Jesse Trevino: An Inspirational Art Hero

by: Ricardo Romo, Ph.D
Posted: May 18, 2021

Happy  belated Cinco de Mayo.    The National Hispanic Hall of Fame honored local artist Jesse Trevino on May 5th, 2021 with its annual Lifetime Achievement Award.  Trevino, recognized  for his brilliance in the arts,  joins other Texas distinguished leaders in receiving this prestigious award,  including the Honorable Henry Cisneros, General Alfred Valenuela, and Lionel Sosa.  Raul Zuniga and Noe Medina, the organization’s top leaders, announced their selection recently and noted that a ceremony is being postponed until 2022 because of the  Covid pandemic.Jesse Trevino, one of America’s premier Latino artists,  grew up in the Westside San Antonio neighborhood called Prospect Hill.  His family of  eleven brothers and sisters lived in a modest home on Monterey Street.  His dad, Juan Trevino,  immigrated from Monterrey, Mexico to the United States in the late 1920s.

Juan Trevino drove trucks and repaired cars for a living.  He was working as a  mechanic in San Antonio  when he first met his future wife Dolores in the  nearby city of New Braunfels.  Following their marriage in the mid 1930s, they moved to Monterrey, Mexico  where most of the Trevino’s eleven children, including Jesse were born.

Jesse Trevino in his outdoor studio. San Antonio, Tx. Photo: Ricardo Romo

The Trevino family moved back to San Antonio in the 1950s and bought a house on Monterey Street, two blocks from Henry Cisneros’ home.  Jesse Trevino’s interest in art and design led him to Fox Tech where his older brothers had attended public school. In his early years of art training at Fox Tech High School, Trevino found inspiration in the American portrait tradition.

During his first year at Fox Tech High School, Trevino painted a portrait of Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson that  he titled simply  “LBJ” (1962).  Trevino’s biographer, Anthony Head,  noted that Trevino found inspiration in the work of portrait artist Norman Rockwell.

Detail from “La Historia Chicana.” 1974. Our Lady of the Lake University. 100×57 Acrylic on canvas.
Photo: Ricardo Romo

Finishing high school in 1965, Jesse  headed East to the prestigious Art Students League of New York on a scholarship.  His mentors and teachers  were some of America’s finest portrait painters, and he studied alongside some of the brightest young artists in the nation.

In the 1960s, New York was considered among the top three places in the world to pursue the study and practice of art.   Trevino’s  stay in New York  lasted less than a year,  ending when he was drafted into the United States Armed Services.

Anthony Head, whose biography,  Spirit: The Life and Art of Jesse Trevino,[1] best tells the Trevino story. He   described Trevino’s Vietnam service and his return from the war as the beginning of a tortured experience extending from many months to many years.  Head wrote:  “Under heavy fire, Trevino  sustained life-threatening injuries including to his right arm, which he painted with.”  Eventually, that arm was amputated below the elbow, but “Jesse had already started training himself to live left-handed—especially as an artist.”

In 1977  Trevino painted the well-known drugstore  “Progreso”  as part of his Westside series,  which included several other acrylic paintings from that period.   His best known paintings of that era include;  “Raspa Man,”  “La Cita Lounge,” and “Liria’s Lounge”. The  “Progreso” painting  was purchased by public relations guru Lionel Sosa in the 1980s and is part of Lionel and Kathy Sosa’s private collection.

The Old Market Square. Mosaic mural. Market Street. Photo: Ricardo Romo. 2021.

In the late 1970s Trevino was interviewed by Patricia Elizondo, a local television reporter, who asked him what artistic goals he had for the future.  Trevino noted that he loved to put a mosaic  mural on the Santa Rosa Hospital wall facing the old Mexican park.   When the hospital hired Elizondo as a communication specialist,  she mentioned Trevino’s mural aspiration to Santa Rosa’s  CEO and other executives. Trevino always loved monumental art and proposed painting a mural on the entire nine story Santa Rosa hospital wall facing south  which could be viewed from the elevated I-35 Highway.    In an interview recently, Trevino credited Elizondo for introducing and pushing the idea for what would be the grand “Spirit of Healing” mural.

Spirit of Healing. Children’s Hospital of San Antonio. 1997. Mosaic tile. 40×93.
Photo Ricardo Romo 2020

Trevino’s  Spirit of Healing mural  is a gigantic 93 feet by 43 feet which required thousands of small pieces of tile of 70 different colors. At its completion,  the art piece was reputed to be the largest ceramic mural in America. The mural depicts a young boy (his son)  holding a dove under the watchful protection of a guardian angel.

Jesse Trevino Gallery: Photos by: Ricardo Romo
Ricardo Romo grew up in San Antonio, Texas and graduated from Fox Tech High School. He attended the University of Texas in Austin on a track scholarship. He won acclaim as the first Texan to run the mile in less than four minutes and earned All American honors in track. Romo also earned a master’s degree in history from Loyola Marymount University (1970) and a Ph.D. in American history from UCLA (1975). A nationally respected urban historian, Romo is the author of “East Los Angeles: History of a Barrio,” now in its ninth printing (one in Spanish). A recognized urban historian, he has taught and published in the field of civil rights, Mexican American history, and urban history. Yolanda Garza v. County of Los Angeles which MALDEF won in Federal Court in 1991. The legal victory gave East Los Angeles residents political representation for the first time. Romo served as the fifth president of the University of Texas at San Antonio from 1999 to 2017. At UTSA he created four new colleges, built the first dorms and dining halls, and led the first Capital fundraising campaign which raised more than 200 million dollars. He added 24 new Ph.D programs to the campus and increased both graduate and minority enrollment. Romo is the publisher of Latinos in America Newsletter and currently serves as a Director for numerous boards including: San Antonio’s Southwest Research Institute, Brackenridge Conservancy, Humanities Texas, Texas State Historical Commission, and World Affairs Council. He writes cultural and political essays and serves on the editorial board for La Prensa Texas, a bilingual newspaper in San Antonio.
Ricardo and his wife Harriett have been recognized for their philanthropy in the arts. Over the past 20 years they have donated nearly 2,000 Latino art prints and paintings to a dozen museums, universities, and nonprofits, including: The McNay Contemporary Art Museum, The Smithsonian, The Witte Museum, The University of Texas Benson Latin American Collection, Briscoe Western Art Museum, San Antonio Museum of Art, Say Si!, The University of Houston Downtown, Progreso Library in Uvalde, The University of Texas-San Antonio, San Antonio Public Library, and St. Phillips College.

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