Tile mural at the Navarro Street Bridge, southern loop of Great Bend of San Antonio RiverTile mural at the Navarro Street Bridge, southern loop of Great Bend of San Antonio River, third tile from bottom left has the WPA craft mark
Ethel Wilson Harris was already the owner of a well-established decorative tile business in San Antonio when she became the local technical supervisor of the Arts and Crafts division of the WPA in San Antonio in 1939. Her staff of approximately 60 local artisans manufactured decorative clay tiles; during the time of the shop’s involvement with the WPA the tiles would not be sold but offered to charitable and public organizations. The tiles from the WPA involvement are seen today in two plaques along the San Antonio River. (One is found under the Navarro Street Bridge on the south loop of the Great Bend of the river and the other is at the bridge where the Great Bend joins the cut off channel). In 1937 she had copyrighted a book of designs and the full blooming maguey plant as her craftsman’s mark. During the two years of her WPA work she modified the maguey to indicate that the work was for the WPA.
Mrs. Harris was very involved in local preservation efforts. After Mission San Jose was restored she requested permission to open a shop in the granary to make and sell decorative tiles and other native made crafts. As a young widow she would move into an apartment in the western wall of the mission; this was permitted in an effort to prevent vandalism to the mission but also allowed her to live close to her shop. In 1941 after San Jose was designated a National Historic Site she was chosen to be the park’s manager and would build a house on adjoining property in 1956, living there until the early 1980’s. Her tiles today are considered collector’s items.
Fisher, L. F. (2007). Riverwalk: The Epic Story of San Antonio's River. San Antonio: Maverick Publishing Company.
Project originally submitted by Elizabeth Hilburn on March 1, 2014.
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