Local Artist Uses Natural Materials from San Antonio River

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Decorative painted rocks

Last Updated on January 30, 2024

Read Time: 2.5 Minutes

This piece is contributed by Manuel Davila, Cultural Arts Manager at the American Indians in Texas at the Spanish Colonial Missions. Manuel’s art exemplifies a strong connection to our local waterways, as they create and utilize natural pigment materials from native flora and fauna of the San Antonio River Basin, also known as the San Antonio River Watershed. Thank you to San Antonio River Foundation Intern Caroline McGuire for assistance in the editing process.

Meet the Artist

Manuel Davila is an Indigenous 2Spirit Coahuiltecan tradition keeper who collects and catalogues pigment minerals along their ancestral lands of the San Antonio River and its Missions.

What is your artistic vision?

My artistic vision and personal practice are to continue to uplift the decolonial histories of Yanaguana, the ancestral name of the San Antonio River and surrounding land, and the elders who have preserved our cultural practices. The slow process of collecting pigments from the Earth and river, processing them into a fine powder to reconstitute into paints, transports me to place myself in my not-so-distant relatives headspace.

Where does your inspiration come from?

My inspiration comes from the myriad of rock art sites in Texas and Coahuila that are still honored by my community as windows into our ancestor’s world and wisdom.

Decorative painted rocks

Decorative painted rocks

Many of my works incorporate symbols, colors, and themes that connect to the imagery of South Texas that was originally inspired by these important sites. Creating a practice founded in natural materials helps with my vision of land and river stewardship to create art that has limited impact on the natural world around us.

How do you create the pigments?

The shades of yellow in my work are ferric oxide, sienna ochre and the shades of reds are made of iron oxide ochre. I make my own inks from the gall of mesquite and oak trees to make black pigment ink for lines and details.

Decorative painted rocks

These are the same raw materials my ancestors used to paint the frescos that adorned the walls of the historic buildings they erected during the forced missionization period; some frescos are still visible today over 300 years later.

Decorative painted rocks

How do I convey messages and lessons for future generations to interpret? Rock art is a manifestation of the human impulse to communicate that transcends time or language barriers and my hope is to share that expression in contemporary spaces as well. While many study these images to only understand the past, my hope is that my work helps my community see a map of where we are going just as much as where we have been. Naletzam (Gratitude)

Thank you, Manuel, for sharing your artwork and inspiring actions for healthy local creeks and the San Antonio River. Manuel’s art is a valuable reminder that each of us has unique gifts to contribute in the journey towards safer, cleaner, and more enjoyable waterways. Working together, we can harmonize the needs of people and nature through stewardship of rivers and land. You can follow Manuel’s artistic pursuit and journey through their social media accounts below:

Follow Manuel’s Artistic Journey

Instagram: @mesquitepapi @tappilam @aitscm


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