The Vaquero

todayMay 2, 2013 332

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VaqueroPicA tribute to “The Vaquero”
(Photo by Mathew Alvarez)

By Matthew Alvarez

The round flowerbed, which once sat in front of Old Main, has officially been replaced. Closed off to the public by construction for the last year, the fences have been removed and have given way to a “The Vaquero,” a bronze sculpture.

“The Vaquero,” which now accompanies other art works on campus, such as “The LBJ Statue” in front of Flowers Hall and “The Stallions” in front of Derrick Hall, is the latest gift from Bill and Sally Wittliff. The sculpture resembles a Mexican cowboy whose presence in Texas Rio Grande Valley was once abundant.

The artist responsible for “The Vaquero” is Clete Shield, a Philadelphia sculptor well known his work on the Willy Nelson statue in Austin. Shield said his work sculpting the Vaquero took about five months and he found his inspiration through Wittliff’s photography.

“Bill sent me his book, which is full of these great, authentic, beautiful images of the Vaquero’s working their trade,” Shields said. “This is a great site, a beautiful campus and I think it’s very appropriate. It all fits together beautifully, as if it belongs here.”

Wittliff dedicated the sculpture to pay tribute to the Mexican Vaqueros. In his frequent trips to Rancho Tule in northern Mexico in the 1970s, Wittliff worked with and spoke with the Vaqueros. He said the family’s old-fashioned way of life inspired him to take photographs in order to capture those moments in time.

“They were doing all the cowboy stuff like in the old days. It disappeared in Texas long ago, but it was still there a few moments more,” Wittliff said. “I didn’t know a lot, but I knew what I was seeing. I went back and forth and photographed it.”

Wittliff said Americans take pride in the cowboy life, but the Vaquero is where the Texas cowboy comes from as well as the culture within the state. With his frequent trips, Wittliff captured those rare moments of the Vaqueros life in northern Mexico. But one morning, when the sun rose over Rancho Tule, Wittliff picked up his camera and captured the images of the man casted in bronze today.

“One morning, there was this [man] and he was just standing there waiting for the day to start,” Wittliff said. “I walked around him with my camera and made a series of pictures from every angle. I wasn’t thinking that I would one day convert this guy into a piece of sculpture, but rather, I wanted to record him in his wholeness.”

The Vaquero statue was presented to Texas State Thursday afternoon. Jack Watson, former White House Chief of Staff for the Carter administration, spoke at the ceremony. Watson described “The Vaquero” as a magnificent work of art, and said the statue is a great way to honor those who helped make the nation what it is today.

“It’s a recognition of a wonderful acknowledgement of how embedded we are as a country,” Watson said. “All too often we forget how many people and how many cultures have contributed to America, and that’s what this is about.”

The Vaquero stands over 18 feet tall in Old Main Plaza. Wittliff said the sculpture signifies the life of an old Texas cowboy, a mix between the historic Mexican and American culture. Which at one point, Wittliff said, were both one civilization.

“The Rio Grande can be a divider, but it can also be a place of substance. A lot of this is that we’re all part of the same world.”

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