It is one of San Antonio’s largest pieces of public art and is a window into a very important event in Texas history. And now the huge mural above the Lila Cockrell Theater is finally getting some TLC.

That mural is far enough off Market Street, located behind the Grand Hyatt Hotel, that the best way to see it is by taking the River Walk barge tour.

This 130 meter long mural is not just another piece of public art. Author and historian Susan Toomey Frost says it’s special.


“A Confluence of Civilizations” mural by Juan O’Gorman

“I consider this the most important public art we have in all of Texas, and certainly South Texas,” she said.

Despite its massive size and artistic importance, there are probably many of us who don’t know much about it. Not so Guillermo Moya’s city of San Antonio.

“It was part of the 1968 World’s Fair, or Hemisfair as we knew it here in San Antonio,” Moya said.

The mural was designed by artist and architect Juan O’Gorman, who was good friends with Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera.

“O’Gorman did the mural in ’67 and they fabricated all these pieces,” Moya said. “There are over 500 pieces that make up this entire mural. And they were all fabricated in Mexico.”


UTSA and San Antonio Express-News Special Collections


O’Gorman’s mural arrives by truck in San Antonio in 500 pieces

Those parts were trucked in from Guanajuato and arrived to be assembled in October of ’67 before Hemisfair opened the following April. Hemisfair had as a marketing slogan A union of civilizations, which is what O’Gorman called the mural. Frost says O’Gorman took the concept literally, describing a union of civilizations.

“On the right side European, Greek, Roman civilization,” said Frost. “The left side, everything we get out of South America and Mexico. And in the middle—like San Antonio was the center of civilization, it all comes together here, with the astronaut and the cowboy, and things that are very Texas.”

Unlike most murals, Moya said there was no paint on this one.

“These are difficult elements. They are stones. These stones were from O’Gorman’s hometown of Guanajuato.

There are 12 colors of stone that make up the mural, 11 from Guanajuato, and one that had to be imported from Italy. But now, after 55 summers of direct western sun, it was decided that it was time for repair and cleaning. Richard Oliver of the city said that given all this, it has held up well.

“That mural, for it to look as nice as it does now and only lose a few tiles over all those years, says something about how wonderfully it’s come together, obviously, because the conditions, as we all know, in south Texas. tough,” he said.

Matching stones 55 years after the fact is no small matter.

“The actual repair of the mural is under arts and culture,” Oliver said. “They’ve been looking for the missing tiles, matching the colors. I mean, it’s a complicated process.”

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fine detail from A Meeting of Civilizations

Director of the Department of Arts and Culture Krystal Jones says there are about 500 panels that make up the murals and each panel has hundreds of colored stones on them.

“There are so many pieces of rock, about 400,000 pieces up there. And if you’re looking from the level of the Riverwalk, it looks very intact,” Jones said. “These rocks are so small you wouldn’t be able to tell them apart.”

Workers from Noble Texas Builders put up scaffolding to get a better look and discovered something disturbing.

“Then we realized that about 100 stones were missing. And that’s when our team really got to work engaging and finding stones that would match the originals,” she said.

They have found similar stones from Texas and around the United States. As for exactly how many stones they had to replace, Nobel foreman Sergio Grosso said as much.

“It’s divided into a grid of, let’s say, two and a half by two and a half squares, and in each one there were probably a total of five to 10 stones to replace,” Grosso said.

The Lila Cockrell Theater and the mural were built to welcome international visitors to the San Antonio World’s Fair, and Grosso said it’s a union of civilizations the theme was clever and upbeat.

“The story that the mural tells about San Antonio, the purpose of the art, I think becomes more and more interesting as I learn more about the mural,” he said.

Asked if he felt like Juan O’Gorman was looking over his shoulder, he laughed.

“I hope so. And I hope he’s happy with what we’ve done,” he said. “We try to be very respectful with the work we’ve done. I feel very honored to be a part of it.”

Jones said they are almost done with the cleanup and soon you will be able to see the mural restored and pristine.

“All the scaffolding will come down. It will be a pure O’Gorman mural,” Jones said. “And for all of us to enjoy for generations to come.”

A very good view of the mural is directly across the river standing next to Carlos Merida’s Hemisfair-era glass tile mural, also titled A union of civilizations.


Carlos Merida’s A Merging of Civilizations directly across the river from O’Gorman’s mural

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