Postcard scene of Spanish Governor’s Palace in San Antonio may have been work of artist/activist Rena Maverick Green – San Antonio Express-News

SAN ANTONIO — I have included a postcard with a scene of the Spanish Governor’s Palace that may have been created by Rena Maverick Green. Was it?

Mary Rowena “Rena” Maverick Green (1874-1962) was part of two influential families, as a granddaughter of Texas Declaration of Independence signer Samuel Maverick and wife of Robert B. Green, who had served as Bexar County judge and was a state senator at the time of his death in 1907. He died at 41 during a hunting trip from “rheumatism of the heart” or rheumatic heart disease, probably resulting from a strep infection.

His 33-year-old widow moved with their four children, all under 10, to her parents’ ranch near Boerne. She came back to the city after a few years to become an influencer in her own right — as an activist, civic reformer, historic preservationist and artist.

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Green advocated for women’s suffrage, the hiring of San Antonio’s first female police officers and the creation of its first legal-aid service. As a founding member of the San Antonio Conservation Society (now the Conservation Society of San Antonio), she also fought successfully for the preservation of the downtown section of the San Antonio River, the Spanish colonial missions and the building shown on your postcard.

On the back of the undated card, the following is printed: “Centennial Scene/Spanish Governor’s Palace/Built 1722/San Antonio, Texas.” On the front, the sombrero-wearing person and the reclining red beast in the street probably connote the early days of that local landmark, which served as the seat of colonial government here until 1804, when it was sold by the last captain of the Spanish military garrison. From then on, it was used as a private residence and eventually housed businesses such as a saloon, pawnshop and tire store.

Two of the city’s first organizations to advocate for historic preservation took an interest in saving the neglected old structure — Adina De Zavala’s Texas Historical and Landmarks Association (later the De Zavala Chapter of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas) and the Conservation Society.

The Palace — so-named by De Zavala in a mid-1910s campaign to save the Spanish-royal relic — was in such poor condition, it was in danger of being torn down. De Zavala worked with local officials and businesspeople and asked for contributions, but they were few and small — less than a dozen, at $1 to $5, as reported by the San Antonio Light, June 19, 1917.

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The young Conservation Society wanted to avoid the appearance of direct competition, according to meeting minutes in the Rena Maverick Green Papers at the Briscoe Center for American History at the University of Texas at Austin. A library assistant there said, “There was a reference to omitting the Spanish Governor’s Palace from the (then-)current campaign of the Society, as the Landmarks Association ‘was especially interested, and we did not wish to antagonize them.’” As stated in the society’s Sept. 4, 1924, minutes, an agreement was reached among the two preservation groups that would leave the fundraising to a committee of businessmen, but “no (underlined) campaign resulted.”

But with Green as chair of a citizens’ advisory board and $30,000 in city funds, the restoration was completed in 1930; and after years of wrangling among private and public interests, the refurbished historic site was formally dedicated in 1931 and opened to visitors as one of the city’s oldest cultural attractions.

So is there a connection between Green and this postcard?

There’s no mention of it in her Briscoe Center papers. Because of the “Centennial Scene” title on the back, I showed it to local historian Sarah Reveley, who collected Texas Centennial memorabilia from the 1936 celebration, including postcards, and donated it to the Briscoe Center. After reviewing her files, Reveley said she had never seen “Centennial Scene” postcards before and wasn’t aware of a series by that name.

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The signature itself — “Green” in block capitals — is ambiguous. The McNay Art Museum has one of her paintings, “Mama and Parrot,” from the collection of Marion Koogler McNay, whose bequest established the museum. Its online catalog describes the artwork (not currently on view) as a watercolor on paper, signed “Rena Green” at lower right, same position as in the Palace picture.

The postcard artwork “seems to be a woodcut, which would explain the use of carved block letters,” said Lewis Fisher, author of “Saving San Antonio: The Preservation of a Heritage,” a history of the Conservation Society that covers the Palace restoration.

Although Fisher hasn’t seen an attribution to Green, he thinks the postcard is likely her work: “Given her close association with the Governor’s Palace, she’s most likely to have done it, and I don’t know of any other contemporary local artists named Green.”

No publisher’s name is printed on the card, so Fisher guesses that it might have been privately printed to support the restoration, completed in time for the city’s celebration of its bicentennial, observing the 1731 arrival of the Canary Islanders, San Antonio’s first civilian settlers.

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In Fisher’s book, there’s a mention of the first Palace custodian, Josephine Rote, coming up with an idea to ask “15 well-known artists to paint scenes in and about the Palace,” to be sold at $15 each, with the proceeds from the paintings to finance the printing of postcards to be sold at the new tourist attraction. Conservation Society librarian Beth Standifird didn’t find any documentation of Green as one of those artists, but she turned up a clipping from a story in the San Antonio Express, March 15, 1931, announcing a proposed guidebook and quoting Rote that “Mary Bonner and other artists will paint pictures of the Palace, which will be reproduced on souvenir postcards.”

If a Palace art project was carried out, Green had the chops to have been asked.

She had studied during the 1920s in Provincetown, Mass., and San Francisco with two notable artists — sculptor/painter Maurice Sterne, whose works were collected by the Museum of Modern Art in New York; and Charles Martin, who taught selected students including Georgia O’Keeffe. Showing, teaching and working out of the Villita Street Gallery from the late 1930s through the late ’40s, she was a member of the San Antonio Arts League and other artists’ groups.

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Green exhibited frequently — paintings with the San Antonio Artists Exhibition and sculpture with the Texas Sculptors Group at the Witte Museum, where she won a prize for her terra cotta “Grandmother.” Her watercolor, “Magnolias in Persian Vase,” won “Best Flower Painting” from the Southern States Art League and was shown all over the region.

The Witte doesn’t have any of her artworks, said Leslie Ochoa, director of collections, but the museum received many donations of historical artifacts from her. A drinking gourd used by Samuel Maverick as a prisoner in Mexico after the Woll Invasion of 1842 is currently on display in the Cultural Mix Theater in the South Texas Heritage Center. During the 1930s, Green also gave the Witte pieces of historical fashion — a cape, an apron, a hat, a handbag, a fan, children’s clothing and horn buttons — worn by her or members of her pioneer family.

Her largest gift was one of her last. In 1942, she gave away a uniform, flag, badge and other items used by her late husband as captain of the Belknap Rifles, a militia group founded in 1884.

Green never remarried and was still referred to as the “widow of Judge Green” in accounts of awards she won in 1959 and 1960. One of her last projects was “Robert B. Green: A Personal Reminiscence,” a book about her late husband, published in 1962.

She died Nov. 3, 1962, of a sudden heart attack, according to her death certificate, which lists her occupation as “housewife.”

During the near-half century of her widowhood, she saw two world wars, the Great Depression, the invention of radio and television, space exploration and the development of antibiotics that might have prolonged her husband’s life. On her own, she accomplished a lot … and probably never stopped wanting to tell him about all the things she saw and did. | Twitter: @sahistorycolumn | Facebook: SanAntoniohistorycolumn

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