Annually, millions of residents and tourists alike view the nine-story tiled mural in the middle of the downtown San Antonio historic area previously known as “Little Laredo.” Artist Jesse Trevino completed the now famous mural on Christus Santa Rosa Hospital in 1997. The mural, known as “The Spirit of Healing,” is the largest of its kind in the United States.
In this article, I present a behindthe- scene story of how the mural came about. It was not by chance that Trevino chose the tall south wall of Christus Santa Rosa Children’s Hospital facing Milan Park and the old Market Square for this monumental art project. Before the completion of I-35, “Little Laredo,” had been a part of the historic Westside. This area was the heart of the wholesale produce market which housed the Westside commercial food industry. Today, Market Square is home to the Cortez family restaurant empire. Trevino had a close personal friendship with Jorge Cortez, the CEO at the time of the restaurant chain which included the locally famous Mi Tierra and several other restaurants in the square and nearby. Jorge Cortez, whose love of art is evident in the wellknown murals and decorations in the Mi Tierra restaurant, had envisioned in the late1980s a cultural zone from Market Square to San Fernando Cathedral. Cortez believed that the cultural zone should have its beginning at Milan Park across from the Market Square. In the mid-1990s, Cortez took Trevino to look at Milan Park and asked him if he had any ideas about placing art or a mural in the park. Trevino looked across the street at the blank brick wall of the hospital facing the park and Market Square and offered that a mural at the well-known hospital would serve as the perfect inauguration of a downtown cultural zone. Trevino next presented his idea for the mural to Dr. Carlos Orozco, a physician at Christus Santa Rosa. Dr. Orozco loved the concept and agreed to help.
The plan called for a nine story mural, 93 feet high and 43 feet wide, using German tile. This tile was considered the best in the world for its hardness and resistance to fading. Trevino wanted the highest quality tiles available since the mural would be exposed to the Texas blistering sun for much of the year. At the encouragement of my friend Dr Orozco, I visited Trevino’s temporary studio on Frio Street in the mid- 1990s where the mural was being constructed. Trevino and his two assistants worked with more than 2,000 pieces of tile which they had ordered in 70 different colors. From the start, Trevino thought about how to make healing a major part of the mural message. He used his son as a model for the boy who is at the center of the mosaic mural. In the mural, a young boy is holding a dove in his hand and is comforted by a guardian angel. Trevino explained to Texas Highway magazine that “The dove represented life, and the spirit of life.” He added that “the guardian angel has part of her wing broken which represents that you don’t have to be perfect.” Dr. Carlos Orozco, Jesse Trevino, and I all attended Fox Tech High School in the early 1960s. The 1960s were a time when few of the Fox Tech graduates went on to college. Thus it was quite an eventful occasion when Trevino was offered a scholarship in 1966 to the prestigious Art Students League in New York. Jesse Trevino loved New York and was in the midst of fulfilling his lifelong dream of becoming a professional artist when he was drafted to serve in Vietnam.
After basic training at a United States Army base, he was deployed to Vietnam. Trevino’s story of being wounded in Vietnam and the subsequent loss of his painting arm has been the subject of many documentaries. His recovery took more than two years, but he was determined to paint again. With the encouragement of family and fellow artists, he taught himself to paint with his left hand and soon established himself as one of the major artistic interpreters of the San Antonio Mexican American community and culture. The Spirit of Healing mural has become a major artistic icon for San Antonio and its visibility from I-35 and Market Square reminds the world that art has a place in our community. Trevino’s murals have inspired many other young artists in the city. The mural traditions in the Westside, for example, are especially noteworthy. Trevino continues to envision other murals for San Antonio, and every blank wall gets his attention as a potential canvas.