Starting this holiday season, visitors to Travis Park will experience new art installations dotting the four quadrants of the historic space. This is thanks to Public Art San Antonio and local artist Emily Fleisher, who has delved into the history of the park for this project.
Emily teaches in the Visual Art Department at San Antonio College and uses the immediate environment in her personal studio work. “I have an interest in these tidbits of lost history that exist all around us,” she says. These tidbits are what inspired “Travis Park First Fruits,” the installation she created to bring forgotten moments to the forefront of the contemporary Travis Park experience.
San Antonio College Professor and Artist Emily Fleisher stands with her newest art installation titled, 'Travis Park First Fruits' at Travis Park in Downtown San Antonio. Michael Cirlos / Centro San Antonio
“I like walking through the space in the present day and thinking about what was there in the past,” she explains. Once the property of Mission San Antonio De Valero (The Alamo), the area that is now Travis Park fell into the hands of Samuel Maverick in the 19th Century. According to local legend, Samuel Maverick, most notable for his role in the Texas War for Independence, used the area for his peach orchard.
Local legend also holds that the park served as an open-air hospital during the civil war before becoming the community space we know it as today. During her investigation of this history, Emily uncovered a largely forgotten First World War campaign involving the collections of thousands of tons of peach pits.
The pits, when reduced down to charcoal, provided an absorptive material that increased the effectiveness of gas masks. The Texas Hill Country was the major producer of peaches before Georgia, and the area around Fredericksburg produced a staggering amount of peach pits for the war effort.
Emily was struck by a photograph from the National Archives depicting a solider standing on a mound of peach pits, surrounded by women pouring out their baskets of pits onto the pile. This image inspired the pyramid of peach pits in the Southeast Quadrant of the park, whose geometric shapes also hearken to the steeples of the churches in the surrounding the area.
National Archives photo no.165-WW-600D-5
Digging deeper into the history, Emily uncovered the Girls Scouts of the USA's first nationwide project in 1918. They helped to gather peach pits that year, turning it into a competition in which one girl was crowned “Peach Pit Champion.” Five cast bronze baskets lie in the Southwest quadrant of the park to commemorate them.
“It’s like the ghosts of peaches past,” says Emily of the three concrete peach crates in the Northwest quadrant of the park, near the WW1 memorial marker. She wanted to hearken back to the peaches of Samuel Maverick, touching on another phase in the life cycle of the fruit. To complete that life cycle, the City of San Antonio Department of Arts and Culture will bring in a peach tree to adorn the Northeast (and final) quadrant.
To tie this installation together, Emily has prepared a truly unique piece. For months now, a replica peach pit collection barrel resembling those during the First World War has been sitting at Heart of the Hill Country Farm Stand. This farm stand gets its peaches (coincidentally enough) from Fredericksburg, which provided support for the war effort generations ago through its pit collection. Since June, clients of the farm stand have been dropping off their pits in the barrel. Emily used those locally sourced pits to create the cast concrete pits for her installations in Travis Park.
Over 1,000 peach pits were utilized to create this artwork at Travis Park. Michael Cirlos / Centro San Antonio
It’s important to keep these connections in mind, whether they existed long ago or continue today, when experiencing “Travis Park First Fruits.” As Emily describes, “It starts here in the park, and then it expands out to the efforts of the Fredericksburg peach farmers, out into broader U.S. history, and how that then relates to global history.”
The implications of these historic occurrences are why this installation is part of the Department of Arts and Culture’s TriArt initiative in commemoration of San Antonio’s Tricentennial. “We’re very excited to see her research and her creative ideas come into fruition in this thoughtful and well-crafted series of sculptures being placed throughout the park,” says Debbie Racca-Sittre, Director of the City of San Antonio Department of Arts and Culture.
Emily hopes that when people experience this installation, they will look at this familiar space in a new light. She remarks, “It’s about breaking down barriers between spaces, while further defining the specific space.”
San Antonio College Professor and Artist Emily Fleisher stands next to her art installation at Travis Park. Michael Cirlos / Centro San Antonio
Top banner image: Courtesy of Emily Fleisher.