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Art of Dionicio Rodriguez
GARDEN OF MEMORIES CEMETERY ADDED TO NATIONAL REGISTER OF HISTORIC PLACES
The National Park Service has announced the listing of Houston’s Woodlawn Garden of Memories
Cemetery in the National Register of Historic Places.
The cemetery was nominated by the Texas
Historic Commission for inclusion in a Multiple Property Listing, The
Sculpture of Dionicio Rodriguez. in Texas, in
theNational Register recognizing it “as exhibiting evolving elements of
cemetery design ancffunction over the past 100 years in the United States.
Its open park-like grounds with sections of upright monuments classif’ it as a
lawn-park type, while the areas of flat markers and sculptural embellishment by
Dionicio Rodriguez place it in the memorial park category.”
Established in 1931 on farmland on the
outskirts of Houston, the cemetery was constructed on the then dirt surfaced
Katy Road where, according to General Manager Lynda Seaman, farmers had to
drive their cattle away from burial services. Incorporated as Woodlawn Cemetery,
the corporation’s directors were J.W Metzler, J.W Metzler, Jr., Ben Dancer and
Mrs. Phylura Skalinder.
The cemetery, located at the corner of Antoine Drive and the Katy Freeway, was
originally designed for upright headstones and the layout was planned with
winding roads-a design made popular by Adolph Strauch with his landscaped
lawn-park plans in the mid 1800s.
In 1940, the name was changed to Woodlawn
Garden of Memories, when the cemetery joined the trend to become a memorial
park; a movement begun by Hubert Eaton as an innovative type of cemetery at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Los
Angeles. He initiated the use of flat bronze grave
markers and included the use of sculptural pieces as decoration. By 1931,
imitations of Eaton’s project had begun to appear throughout the United States
and there were over 600 memorial parks.
Special areas were platted for flat markers in
Woodlawn, and itinerant Mexican sculptor, Diomcio Rodriguez, who worked in a
technique known as both faux bois (false wood) and irabajo rustico (rustic
work), was commissioned to create inexpensively produced cement sculptures for
embellishment of the cemetery. He made a 25’ high cross of what appears
to be cross-sawn timbers, but is actually textured and colored cement. Benches
made of “planks” appear throughout the cemetery, along with a 36’ long “fallen
tree” bench. Additional work includes a large basket planter, a honeycomb rock
fountain and planter, and the “Annie Laurie Wishing Chair.” The chair, made of
imitation cut stone, is a copy of the original in the forecourt of a church in Scotland. A
plaque on the chair reveals the legend that “if a couple sits in the chair on
their wedding day, holds hands and makes a wish, it will come true.”
Dionicio Rodriguez, a native of Toluca, Mexico, who began working in San Antonio
in 1924, worked in nine states, including projects in seven cemeteries. Six
of Rodriguez’s San
Antonio projects and three other Texas works were included in this National Register listing. Previously listed
were one site in Tennessee and five, in Arkansas.
Additional Rodriguez works in Houston
are a “rock” fountain and two large “trees,” originally components of an
aviary, and now part of the Flamingo habitat at the Houston Zoo.
The National Register listing of “The
Sculpture of Dionicio Rodriguez in Texas,” which includes Woodlawn Garden
of Memories, is the result often years’ research of the life and work of the
artisan by San Antonio historians Maria Watson Pfeiffer and Patsy Pittman
Light. Woodlawn is the only known extant cemetery work in Texas by Rodriguez, and it will be included
the forthcoming book, Trabajo Rustico: the Cement Art of Dionicio Rodriguez,
authored by Patsy Light.
The Historic Sites Act of 1935 created the
National Register, which includes 2,975 listings in Texas. Listing affords a measure of
protection from possible impacts of federally funded projects, as well as
access to technical expertise and grant funds to facilitate restoration and
preservation. The Texas Historical Commission is the state agency for historic
preservation and its staff administers a variety of programs, including the
National Register, which is a valuable tool for heritage tourism and
educational programs and is recognized across the country as a standard of
excellence. For more information, contact the Texas Historical Commission at
P.O. Box 12276, Austin, Texas, 78711, E-mail: <thc.state.tx.us> or call
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