History

When is a Tree Not a Tree? When it’s Dionicio Rodriguez’s Artwork

By  | 

When is a tree not a tree? If you are taking in the sites in public areas around Texas, Alabama, Arkansas, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, New Mexico, Tennessee, Washington, D.C., or Mexico City, then it could be reinforced concrete specially treated to appear as wood by the artist Dionicio Rodríguez. Texas alone has a great number of works, including in San Antonio, the footbridge at Brackenridge Park, the entrance to the Japanese Tea Gardens, a bus stop in Alamo Heights, and, in Houston, the Woodlawn Garden of Memories.

San Antonio

Photo: Facebook/Villa Finale: Museum & Gardens

Each piece began with metal framework and applied cement, then was sculpted by hand or with simple tools such as a fork, twig, or spoon. Then it was stained while wet for various tints with what was believed to be copperas, sulfuric acid, muriatic acid, iron oxide, saltpeter, and lampblack. Creating the appearance of wood in concrete required tremendous attention to detail; the works still demand a closer look to see stylized insect holes, peeling bark, signs of decay, and broken-off branches. Although Rodríguez utilized assistants, none were taught his special methods.

Look closely!
Photo: Facebook/ItsJust Chel

Born in Mexico in April 1891 or 1893, he learned under other faux bois sculptors of the time, and as he grew, his work with cement and architecture evolved. After moving to San Antonio, he acquired patronage from what is now the Alamo Cement Company and other prominent parties, producing works around the city. Rodriguez also traveled around Texas, including Comfort and Castroville, as well as other states, producing work for roughly twenty years.

Limited availability of materials due to World War II, along with suffering health, led to a decline in Rodríguez’s output. He died in San Antonio on December 16, 1955, and had no immediate survivors. In the 1980’s, renewed interest in the work of Dionicio Rodriguez led to National Register of Historic Places designation of several works throughout the United States. Existing works may be near you, see if you can spot one today!

Page 1 of 2:12