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RODRIGUEZ, DIONICIO

RODRÍGUEZ, DIONICIO (1891?–1955). Dionicio Rodríguez, artist, son of Catarino Rodríguez, was born in Toluca, capital of the state of México, in 1891 or 1893. He perfected a secret process in which he carved chemically treated reinforced concrete so that it looked like wood. He produced several major works in San Antonio's Brackenridge Park, notably the concrete footbridge that simulates an arbor of woven wooden limbs. Because he traveled throughout the United States to work on commissions and did not speak English, very little is known about him. As a boy, he developed skills he later used in his art by working in a foundry and for an Italian artist who produced imitation rocks. Rodríguez later reproduced ruins of ancient buildings in collaboration with Mexican architects and engineers, working on major projects such as Chapultepec Castle, the presidential residence in Mexico City. Some sources have indicated that Rodríguez was married as a young man. Apparently the marriage produced no children and ended before he came to the United States in the 1920s. During the mid-1920s Rodríguez moved to San Antonio to work on Dr. Aureliano Urrutia's house, which has been razed. Charles Baumberger, president of the San Antonio Portland Cement Company (now Alamo Cement Company), was also an important patron for whom Rodríguez produced the faux bois bus stop at Broadway and Patterson in Alamo Heights. The largest examples of Rodríguez's work in San Antonio, a fence and a fish pond eighteen feet in diameter, which is covered with a concrete roof resembling thatch and surrounded by an arcaded walkway, are located on the former site of the Alamo Cement Company in Alamo Heights. Several examples of Rodríguez's work extant in Brackenridge Park, including the pedestrian bridge and the entrance to the sunken garden, were probably also commissioned by Baumberger. Rodríguez made a canopied table and bench now in Brackenridge Park that were originally installed at Alamo Plaza and numerous smaller pieces such as fountains, benches, tree-stump planters, trash receptacles, and lampposts that are scattered on public and private property throughout San Antonio.

During the 1930s Rodríguez worked for Arkansas developer Justin Matthews, sculpting pieces for three parks in Little Rock. In his most innovative work for Matthews, Rodríguez worked with an architect to design a site to look like an abandoned mill, in which everything but the stone walls of the mill was molded from cement. In the early 1940s he completed a dozen works based on literary and Biblical themes for E. Clovis Hinds in the Memorial Park Cemetery in Memphis, Tennessee. The most outstanding of these is a massive grotto, the inside of which is studded with crystals and decorated with ten sculpted and painted scenes from the life of Christ. Other examples of Rodríguez's work have been found in Chattanooga, Tennessee; Hot Springs, Arkansas; Suitland, Maryland; Ann Arbor, Michigan; New York City; and Clayton, New Mexico. His inclusion of such painstaking details as insect holes, peeling bark, and broken-off branches in his work, which he called el trabajo rústico, demonstrates a highly refined aesthetic as well as technical mastery of his medium. He began each piece by fashioning a metal framework, to which he applied cement that had been mixed without sand. He then sculpted the moistened cement with his hands or simple tools such as a fork, knife, spoon, or twig. He stained the cement while it was still wet, using chemicals such as copperas, sulfuric acid, muriatic acid, iron oxide, saltpeter, and lampblack for various tints. Rodríguez never used models or preparatory sketches. Though he trained workers to assist him on his commissions, many of whom have continued to work in his style, he jealously guarded his special techniques, particularly those relating to the tinting process, with the result that none of his assistants has approached his level of craftsmanship. Dionicio Rodríguez died in San Antonio on December 16, 1955, and was buried in San Fernando Archdiocesan Cemetery; he had no immediate survivors.

During the 1980s several scholars became interested in Rodríguez's sculptures, and his pieces in Little Rock were awarded a National Register of Historic Places designation in 1986. His work in Memphis was added to the National Register in 1991. In the early 1990s groups such as the San Antonio Conservation Society made an effort to preserve some of Rodríguez's works. Private individuals purchased the Alamo Cement Company property and in 1995 opened the Stone Werks Caffe and Bar, which featured his work.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Chris Carson and William B. McDonald, eds., A Guide to San Antonio Architecture (San Antonio Chapter, American Institute of Architects, 1986). Files, Daughters of the Republic of Texas Library, San Antonio. Pat Jasper and Kay Turner, Art among Us: Mexican American Folk Art of San Antonio (San Antonio Museum Association, 1986). Tom Kazas, "Looks Like Wood," Americana, September-October 1989. Vertical Files, San Antonio Conservation Society Library.

Kendall Curlee

Citation

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Kendall Curlee, "RODRIGUEZ, DIONICIO," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/frouw), accessed September 23, 2014. Uploaded on June 15, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.