The huge green warehouse that sits a short walk down Singleton Boulevard from the base of the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge has been home to unusual occupants for the past few weeks. It's become something of a doll hospital to a cast of 15 massive puppets, representing people who have shaped the history of West Dallas.
When Unfair Park stopped by yesterday afternoon, artists associated with La Reunion Texas were bringing their creations to life for tomorrow's 2 p.m. Parade of Giants across the bridge, one of the signature Bridge-o-Rama events to hype the Calatrava's opening that's happening not quite yet, but soon.
Yesterday, some figures had detached heads that were receiving finishing touches, such as fabric hair and painted highlights. Others appeared to be relaxing, completed and lying down, and a few, like the giant Andrea Flores Cervantes, with red lipstick perfectly applied, appeared ready for the big day.
"This is a great way to tell the story of West Dallas," said Catherine Horsey, the executive director of La Reunion. She couldn't anticipate the stories and history lessons she would hear from the community in return.
Cervantes's son Gary stopped by the warehouse yesterday as he often does these days. He grew up in a home around the corner and can recall a time when his family used an outhouse in the backyard. They didn't have plumbing until his mother staunchly advocated for it at City Hall. She fought the city for infrastructure improvements for West Dallas until the roads were paved, pipes were installed and the children had places to play baseball. "She made all this pavement happen," he said.
"I think she was the most wonderful smartest lady I've ever met," Cervantes said of his mother. "They could have made [her likeness] out of marble," he added, though he had nothing but compliments for the artist, Iris Candelaria. She nailed his mom's image, right down to the red lips and dark hair. "When I see her there, I glow," he said.
"There is a very strong sense of place here," local artist Cori Berg said. "There is potential; there are stories; there is creativity; there is ingenuity."
Berg was fixing the hair of a massive Hattie Rankin, who started Eagle Ford Mission in the 1930s. The artist received a lot of help from the Wesley-Rankin Community Center, which provides activities for children, adults and families. At least 100 people, ranging in age from three to 80, had a hand in creating Rankin's puppet likeness, she said. Older folks crocheted embellishments for Rankin's stunning turquoise dress; children painted a scene of what makes a great neighborhood along the bottom edge.
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Rankin helped to reform gangsters in the neighborhood's Bonnie and Clyde days, the artist explained. And yes, there will be puppets of them as well. Berg found a blog written by Rankin's great-niece, who lives in California, and reached out to her. It was then she found that Rankin had a sad personal life, marrying late in life and her husband dying three years later. "Hattie," the artist said, "I'm making your wedding dress."
Berg and Horsey have been amazed by the stories they've heard and the community involvement the project spurred.
"You've got his freckles and you've got his smile," Horsey recalls the widow of U.S. District Judge Harold Barefoot Sanders saying when she stopped by. Other family members of "giants" also volunteered to help, and four generations of St. Mary of Carmel students helped to create Father Sebastian Vallés.
For those unfamiliar with the community on the other side of the bridge, Horsey says, Saturday afternoon will be a serve as a perfect primer.