George Hallmark’s Reverence
George Hallmark is well known for his renditions of the architectural heritage of San Antonio, Texas. He has made a career out of his ability to beautifully capture the picturesque parks, plazas, and buildings around the world. In one of his works that hangs in the Briscoe Western Art Museum, Hallmark manages to evoke emotion for a building, not in its prime, but in ruins. The oil painting titled Reverence illustrates a quiet moment between a solitary figure, his burro, and the once-beautiful Mission San Jose. The building, now a crumbling shadow of its former glory, is depicted without its doors, with the domed roof collapsed onto the chapel floor and the frescoed surfaces bleached away by the sun and rain.
Hallmark’s depiction is a historically accurate rendition of the mission after the 1870s. This particular structure was originally constructed by Franciscan missionaries and Payayan Natives in 1768 to replace the structures built almost fifty years earlier. The building was decorated with beautiful frescoes and a carved stone archway that greeted the Native people living within the mission compound. The church was designed to be the heart of the community and part of the daily routine directed by the Franciscans, including morning and evening worship services. While the Spanish government had its own motives for colonizing Native American people, the establishment of a routine created a sense of community for some of these people. In fact, from the establishment of the mission in 1720 until it was secularized in 1793, generations of these Native people knew only the mission as their community.
Hallmark’s Reverence captures the connection to one’s community that persists long after that community has vanished. The lone figure in the painting has removed his hat and is staring up through the void of the door into the dark rubble scattered across the floor. There is a sense of reunion as the man takes a silent moment with a building that appears to hold deep-seated meaning to him. We can sense him looking backward into his memories, to a time when the building was beautifully maintained and the chapel was a gathering place for his friends and family.