Garcia, Antonio Encarnación (1901–1997)


By: Tara D. Ivey

Type: Biography

Published: March 9, 2022

Updated: March 10, 2022


Antonio Encarnación Garcia was an influential South Texas artist known for his involvement in art education in Corpus Christi. He was born on December 27, 1901, in Monterrey, Mexico, to Jose Antonio Garcia and Dolores Canales. His mother died soon after he was born, and he was raised by his father. In 1914 Antonio Garcia and his two sisters were sent by their father to live with relatives in San Diego, Texas, to escape the violence of the Mexican Revolution. In San Diego, Antonio, having shown early aspirations to be an artist, began studying art through correspondence while he attended high school. He took a job at the local silent movie theater, run by his aunt, to save enough money to attend the Art Institute of Chicago. From 1927 to 1930 Garcia studied art at the institute and graduated with honors. During his time there, he received the Frederic Brand Award for composition, the Municipal Art League Prize, and first place in a poster contest sponsored by the Civic League of Chicago. He later studied independently under notable artists such as Frederic Taubes, Jacob Getlar Smith, and Wayman Adams. In 1929 Garcia married his San Diego High School sweetheart Herminia Gonzalez. They had five children—Dolores, Antonio Jr., Eduardo, Ana Maria, and Rosa.

After 1930 Garcia worked as a commercial artist in San Diego, Texas, and taught art classes across South Texas. He showed an affinity for murals and credited Mexican muralists such as José Orozco and Diego Rivera as influences. In 1933 the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts commissioned him to paint a mural as a Public Works Administration (PWA) project. The piece, titled March on Washington, depicts the 1932 World War I “Bonus Army” protest.

By 1936 Garcia and his family had moved to Corpus Christi, where he helped found the South Texas Art League which helped connect aspiring art students with practicing artists through workshops and exhibits. He also opened his art studio to teach evening art classes while offering space for artists to gather and collaborate. Categorized as a South Texas regionalist, Garcia painted landscapes, portraits, and murals and worked in a variety of mediums, including oils, pastels, charcoal, wood, watercolor, and acrylic. His frescos, for which he was self-taught, earned him the most recognition. He often used family members as his models, and the painting of his wife (Woman Before a Mirror) was shown at the Texas Centennial in Dallas in 1936.

Around 1941 the builder of Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Corpus Christi, Father Anthony Elsing, commissioned Garcia to design and construct frescos on the walls of the church. Throughout much of the 1940s he completed several pieces for the church. In 1946 Garcia was commissioned to paint a fresco, Mexican Annunciation, in the Presidio La Bahia in Goliad, Texas. These, as well as many other pieces painted in different mediums in the 1940s earned Garcia notoriety, and in 1949 he received first place for figurative painting in the Southern States Art League traveling exhibit for his Juneteenth Revue, an oil painting on canvas.

From the 1950s into the 1970s, Garcia taught art at Del Mar College in Corpus Christi as part of the school’s continuing education program. He also taught at Corpus Christi Centennial Museum and privately. He took students for two weeks every summer to Mexico where he would employ local residents to pose so his students could paint the life, landscape, and environment of towns such as Saltillo, San Miguel de Allende, and Mazatlan. In 1960 Bishop Mariano Garriga commissioned Garcia to paint a fresco in the Corpus Christi Minor Seminary Chapel. The result was the forty-four-foot-high Immaculate Conception.

Garcia’s works appeared in a number of touring exhibits and museums. He was featured in the National Touring Bicentennial Exhibit in 1976 in 17 Mexican-American Artists. That same year he was part of a Mexican American exhibit at Cordova Museum in Boston. His art was included in the Illinois Bell Centennial Exhibit in 1979. His Woman Before a Mirror was included in the Bronx Museum of the Arts exhibit The Latin American Presence in the United States, 1920–1970, which also toured nationally in the late 1980s into 1990. Garcia heralded his exhibit Antonio Garcia: A South Texas Regionalist at the Art Museum of South Texas at Corpus Christi in 1988 as a career highlight. His paintings are included in collections at Texas A&M University-Kingsville, the Texas Federation of Women’s Clubs, and the Centennial Art Museum. He was forced to retire from painting in the 1980s because of failing eyesight.

Garcia was a trustee of the Texas Fine Arts Association. He was also a city arts advisor in Corpus Christi, and he worked with the local police department there as a sketch artist. He was a devout Catholic and member of the Knights of Columbus Council No. 2710.

Dubbed the “Michelangelo of South Texas,” Antonio Encarnació Garcia, Sr., passed away on November 3, 1997, in Port Saint Lucie, Florida. His wife Herminia preceded him in death on November 14, 1986. He was survived by his children, eight grandchildren, and nine great grandchildren. A funeral Mass as held at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Corpus Christi, and he was buried in San Diego Cemetery in San Diego, Texas.

In 1998 the South Texas Institute for the Arts (formerly the Center for Hispanic Arts) was renamed the Antonio E. Garcia Arts and Education Center. A playground constructed on the grounds of the center was designated Antonio E. Garcia Park by the city of Corpus Christi’s Parks and Recreation Department in 2010. The center works with the Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi College of Education to offer internships for university students studying education and counseling, counseling programs for parents and children, after-school tutoring, summer art camps and mentoring programs, and a long list of other community outreach programs. A Texas Historical Marker honoring Garcia was erected at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Corpus Christi in 2016.

Antonio E. Garcia, Antonio E. Garcia Arts & Education Center, College of Education and Human Development, Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi (https://www.tamucc.edu/education/departments/garcia-center/antonio-e-garcia.php), accessed March 5, 2022. Corpus Christi Caller-Times, November 5, 6, 1997. Andrea Elizondo (director, Antonio E. Garcia Arts and Education Center), Interview by Tara D. Ivey, April 10, 2015, Corpus Christi, Texas. Historical Marker Files, Texas Historical Commission, Austin. Geraldine McCoin, “Artistic Heritage: Antonio Garcia,” South Texas Catholic, March 1, 2012, Diocese of Corpus Christi (https://diocesecc.org/artistic-heritage-antonio-garcia/), accessed March 5, 2022. Lin Nelson-Mayson, Antonio Garcia: A South Texas Regionalist (Corpus Christi: Art Museum of South Texas, 1988).

Categories:
  • Education
  • Educators
  • Art and Architecture
  • Peoples
  • Mexican Americans
  • Visual Arts
  • Painting
Time Periods:
  • Great Depression
  • Texas Post World War II
Places:
  • South Texas
  • Southeast Texas
  • Gulf Coast Region
  • Corpus Christi

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

Tara D. Ivey, “Garcia, Antonio Encarnación,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed June 28, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/garcia-antonio-encarnacion.

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March 9, 2022
March 10, 2022

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