An outdoor art exhibition. A place for quiet reflection and environmental education. A tourist attraction.
These phrases don’t normally conjure up images of deer blinds.
But this fall, two decorative steel wildlife observation posts are set to debut atop the much-anticipated $23 million Robert L.B. Tobin Land Bridge at Hardberger Park, designed by nationally recognized Stephen Stimson Associates Landscape Architects, offering a one-of-a-kind experience in public art, wilderness appreciation and education, and more, community leaders said.
“I think what’s really special about having the public art on the land bridge is that it takes what was sort of a practical feature — a wildlife-viewing blind — and it’s making those blinds something beautiful so that when people come, they can sit in them and appreciate the artwork,” said Denise Gross, the executive director at Phil Hardberger Park Conservancy, which raised about $10 million for the bridge.
“The public-art installations and the bridge itself are symbols of what San Antonio can do, even during challenging times,” she added, alluding to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ashley Mireles, a nationally exhibited interdisciplinary artist whose blind will highlight oversized cutouts of native plants, and Cade Bradshaw, an award-winning visual artist with a background in science, will be featured in the attraction’s artwork.
Bradshaw’s punched-steel piece is based on contour maps depicting elevation changes in a landscape with Central Texas animal shapes hidden within.
According to city officials, each blind will be about 14 feet by 10 feet by 9 feet with a 140-square-foot footprint.
“This is a special project, and it’s made more special by the fact that it’s San Antonio artists who have their thumbprint on Hardberger Park,” said District 8 Councilman Manny Peláez, who represents an area that encompasses part of the park. “I think that’s appropriate because this is a park used almost exclusively by San Antonians.”
Minnie and Max Voelcker once owned the park property and operated a dairy farm there.
Bradshaw said his blind would include a series of overlapping perforated steel panels allowing different amounts of light inside the structure, creating a complex, dappled sunlight effect.
“You kind of get a modulated change in light once you are inside,” he said. “This is going to become a special place that doesn’t feel as confining to be in. Rather than going to a museum to see art, you are out in your community and your green space, and there’s art there to meet you, adjoining with all of the natural aspects of the park that we already love.”
Mireles’ work includes papel-picado-style cutouts of Texas mountain laurel, bushy bluestem grass, and other native plants found in the park.
“You’ll see that the plant images are much larger,” she said. “The blinds will be just a fun thing to go inside and experience, and then at the same time to be able to look through the cutouts, and people’s eyes can then begin to focus through the plants to view the wildlife.”
Peláez, an avid bird-watcher, thinks this will be a place for busy people to slow down.
“This is going to be an opportunity not just to enjoy the trails, enjoy the sun and enjoy the fresh air, but also to really stop and take a look at wildlife in a way that allows wildlife to be undisturbed while they are being watched,” he said. “This is one of the elements of this art installation, this concept of stillness.”
While the 330-acre grounds are primarily utilized by area residents, city officials expect the art installation and the land bridge — which will connect the east and west sides of the park for both humans and wildlife alike — will draw people from further afield.
The bridge spans bustling Wurzbach Parkway.
“San Antonio is a big drive market for visitors,” said Debbie Racca-Sittre, director of San Antonio’s Department of Arts & Culture, which is spearheading the project as part of a public-art plan connecting different regions of the city to downtown and vice versa. “So, we would expect that people coming from Dallas, Houston, Austin, El Paso and the Valley — when they come to San Antonio, they have their cars, so they can go out to Hardberger and see this incredible land bridge and wildlife viewing blinds that are works of art. They are destinations themselves.”
The director said funding comes from a portion of the $850 million bond approved by voters in 2017.
To encourage this connectivity, in July, Arts & Culture revealed “Green Spaces at Market Street,” a painted steel railing featuring a blended replica of Bradshaw and Mireles’ two blinds at the River Walk Public Art Garden, a street-level art display near the intersection of South Alamo and East Market streets.
“Our plan is to have some interpretive signage there that talks about going to Hardberger Park and how (this piece) connects to Hardberger Park,” Racca-Sittre said. “The whole concept behind the Public Art Garden is that we put representations of projects around the city downtown, so that visitors who often just want to come downtown to the River Walk and the Alamo can see that there are other parts of our city to go and explore.”