Arts Serenity now

Art and nature are peaceful neighbors at Guadalupe River Sculpture Ranch

Art in all its forms is an oasis, but art in an idyllic landscape is doubly good. So, I headed for Canyon Lake and the Guadalupe River Sculpture Ranch; I heard tell there was art in them thar hills. And let me just say how refreshing it is to prepare for a viewing by strapping on a bandana, rolling down the window, and tuning in classic rock.

CAPTION (Photos by Catherine Walworth)

I pulled into Mermaid Cove, which is on the Northwest side of Canyon Lake, and found the mastermind of it all, Rick Roederer. Mermaid Cove lies on a section of fresh springs from the Guadalupe River where the fishing is good, the air is dry, and the quiet is thick. Roederer, a Houstonite, found the place by sheer accident. He bought a piece of land site unseen at an auction and — after realizing it wasn’t where he thought it was — found a conclave of cabins, RV hookups, and campsites from the 1960s just across Cypress Creek. Although the facility had lain dormant for six years, it would be perfect for his new sculpture park. But who is Rick Roederer and why would he want to take on such an enormous project?

In the 1970s, Roederer was a young artist in New Mexico. A guy who owed him money offered to pay him back with scuba gear and asked for a ride to Houston. After Roederer’s money ran out in Houston, two happy accidents occurred: he got a job as a pipe fitter and welder and stumbled upon the artist John Alexander in his studio. Based on this first conversation with Alexander, Roederer moved to Houston and enrolled in Alexander’s classes at the University of Houston. He also used his newfound welding skills to study sculpture under James Surls, one of Texas’s most famous contemporary artists. Roederer recalls Surls and Alexander driving home the idea that “Art is the highest level of truth in society.”

Roederer became a sought-after environmental artist in the 1990s, particularly for his work condemning the 1989 Exxon Valdez Alaskan oil spill. In oil-rich Houston, he says, his openings were shut down by Exxon employees, but the work garnered him museum shows and gallery representation in Los Angeles and New York. It’s a rather hefty pedigree for the groundskeeper who checks you into a cabin.

Roederer’s sculpture ranch is the offspring of the Blossom Street Gallery sculpture park he ran for years in Houston. He and his partner, Laurie Rawls, converted a condemned house into the gallery where, just across the street, an overgrown acre of land was scaring the neighbors. Roederer leased the plot, opened a sculpture park and, at the time the lease ended in 2003, 38 pieces had been installed.

Guadalupe River Sculpture Ranch
3660 Tanglewood Trail
Spring Branch at Canyon Lake
Primitive: $10/night
Lodging: $65-275/night
Canoe rental: $10-20
(830) 885-4297

For his new sculpture park, Roederer and friends with pickups transferred a handful of sculptures to his new digs for last year’s grand opening, including works by Roederer, Herb Long, and Robert White. Unfortunately, it rained cats and dogs and the celebration was flooded out.

But every day is a grand opening when you see the work in its outdoor setting. Texas landscape is sculptural in its own way, with few pesky tree leaves to fill in the view. Instead, creeks are carved out, textured boulders laze about, and bare trees twist artfully. Viewing colorful steel sculptures in this setting is a juxtaposition of nature and culture in calm agreement. The modernist shapes and hot colors of Roederer’s own work make them familiar, like a red carnation in the landscape’s buttonhole. Roederer is still working on plans to bring in more work. He is open to proposals and is even considering the creation of a residency on that original plot of land he got at auction. So, with the Guadalupe River Sculpture Ranch a very reasonable drive away, your next art discussion may be in a canoe.

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