“Art is an extremely important part of one’s life. It’s food for the soul,” said Betty Stieren Kelso at her home in midtown San Antonio which resembles a museum with a vibrant, historical collection of artwork from all over the world.
Betty and her husband Lt. Col. Robert (Bob) E. Kelso (Ret.) have traveled the globe gathering artwork purely for the love, passion and appreciation of art; through their generosity, they hope to share this adoration with students of the University of the Incarnate Word (UIW).
The Kelsos made the single, largest donation toward the Fine Arts Complex in renovation of the art building, now the Kelso Art Center. The couple’s gift also established a permanent gallery, the Kelso Gallery, one of three in the center.
“The Kelsos have been long time friends and supporters,” said Sr. Kathleen Coughlin, CCVI, vice president for institutional advancement. “Dr. (Louis) Agnese and I approached Betty to support the endeavor since she has a great love for art. Betty and Bob love the Mission of UIW and what we are doing here.”
For the Kelsos, their deep affinity for the arts is rooted in family legacy.
“Betty’s mother was an artist,” said Bob. “Her children, at least two of them are artists and at least two of her grandchildren are studying art at the university level.”
The Kelso family holds a rich, generational history with UIW as well as the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word. Elizabeth Huth Coates, Betty’s mother, graduated from Incarnate Word High School in 1926 and studied music at what was then Incarnate Word College. Coates made possible the theater building on campus that bears her name. She also assisted the Sisters by providing funding for restorations to the Chapel of the Incarnate Word.
The Kelso family has a legacy of philanthropy, especially in terms of the arts. Her mother’s Elizabeth Huth Coates Charitable Foundation, brother’s Arthur T. and Jane J. Stieren Foundation, and her own Betty Stieren Kelso Foundation hold a long history of supporting the San Antonio and South Texas communities. These foundations have benefited countless organizations, such as the McNay Art Museum, the Humane Society of San Antonio, the San Antonio Symphony, and the Texas Biomedical Research Institute, among others.
In fact, Betty serves on the board of the San Antonio Museum of Art (SAMA) and gifted the museum’s endowment of the Kelso Director of the San Antonio Museum of Art chair.
The couple, who received honorary doctorates from UIW in 2012, is also graciously donating and lending works of art to be exhibited in the gallery.
“It’s a permanent gallery but we will have changing exhibits,” said Betty. “There will be some Texas art, American art, Spanish Colonial, and Russian icons.”
For the Kelsos, religious art is fitting for UIW’s faith-based environment.
“We are both Catholics and we appreciate the Church and all the art that reflects 2,000 years of history,” explained Bob.
“Religion is such an important part of art and shows the spiritual side of life,” added Betty.
Bob said some of the items will be on loan to the gallery and others given as a gift, which is traditional in museums.
“It’s very important that all students have access to this art,” stressed Betty. “You can read about it, but when you see it, it makes a difference.”
The couple’s dedication to the arts translates into providing the resources and facilities needed for students to receive a superlative arts education, including new academic offerings.
Miguel Cortinas, associate professor and chair of the art department, said the additional space acquired during renovation has allowed for a print making studio now large enough for students to begin working with the techniques and processes associated with serigraphy or screen printing. The gallery space will afford students in art history classes to view works relevant to course topics and bring the local and regional community to UIW to experience works from the Kelso collection. The space will further allow for the presentation of larger exhibitions and regular showcasing of student artwork.
The addition of a digital photo lab helps to add complimentary sections to digital photography courses and a photo lighting studio affords the program to bolster the addition of courses in lighting and portrait photography.
“We will be adding a photo design course as a regular offering and we are working on a BFA in photography,” said Kathy Vargas, associate professor and former chair of art.
As part of the Kelso Art Center, a mural, donated by the Russell Hill Rogers Fund for the Arts, was installed on the front of the building in September to accentuate its aesthetics and reflect the Mission of the university.
“The idea for the mural was to enhance our location at the corner of Broadway and Hildebrand related to the arts,” said Coughlin. “It also serves as a public art piece for the City of San Antonio.”
An internal committee was formed and a Request for Proposal (RFP) was mailed to 25 local artists plus UIW alumni. “We wanted to showcase and support local artists and thus only invited San Antonio artists to submit,” explained Coughlin.
Coughlin said ten artists submitted proposals and three were chosen to interpret the designated theme, which was to reflect UIW’s values, spirituality, and location at the headwaters of the San Antonio River.
“The mural explores variations on the literal, spiritual and symbolic aspects of light and water,” said Cakky Brawley, the artist chosen to create the mural, who serves as faculty at Palo Alto College. “Just as Jesus is the light of the world and source of living water, light and water are essential for all facets of life, physical and spiritual.”
Brawley said, using the natural landscape of UIW’s campus as a foundation, the mural’s scene offers a moment for reflection.
The mural, “Source of Life,” is a 40 x 20 foot aluminum sculpture designed to articulate with the wind. In daytime, it reflects the natural sunlight. Throughout the evening, the mural will be LED lit depicting the sunrise and ending with sunset.
On Oct. 14, UIW’s Fine Arts Complex, including the Kelso Art Center, was officially dedicated with a grand opening ceremony. Marking the occasion, the mural’s LED lighting was displayed for the first time.
The Kelso Art Center is designed to be the quintessence of living, flowing art in the heart of San Antonio, helping to establish UIW as a viable, integral part of the city’s arts culture.
“Sr. Kathleen said they want to be part of the cultural corridor that’s starting at Tobin all the way to the McNay,” said Betty. “And now, with the new art school, they’ll have the facilities to attract students for art, for photography and to be part of that.”
By Brance Arnold ’10 MA