. The bronze sculptures recognize the multicultural heritage of Rockport, honoring those who have inhabited and explored Aransas County.

A native of Rockport, Russell has created artwork over six decades, many of
which celebrate Aransas County’s landscape, wildlife, and history, as well as
that of other parts of Texas and the world.  He was chosen as the cover artist
for a 2022 Texas A&M University Press book, “The Story of the Rockport-
Fulton Art Colony:  How A Coastal Texas Town Became an Art Enclave.” The
book details his role in helping create the Rockport Art Association, now the
Rockport Center for the Arts.

Russell was recently named Rockport Artist Laureate by the Aransas County
Commissioners in tribute to his lifelong service to the area’s art
community, honoring his work as a mentor, teacher and inspiration to
generations of other artists. Throughout his career, Russell has been a
supporter of historical, environmental and conservation causes and
organizations.  Visit Steve’s website here: www.steverussellart.com

Jennifer Day, RCAD’s Executive Director, noted, “We have been honored to
lead the effort to have Steve’s sculptures become a reality.  They are
an impressive addition to Rockport’s public artwork, reflecting our heritage for many generations to come.” Representing ACND, Malcolm Dieckow stated,” The Navigation District is proud to partner with RCAD to display this artwork on the shores of one of our most treasured natural resources, Little Bay, by one of our most treasured artists, Steve Russell.   Children and families who visit our beaches and waters can be reminded of all those who have contributed to our history.”

A Certified Wildlife Habitat surrounding the “Cultural Interface” sculpture site was added after the unveiling that provides an immersive experience that goes beyond admiring exceptional artwork.     Amidst the captivating “Cultural Interface” sculptures located on the shores of Little Bay, local environmentalist and ecosystem lover, Charlie Belaire, was engaged to share his knowledge and talent, adding surrounding sculpture landscaping that was thought to be the same type of landscaping existing when the European Settlers and Native Americans met hundreds of years ago.  It’s a chance to reconnect with the natural world, or simply seek a moment of tranquility in a bustling world.

RCAD is one of 54 Cultural Districts in the state, designated by the Texas
Commission on the Arts in 2016, the first in South Texas.  Since then, it has initiated many projects including restoring the historic Rockport Railroad
Depot, built in 1888 and establishing it as a museum, adding to the wealth of
museums and historic sites in Aransas County.  The RCAD Board includes
representatives from the Native American, Hispanic and Vietnamese
communities.   Further, murals have been commissioned by the Cultural District to celebrate and protect the diversity of habitat, wildlife, flora and
fauna, as well as the history of the art colony.

Additionally, RCAD has recently partnered with Aransas Pathways and
Aransas First Land Trust on a mural depicting Rockport’s iconic windswept
oak trees and educating all of Rockport’s Tree City USA designation for the
past 25 years.

Enjoy this article written by RCAD Advisory Board Member, Kay Betz, for the Aransas County Historical Society March 2024 newsletter:

THE “CULTURAL INTERFACE” SCULPTURE OF ROCKPORT’S HERITAGE

By Kay Betz

The heritage of the coastal town of Rockport, Texas is rich with stories of many cultures — legends of

Native Americans who fished the bays and had a spiritual connection with the land; European explorers

and missionaries who established settlements that grew into thriving towns; and even pirates who roamed through the area. Artist Steve Russell grew up in Rockport and was fascinated by these historical

memories, often painting his evocative landscapes set in other times, imaging what might have happened in an era with no photographs to document an event. One lingering theme he depicted in his artwork was a particular image — the indigenous population observing these new peoples arriving in the area. He long envisioned the image as larger-than-life bronze sculptures erected on the shores of Little Bay in Rockport.

The Rockport Cultural Arts District (RCAD) became aware of Russell’s dreams to create this public

sculpture that would teach and inspire local residents and the many visitors who visit the area. One of 54 Cultural Districts in the state and the first in the Coastal Bend, RCAD had been designated in 2016 by the Texas Commission on the Arts (TCA) through a rigorous and competitive application process. The

District was charged by TCA to help spark economic development by initiating and coordinating art,

history and other cultural programs, activities and events.

Cultural Districts, such as popular tourist destinations like San Antonio’s River Walk and New Orleans’

French Quarter, create collaborative areas that partner with institutions, galleries, museums and

businesses to create a joint identity, pooling resources to leverage marketing funding and efforts. Cultural tourists who visit attractions like history museums and sites, art centers and galleries, exhibits and events, have been found to contribute much to local economies, including staying in area hotels, producing the “heads in beds” Hotel Occupancy Tax funding to support non-profit organizations.

RCAD’S Executive Director, Jennifer Day and its Board joined with Russell to make his dream a

reality, and began a three-year partnership with the Aransas County Navigation District (ACND) to obtain

private funding and manage the project. The District had already completed another complex initiative–

to obtain and restore the historic San Antonio and Aransas Pass Railroad depot, transforming it into a

popular tourist destination, the Rockport Railroad Depot Museum. As Jennifer noted, “Even though we

were recovering from the devastating effects of Hurricane Harvey and dealing with Covid during this

effort, we realized that the Rockport community, working with state, regional and local organizations and businesses, could accomplish amazing things.”

The groundswell of support around the sculpture project, which Steve Russell named “Cultural

Interface,” steadily grew, especially from Steve’s peer artists and many students he has mentored, taught and inspired over the years and his numerous art patrons around the state. Russell has lived in Rockport all his life and been a significant leader of the art colony that had begun here in the 1940s, resulting in it being named one of the top coastal art colonies in the US, alongside more well-known colonies like Carmel and Laguna Beach in California.

