Friday, June 3, 2011

The legacy of Buck Winn {San Marcos photography}

So, I'm back! When last we spoke I said I was going to go play with my new anniversary gift from Lisa, an infrared converted DSLR. I didn't have to go far to find interesting subject matter--I was able to stay on campus, in fact. I work at Texas State University, and in the 1990s Texas State acquired the former San Marcos amusement park Aquarena Springs, and the location is just a short drive from my office.

Aquarena is very different from the days when mermaids swam in the underwater theatre and Ralph the Swimming Pig entertained crowds. The park was a money-losing operation for many years, and the university suspended operations a few years after acquiring it. Today Aquarena Center focuses on environmental research and the protection of several endangered species native to the springs. The former rides and entertainment venues are in a state of decay, slated for eventual removal including the Alpine Swiss Sky Ride. The "cable cars" themselves are long gone, but the landings are still in place, and one in particular is noteworthy.

Famed Texas artist and resident of nearby Wimberley, Buck Winn, was hired to design the departure station for the new sky ride in 1963. Winn is probably most famous for his record-setting "History of Ranching" panorama for the Peal Brewery in San Antonio. He set about designing a forest of mushroom-like shades evocative of the trumpet-like form of morning glories.

The flower structures are made of a unique fiberglass, rebar and concrete mixture Winn developed himself. Originally they were intended to be illuminated from within and wired for lighting, but the material proved too thick for the scheme to work. A pond/water garden was incorporated into the design as well. The disused sculpture is eye-catching even today. In infrared, it is positively ethereal.

Sadly, Buck Winn's distinctive sculpture is not long for this world. It lies on the flood plane adjacent to Spring Lake, and is one of the remnants of the old Aquarena Springs slated for removal. Corrosion has attacked the pillars, and before too long I expect they will become a public hazard. The main cluster of flowers is too massive to move without great expense, and even then might prove too brittle to survive relocation.

If I had the land (not to mention the money) I'd happily give the sculpture (or at least part of it) a home. There has been an outcry, and efforts to save the petal sculptures are under way. Current plans have the structures going into storage, but with space at a premium on campus, I have no idea where they'll find room for them. Regardless of their final fate, I'm fortunate to have had the opportunity to photograph them.

Lisa On Location Photography


  1. The infrared photography looks fantastic, and your background story on Aquarena Springs is very interesting. I like the detail shot of Winn's sculpture.

  2. Thanks for the kind words, Royce! I always appreciate input from folks who know how to spell "Dr Pepper" properly! ;-)

  3. The morning glories were originally illuminated (there are postcards showing this), but as the fiberglass aged it was eventually painted white.