The San Antonio River

Today “Beyond the Briscoe” highlights one of the museum’s least recognized, yet most significant, unofficial gallery spaces, the San Antonio Riverwalk. The Briscoe is located at one of the most important points along the San Antonio River in terms of historic and contemporary uses. By installing bronze works of art along the north bank, the museum has emphasized the importance of the river and incorporated this space into the visitor’s museum experience.

The spot in the river that passes behind the Briscoe Western Art Museum was a low point that became a loading place for the Pajalache people who lived along the river in villages and later in the San Antonio missions. Utilizing the shallows behind the museum’s location and deepening the acequia to Mission Concepcion, Native people transported food and other trade goods from one location to another and utilized this particular waterway to facilitate commerce between missions.

Later, the low point in the river was utilized as the last crossing in the San Antonio River, facilitating the movement of livestock. A monumental sculpture by T. D. Kelsey pays homage to the ranching traditions that have been part of South Texas culture since the eighteenth century. Kelsey’s sculpture, Camino de Galvez, commemorates the first recorded cattle drive from San Antonio to Louisiana in 1779, when Spanish ranchers sent beef to feed hungry American soldiers during the Revolutionary War.

More recently, this section of the San Antonio River has drawn tourists and particularly birdwatchers, who come to observe the nesting patterns of the yellow-crowned night heron, a smaller species that nests in the cypress trees that line the river. Increasingly large numbers of these birds maintain a home directly behind the museum, where resources are abundant. Their familiar cries and distinct plumage are a unique attraction in the late spring and early summer in San Antonio. In fact, the bird has become such a fixture that a heron sculpture by Walter Matia was recently installed near one of the museum’s Riverwalk waterfalls.

Truly, the Riverwalk and the Briscoe are two complementary gems in San Antonio’s downtown. The next time you stop by the museum, be sure to walk over to the river to experience a scenic piece of the city’s cultural heritage, featuring the work of talented artists, not the least of which is Mother Nature.