The dead came back to life at the 5th annual Tales and Tours event hosted by The Friends of the San Marcos Cemetery where an Austin artist carved a headstone live for on-lookers.
The event took place on Oct. 28 to raise funds for a new, major restoration project in the Roberts Section of the San Marcos cemetery. Local theater students portrayed 10 notable, deceased San Marcos community members as a way to educate the public of the fascinating figures that once lived in the city and live art entertained audiences.
At the end of the event, Cat Quintanilla, an Austin stone sculptor, demonstrated how sculpting was once and still can be an aspect of funerary work, though it is essentially lost to modern American culture.
Quintanilla is a contemporary sculptor whose work can be found in various galleries and sculpture gardens throughout the Hill Country, which is how she ended up performing her carving at Tales and Tours.
A graphic designer trained in fine arts, Quintanilla’s work depicts the quintessential essence of the objects she sculpts. Common themes prevalent in her work include subtle motion, metamorphosis and iconography.
Frequently found in cemeteries today are tombstones engraved with words or images that represent or describe the deceased. However, this traditionally has not been the way graves were marked.
“At one time there was a rich tradition of people getting an individual sculpture of something done that would sit on the deceased’s grave,” Quintanilla said. “It was how they would make a final statement forever.”
A man who was unable to find a unique memorial for his wife who had recently passed away approached Quintanilla to commission a sculpture for her grave. In white Macedonian marble, Quintanilla sculpted a couple in a circled embrace.
Since then, the demand for Quintanilla’s funerary work has grown, so much so that she has started a guild with other sculptors across the country to ensure that anyone who wants a unique memorial is able to have one made. This new venue for sculpting serves as a companion to her contemporary and outdoor work.
Quintanilla said that she hopes someday the tradition of incorporating sculpture in funerary work will once again be prevalent in cemeteries as a way to celebrate and remember the lives of the dead.
The funds raised at this year’s event are dedicated toward beautifying and highlighting the secluded Roberts Section of the cemetery.
This section existed during the years of segregation and was historically used as the location to bury persons of color or poor persons in the community. A few years ago the use of ground penetrating radar revealed the location of what The Friends think are up to 20 unmarked graves.
Shannon FitzPatrick, former president of Friends of the San Marcos Cemetery and Director of the Office of Attorney for Students, said that The Friends hope to set the Roberts Section apart with various landscaping and a monument.
“We want to start talking about the people that aren’t always remembered,” FitzPatrick said. “We want to make that section a destination of historical roots in the cemetery.”
FitzPatrick said after The Friends draft initial proposals for the project they intend to meet with the board of directors at both the Calaboose African American Museum and the Centro Cultural Hispano de San Marcos to receive feedback and make edits to the proposal before setting the plans in motion.
Gloria Fortin, member of The Friends of the San Marcos Cemetery, helped conduct research on the deceased individuals that were portrayed in this year’s tour. She said that she wishes Tales and Tours would be an event that encourages community members to visit the cemetery more often.
“I hope that students at the university come out here and see how pretty this cemetery is,” Fortin said. “I know the word cemetery may be a little spooky, but it’s really just a beautiful and peaceful place.”