In the 1960s, he helped start the Rockport Art Association, which later became the Rockport Center for

the Arts, and the Rockport Art Festival, a major area attraction for July 4th visitors. He and his wife,

 

Sherol, his muse and constant supporter, have welcomed new and beginning artists to their home for

decades, helping them become part of the artistic community. He was chosen as the cover artist for a

2022 Texas A&M University Press book on the history of the art colony, in which his role as the

quintessential Rockport Renaissance artist was documented. Russell was also named Rockport’s Artist

Laureate by the Aransas County Commissioners in 2023.

Day, the RCAD Board Members, government officials and Russell met with many area stakeholders to

elicit their input, including members of regional Native American groups, to vet the sculptures as a tribute to the multi-cultural contributions to Rockport’s heritage. The District also solicited in-kind support from local and state businesses. The sculpture project was promoted on social media and with articles in regional publications. Fund-raising began with a good-hearted “roast” of Russell at which money was raised, as well as through an online and an in-person auction with artwork donated by many legacy and current artists and collectors. Families of famous Rockport sporting and wildlife artists, including Jack Cowan, Herb Booth, Al Barnes and Buck Schiwetz, donated rare prints and original artwork for the auction. Russell had fished, hunted, boated and exhibited with them over the years, part of a group of artists who created work and donated pieces to raise money for environmental causes like the Coastal Conservation Association and Ducks Unlimited. Friend and internationally known sculptor Kent Ullberg was also part of this group, and donated a bronze sculpture for the fund-raising effort.

This initial funding enabled Russell to begin work in his studio, spending countless hours designing and

sculpting models of his vision, which included two groupings — one of a Native American family and

another of figures of an Explorer, Monk and Pirate. Once these were completed, they were transported to two foundries in Texas and Colorado for casting. Meanwhile, Day worked on engineering and

landscaping plans for land managed by the Navigation District on a site on Business Highway 35 next to

the Rockport Beach Park on the shores of Little Bay. Long-time associates of Russell, Jerry Brundrett

with Brundrett and Griffith, and Moose and Derek Johnson, with Derrick Construction, donated

engineering, time and materials to ensure the area and base would integrate the sculptures with the natural environment. Coastal landscaping expert and close friend of Russell’s, Charlie Bellaire, is currently working to provide a landscape of natural grasses that would have been on the shoreline when the Europeans made landfall hundreds of years ago. The sculptures are set close to another popular tourist spot, the Rockport Crab, a replica of a folk art sculpture that had once been on the roof of a beloved restaurant, as well as other public sculptures created by Ullberg and Rockport sculptor Jesus Moroles.

The sculptures were formally unveiled on December 7, 2023, with major donors, supporters, businesses

and foundations who had contributed acknowledged with remarks by Russell and Day. They are also

remembered on a granite plaque at the sculpture base. A large, enthusiastic crowd greeted the sculptures.

County Judge Ray Garza gave remarks on the importance of recognizing and preserving Aransas County

heritage. Sculptor Ullberg commented that “I knew that Steve Russell was a great painter, but now he

joins the realm of great sculptors.” After the sculpture unveiling, guests attended a special reception

where a song RCAD requested be written as a further dedication to Steve, was sung. It was written by

local artist Trip Hunt and Austin artist Noel McKay, entitled Through an Artists Eyes.

The sculpture Cultural Interface is now a frequent stop for visitors who stop to take “selfies” or ponder

its meaning while sitting on benches, contemplating a history too often forgotten. Russell is busy on a

major mural project in Waco depicting the history of the Chisholm Trail. The District is working on a

major collaborative exhibit scheduled for January 2025, after its application was one of seven in the state chosen for the inaugural Texas Smithsonian Museum on Main Street Program. They [who is they? ]

RCAD is are continuing to partner with governmental entities and downtown businesses to enhance the

area with projects such as Main Street Park. They are also seeking funding for a program (for Veterans

and – take this out) to produce a documentary film about the art colony to engage students and younger

creatives in the remarkable history of local artists.

 

Through An Artists’ Eyes

Written by Trip Hunt and Noel McKay

Under windswept oaks on the Texas Coast lives a wise gentle man

He wakes up with the sunrise, a paintbrush in his hand.

As he looks out on the harbor, the sunlight’s streaming in

The south wind blows across Aransas Bay as the artists’ day begins.

Well, he captures natures mysteries, her colors and her skies

He’s observing life as history, through an artists’ eyes.

Well, his eyes see rainbow colors, and the shapes nature provides

He paints visions that inspire us through an artists’ eyes.

He uses canvas, sculptures and murals, and he always knows the flow

He’s inspired by those before him, in their footsteps he goes.

Lord, he captures natures mysteries, her colors, forms and skies

Observing life as history, through an artists’ eyes.

Well, there ain’t no time for wastin’ when the artist finds his flow

So, he lifts and dips his paint brush, into his work he goes.

And he creates and paints right from his heart what life presents each day

 

Inviting us to see his work on canvas, cloth, and clay.

Lord, he captures natures mysteries, her colors, forms and sky’s

Observing life as history, through an artists’ eyes.

Now he compares himself to no one, except his former self

And he sometimes paints a masterpiece and puts it on the shelf.

 

He’s inspired to keep on growing, Lord his journey never ends

Life’s challenges and triumphs, when one end one begins.

Lord, he captures natures mysteries, her colors, her forms and skies

He’s observing life as history, through an artists’ eyes.

Under windswept oaks on the Texas Coast lives this wise gentle man

He wakes up with the sunrise, a paintbrush in his hand.

He does not let excuses sway him from his dreams

Silent confidence surrounds him, and an artists’ eyes still gleam

 

His artists’ eyes still dream

His artists’ eyes still beam

It’s the artists’ eyes of Steve…….