Autumn Reading: Books highlight life, love, creativity

Memory Lessons

With our population aging, our health care system facing upheaval and countless Americans caring for aging parents, Gemini Ink found perfect recipients for its 2009 Literary Excellence Awards: Dr. Jerald Winakur and his wife, poet-attorney Lee Robinson. She has published two poetry collections: Creed and Hearsay. Jerald Winakur has practiced internal and geriatric medicine in San Antonio for more than 30 years and is a clinical professor of medicine at the University of Texas Health Science Center. He and his wife serve as associate faculty members at the Center for Medical Humanities and Ethics at UTHSC, where they teach a class for medical students titled Literature and Medicine. The course includes discussions of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Birthmark and William Carlos Williams’ Complaint.

In 2005, Dr. Winakur wrote an essay for Health Affairs (www.healthaffairs.org) titled What Are We Going to Do about Dad? about caring for his 86-year-old-father in his fight against Alzheimer’s. Winakur expressed his frustration that, after 30 years of practicing medicine, he couldn’t keep the disease from stealing his own father. There was so much response to the article that Winakur began writing Memory Lessons about his family’s journey through his father’s disease. He describes how his new role in his parents’ lives opened him in unexpected ways. He talks about the long journey that brought him to treat the aged as a private practitioner and about the havoc wrought by managed care, the debate over “quality care” of the elderly and the issues of prolonging life at any cost. “Probing and intelligent, Winakur’s work challenges readers to think hard and deeply about the choices they make in the care of their elders.” Publishers Weekly, January 2009. Gemini Ink’s INKstravaganza honors the couple on Thursday, Sept. 24, at 312 Pearl Parkway. The event includes a silent auction of photos from FOTOSEPTIEMBRE USA, the sale of handmade chapbooks of works by Winakur and Robinson and jazz music performed by George and Aaron Prado. Jane Ciabattari, president of the National Book Critics Circle, will present the awards. Cocktails are at 6:30, dinner at 7:30 p.m., $100 per person. RSVP by Sept. 15 at (210) 734-9673.

Creative Passions

Susan Toomey Frost’s book, Colors on Clay, beautifully published by Trinity University Press, has over 300 images of colorful tiles and pottery produced in San Antonio. Frost, the leading authority on decorative art tiles and pottery produced by the San José Workshops, captures the story of passionate people who produced these works of art from 1931 to 1977. Ethel Wilson Harris, born in Sabinal, Texas, in 1893, created the workshops. With a background from her father’s construction business, she founded a small tile contracting business in the 1920s. Her husband, Arthur, a former Army officer from Massachusetts, encouraged her to open Mexican Arts and Crafts in a historic barn on the San Antonio River. She loved the river and the Spanish missions, and in 1934, she opened San José Potteries next to Mission San José to serve as production facility for her workshop on the river. Filled with creativity and skilled at networking, marketing and public relations, she knew that the area’s culture was perfectly suited to embrace colorful scenes of Texas and Mexico. Texas’ clay soils and high-quality limestone provided perfect raw materials to produce clay products.

She read about Fernando Ramos, a gifted student whose family had moved to San Antonio from Mexico. At age 15, he had won the San Jacinto Association’s Fiesta Poster contest. He also won the American Legion’s national poster contest and captured first place in painting at Thomas Jefferson High School. While he was still a student, Harris hired him to become principal artist to draw designs for tiles produced at San José Potteries. They remained friends and co-workers for years. In 1937, she copyrighted a book of his designs for the Library of Congress. Also talented as a dancer, Ramos returned to Mexico to study Spanish, Mexican and Gypsy dances from the masters. He met Carla Montel, a dancer born in San Antonio and raised in California. They formed a dance team, married, traveled the world and became famous. In the 1940’s, they appeared in four films, were guest stars at the Metropolitan Opera House and appeared at Carnegie Hall. The Harrises had four children. Ethel entered her pottery business into a partnership with Cecil and Mabel Beck, but the partnership floundered over quality-control issues, and they dissolved the company in 1937. Her husband, a public school teacher, was diagnosed with cancer and died in 1938, leaving Ethel to support their children.

From 1939 to 1941, Harris worked with the Work Projects Administration as technical supervisor for their arts and crafts division. When the government reconstructed La Villita, Mayor Maury Maverick had the city lease Harris’s Mexican Arts and Crafts building for the use of WPA’s La Villita workers. The craftsmen also produced tiled panels for San Fernando Cathedral, roof and floor tiles for Arneson River Theatre, murals to adorn the San Antonio River, tile panels over entry gates to Alamo Stadium and murals in front of the Alamo and the Menger Hotel. Ramos periodically returned to San Antonio to help Harris with designs. She once flew to New York, where he was dancing, and took his unfinished drawings for him to complete. He finished them backstage, and she flew them home. Seventy years after Ramos created his designs, collectors still recognize him as the artistic soul of the San José Workshops.

