The Austin Chronicle

Day Trips

By Gerald E. McLeod, July 5, 1996, Columns

Hank Lee spends his days surrounded by a collection of colorful hookers, skeletons, saints, and animals at San Angel Folk Art. The handmade Mexican art fills Lee's gallery in the Blue Star Arts Complex south of downtown San Antonio.

In Mexico, the papier-mâché and clay figurines originated as religious symbols, Lee said. The shelves of his shop are filled with brightly painted objects stacked to the ceiling. The center of the small room is filled with the strangest assortment of objects of all sizes. The whole place is an assault on the senses, from the flurry of colors to the strange shapes and the chirping of the real parrots.

Lee began the business four years ago as a wholesale company. Most of the items come from the Mexican states of Oaxaca and Michoacan where Lee works with 15 families. For the families, manufacturing the figures is a family business, going back generations for some.

"We look for the biggest, funkiest, and wildest things," Lee said of his shopping excursions out of Mexico City. He works closely with three families and gives them a monthly stipend to inspire their creativity.

San Angel Folk Art is one of 11 retail shops in the Blue Star Arts Complex on the southern edge of the historic King William District at the corner of South Alamo and Probandt streets. The former Hormel Meat packing plant on the banks of the San Antonio River has been turned into three rows of galleries, studios, and offices.

Rotating exhibits of contemporary art can be found at the Blue Star Art Space, or the Satellite Space operated by the University of Texas at San Antonio graduate art program. High school students show their art and learn retail commerce at Say Sí.

Regional and international artists show their work at the Rathburn Gallery. The Cactus Bra Gallery, the studio of artist Leigh Ann Lester, shows other artists' work. Milagros Contemporary Art sells traditional Mexican good luck charms next to the work of contemporary artists. The Blue Star Brewing Company opened this month.

Most of the galleries and shops in the complex are open Wednesday-Sunday, noon-6pm. On the first Friday of each month the complex merchants stay open until 9pm and often sponsor special artist receptions. On the first Saturday of the month the Bazaar Blue Star fills the complex with an outdoor market complete with food vendors, entertainment, and a variety of local and guest artists.

San Angel Folk Art carries a variety of handmade pieces including furniture, jewelry, and wood carvings. The shop is at 110 Blue Star in the heart of the complex and opens Wednesday-Sunday, noon-6pm, or by appointment (210/226-6688).

Coming up this weekend...

July is Contemporary Art Month and the Southwest Craft Center sponsors special exhibits and activities at the San Antonio Central Library, 600 Soledad, and at the Hertzberg Circus Museum, 210 W. Market St. 210/224-1848.

July Fourth Pari-Mutual Horse Race Meet heats up the fairgrounds outside of Fredericksburg, July 6-7. 210/997-2359.

Half-Moon Days in Shiner. The town is known for the Spoetzl Brewery products and having fun, July 6. 512/594-4180.

Coming up...

Great Texas Balloon Race at Gregg Co. Airport outside of Longview is one of the premier ballooning events in the country, July 12-14. 903/237-4000.

Free Day at the Dallas Zoo includes special activities and live entertainment, July 16. 214/670-6842.

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