GeTting History

New foundation connects local artists to community

0
1428

For James McAllen, art is a way to express himself.

“Supporting the arts,” McAllen says, “is important to the vitality of any community. It inspires and gives creativity to kids and individuals who want to express themselves however they see fit. Art rounds out the community because many times, ideas and thoughts can be expressed better in the visual arts than in words to help us think about the society we live in. The RGV has a lot to offer and unique perspectives that can be created and expressed in our area through art.”

His wife, Katherine, also shares his love of art. “She is an art historian, a professor at UTRGV and Director of the Center for Latin American Arts there, so both of us love art and value teaching our children and other young people about art and history,” he said.

As the founder of the Guadalupe el Torrero Foundation (GeT), located in Puerto Rico in northwest Hidalgo County, McAllen also gets to preserve a vital piece of Texas history and share it with the community.

Rancho Guadalupe is a former cattle ranch founded in 1804 when Julian Farrias from Camargo, Mexico was granted the land from the King of Spain as a Spanish land grant. El Torrero (the light tower) was the name of a watering hole on the ranch where thirsty travelers and animals gathered to drink water after heavy rains. This small region of present-day Hidalgo County became known as Guadalupe el Torrero to recognize the important water source and the ranch in which it inhabits. It’s believed over time, the name of the area mistakenly evolved to el Torero (the bullfighter), because its importance and meaning faded into history.  Although, the original land grant and map labels identify this water source as el Torrero.

“We have a dynamic history and a wonderful community of people, who have been here for centuries,” McAllen said. “This property has existed through two Mexican wars of independence, the Mexican-American War, Civil War, and several battles that impacted this land. This history should not be forgotten, honoring those who came before us. The buildings we have restored will remain preserved so our community can see local historical architecture.

“I believe it’s important to know your history if we are going to build a better future,” McAllen added. “The GeT Foundation looks forward to teaching with the visual arts as our guide and inspiration. These structures serve as a backdrop and active participant in our future education goals.”

McAllen purchased the 9-acre tract of land in 2004, which contained the three remaining structures from a colonial cattle ranch that predates Texas by 40 years. In the fall of 2019, McAllen and his wife decided to restore these dilapidated structures to preserve the initially built architecture when the ranch was active with sheep and cattle.

“It’s great to be connected to so much history,” McAllen said. “I find it fascinating being able to look at those times that predate Texas and get an idea and understanding of how this region began. I get a better sense of a timeline and how I arrived to be in this place and land.”

Thanks to GeT Foundation, McAllen is finding a way to bridge his love of art and history — and inspire artists throughout the region.

The McAllen’s started the GeT Foundation, which promotes the arts and education along the borderlands of South Texas and Mexico to foster collaborations between the arts and sciences to connect artists, students, and our community with the world.

McAllen will accomplish this by providing a place of gathering for community engagement, the exhibition of art, performances, and workshops to mentor students and help artists find support and success at Rancho Guadalupe.

McAllen said he got the idea for the foundation when he and his team were renovating the historic site.

“As I was going through the process of restoring these buildings, I wondered why I was doing all this,” McAllen recalled. “I asked myself, ‘why are we investing in renovations, and I remembered we’re doing it strictly for the love of it and the love of history. My wife and I want to take it a step further and give back to the community and share this place.

“With the foundation, McAllen said he wants the history of the property to serve as the bedrock of the foundation to promote education and arts on the border inspired by contemporary art seen across the state.

“We feel there is a need in the Valley to support the arts and we have something to contribute to help collaborate with others involved in similar projects,” McAllen said. “We want to create a space to make and enjoy art and be in a dialogue with other artists in San Antonio, Monterrey, or Marfa. We enjoy helping our community and have been involved in other organizations like the

Linn-San Manuel Community Improvement Committee foundation, which also donates to scholarships. We have followed these and other organizations, and we wanted to create our own with art in mind. We love art, and we want to spread appreciation for the arts within the community and bring more awareness to the area.”

“I’ve enjoyed painting since I was in high school. I studied art in college and continue to create paintings even after college.”

“We want to start with helping kids in the community at the elementary, middle, and high school level, as well as college students, and artists in the Valley and Northern Mexico. McAllen said the foundation will support students and artists in the Rio Grande Valley and across the border. “There is amazing talent here in the RGV and in northern Mexico, so why not collaborate between both areas, learn from each other, and discuss some issues? We think connecting south Texas with our neighbors across the river can be done through art. If we’re going to make things better along the border, I think it must come through further communication,” McAllen said.

To help get the foundation started, McAllen had an art show in San Antonio to showcase his latest paintings, which were part of a collection titled “From the Brush.” The paintings depicted McAllen’s experiences on the ranch and his contemplation of art and nature. The show, held in May in downtown San Antonio sold more than $100,000 worth of his paintings, and 100% of these funds were donated as seed money to the foundation.

“All of my work is oil on linen, and I will continue to paint as long as I can,” McAllen said. “I’ve always painted for my own creativity, and the timing could not have been better to donate my love of art to the next chapter of my life: the GeT Foundation. We had a wonderful turnout at the show, and it was a great success we hope to continue again in the future.” McAllen said the foundation plans to continue fundraising and eventually build a facility on the property to host art shows and conferences. “We’ve achieved a lot in the past seven months-we’re moving ahead,” McAllen said.

For more information on the foundation, visit gettexasart.org.

Jose De Leon III