In 1955, architect Robert Wilson Harris, the second of Harris’ three sons, designed a house for his mother on land she had purchased at the northwest corner of the mission compound. She continued working in her home studio for 18 years, mixing glazes used at Mission Crafts and testing glaze formulas in her electric kiln. Her tiles appear throughout the house, designated in the National Register of Historic Places. Images from the house appear in the book. After she retired in 1963, she wrote and produced plays in an outdoor amphitheater near her home. Her energy and creativity live on, beautifully captured in Colors on Clay. The Witte Museum, 3801 Broadway, is featuring an exhibit of San José Workshop tiles and a Sept. 20 book signing. For information, call (210) 357-1900. Nancy Glass West’s novel, Forever Fatal, an Aggie Mundeen Mystery, has been released. See www.nancygwest.com. Send comments and Book Shelf information to intrigue101@sbcglobal.net, to sareaders@satx.rr.com, or to SAN ANTONIO WOMAN, 8603 Botts Lane, San Antonio, 78217.

Calendar of Events

It’s not too late to join a reading group. Here are samples of groups’ fall selections:

Barnes & Noble, San Pedro Crossing

Sept. 26, 3 p.m. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. SATX ReadersCircle, B&N San Pedro Crossing. Sally Bergstedt, saldragski@hotmail.com
Oct. 25, 3 p.m. 3 Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson. SATX ReadersCircle, B&N San Pedro Crossing.

Semmes Branch Library

Sept. 12, 10 a.m. – Classic Book Group: Virgil’s The Aeneid, 15060 Judson Road. (210) 650-9540.

Sept. 12, 11 a.m. – Jane Austen Book Club: Emma

Sept. 14, 7 p.m. – Bel Canto by Ann Patchett

Sept. 23, 7 p.m. – Semmes Writers Group

Are you a writer, or do you want to be? Here’s your chance to interact with fellow writers.

Oct. 5, 7 p.m. – A Year of Fog by Michelle Richmond

Oct. 10, 10 a.m. – A Passage to India by E. M. Forster

Oct. 10, 11 a.m. – Jane Austen Book Group: A Visit to Highbury by Joan Austen-Leigh

Oct. 13, 7 p.m. – True Crime: Never Enough by Joe McGinniss

Igo Branch Library

Sept. 16, 7 p.m. – True Crime: Seduced by Madness: True Story of the Susan Polk Murder Case; 13330 Kyle Seale Parkway. (210) 561-6113

Sept. 22, 7 p.m. – The Hour I First Believed by Wally Lamb

Oct. 7, 7 p.m. – Mystery: Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris

Oct. 21, 7 p.m. – True Crime: Crime Beat: A Decade of Covering Cops and Killers by Michael Connolly

Oct. 27, 7 p.m. – Stones from the River by Ursula Hegi

Brook Hollow Branch Library

Sept. 16, 7:15 p.m. – The Yiddish Policeman’s Union by Michael Chabon; 530 Heimer Road. (210) 496-6315

Sept. 24, 2:30 p.m. – Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

Oct. 1, 2:30 p.m. – Mystery: Resurrection Men by Ian Rankin

Oct. 21, 7:15 p.m. – Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

Oct. 22, 2:30 p.m. – Savannah by John Jakes

Westfall Branch Library

Sept. 15, 6 p.m. – Westfall Classic Movies: Casablanca.

Sept. 17, 2:30 p.m. – Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon; 6111 Rosedale Court. (210) 344-2373

Oct. 15, 2:30 p.m. – Literary Book Club: The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber

Cody Branch Library

Sept. 12, 10 a.m. – Until I Find You by John Irving; 11441 Vance Jackson Road. (210) 696-6396.

Sept. 19, 10 a.m. – Mystery: Silent in the Sanctuary by Deanna Raybourn

Oct. 3, 10 a.m. – Cody Film Club sees Born Yesterday

Oct. 17, 10 a.m. – Mystery: Fatal Grace by Louise Penny

Oct. 22, 6 p.m. – Mystery: Stalked by Brian Freeman

Guerra Branch Library

Sept. 24, 2 p.m. – Spanish Book Club: Cruzando La Frontera por Rubén Martínez; 7978 Military Drive West. (210) 673-1492

Maverick Branch Library

Sept. 26, 10 a.m. – Ladies’ Choice: People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks; 8700 Mystic Park. (210) 680-9346

Oct. 31, 10 a.m. – Ladies’ Choice: Mistress of the Art of Death by Ariana Franklin

Cortez Branch Library

Oct. 1, 6:30 p.m. – X-rated Bloodsuckers by Mario Acevedo; 4803 Hunter Boulevard. (210) 922-7372

Landa Branch Library

Oct. 3, 2 p.m. – Three Blind Mice and Other Stories by Agatha Christie; 233 Bushnell Ave. (210) 732-8369