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Hit the Road

Artsy San Angelo

Pack your wagons and head out west. Business is booming, especially where the arts are concerned.

When looking for a place to hole up in the fast-growing West Texas city of San Angelo, headquarters of Concho Valley Electric Cooperative, I skipped the chain hotels and journeyed to the west side of town to the Chicken Farm Art Center. A charming blend of bed-and-breakfast accommodations, artist studios and galleries and a restaurant has evolved here. I wisely chose the Artist’s Loft as my quarters—a grain-silo-turned-apartment—and was immediately enthralled with the oddly shaped interior and architecture and the elaborate mural painted over my bed. 

It’s easy to spend a whole day at the art center, essentially a little community: The two galleries and 15 artist studios leave plenty of pleasing art—every medium you can think of—to purchase or simply peruse. Since it was an unusually cool morning for mid-July, I ate my breakfast accompanied by curious resident kitties in the courtyard surrounded by metal and stone statues. Afterward, I checked out pottery, jewelry, paintings and blown-glass beads.

The center was founded in 1971 by Roger Allen, Richard Ramirez and Bill Rich and was originally just a place for artists to live and work. Over the years, the center’s reputation has spread by word of mouth, and it now is a premier West Texas attraction in this city southwest of Abilene. On the first Saturday of each month, all of the studios are open to the public and an additional 20 to 25 artists, including painters, potters and stone and wood carvers, set up booths to display their work. Space is also provided for kids to create their own works of art out of paint and clay.

The Chicken Pickers, a group of acoustic musicians, are usually on hand providing additional entertainment, and they’re rarely alone. Other local musicians frequently show up to play their favorite songs, and visitors are encouraged to bring their own instruments and join in the music circle. After listening to the music, I ate a lovely dinner at the Silo House Restaurant, which sits directly beneath my circular abode.

I had heard of the new and impressive San Angelo Convention and Visitors Bureau and eagerly made the short drive over in the morning. Nestled on the banks of the Concho River, the building complex, which is also home to the city’s chamber of commerce and the San Angelo Health Foundation, was featured in the November/December 2006 issue of Texas Architect magazine. The curving roof was designed to emulate the flow of the river, and the outside paths curve around small, cascading waterfalls, mesquite benches and the Angela Sculpture, created by John Noelke.

The nearby San Angelo Museum of Fine Arts, which also overlooks the river, is famous for its ceramic exhibits and National Ceramic Competition, but even the building is something in and of itself for visitors. Dedicated to Texas heritage, the architecture features local limestone and mesquite, as well as the Big Country’s rich, red clay.

The museum includes three galleries, a research library and a rooftop terrace. The museum also has purchased an entire block of old buildings and is in the process of restoring them, with a community gallery already in place. The end vision for the project includes a studio and apartment for visiting artists.

Not yet ready to call it quits, I drove around town to look at the historic murals that  help tell the tale of San Angelo’s rich history—from the Santa Fe Depot to the Iron Horse, one of the first trains to stop at the depot. My companion and I also made it a game to see who could spot the most colorfully decorated fiberglass sheep that dot the local landscape. The charming ovines are courtesy of the annual Sheep Spectacular that features a parade and sheep games as part of Art-Ober-Fest in October. Instead of two-legged contestants, the sheep themselves competed for the crown. Interesting, don’t ewe think?

I just may journey back to San Angelo in late August or early September to again visit the International Waterlily Collection in Civic League Park. The plants are at their prime during that time of year, and they were just beginning to show their fragrant faces when I was there in mid-July. Free to the public, the garden features eight large pools of the floating flowers and pads. The town also hosts the annual Lily Fest, which is next scheduled for September 18.

Ashley Clary is field editor for Texas Co-op Power.