The Texas Commission on the Arts recognized our neighborhood as a cultural arts district in 2011. But our association with art and artists is as old as the neighborhood itself. One such artist was Rolla Sims Taylor (1872-1970).
Current KWA board member Ethel Pedraza remembers Taylor as a kind neighbor. He lived next door to the Pedraza family at 611 Mission Street, in what was once known as the Winslow Subdivision.
Although Taylor was born in Georgia, he was just a young boy when his family moved to Cuero, Texas, where Taylor began to study art. When he was 17, his family moved to San Antonio, allowing their talented boy to study with well-known painters José Arpa, Theodore Gentilz and Robert Julian Onderdonk.
By age 21, Taylor had picked up shorthand, which he eventually employed as a court reporter at the Bexar County Courthouse. Taylor must have loved learning because he studied at night to earn a law degree. He never practiced as an attorney, perhaps because court reporting gave him the flexibility to teach at art camps and to travel around the United States to develop his own artistic talents. Taylor once told a newspaper reporter that “[a]rt is a complement to law. It develops the power to observe and to appreciate the things we see.”
Taylor and his first wife Edna divorced in 1918, which might have seemed scandalous at the time. But the family must have remained close. Edna and the couple’s three children moved to 310 Adams Street (now the Hartman residence).
When Taylor retired after 50 years as a court reporter, he continued to paint from his house on Mission Street. He died at age 98.
With an artistic career that spanned over seven decades, Taylor had many opportunities to paint San Antonio scenes, particularly views along the river and old buildings (many of which are no longer standing). He also painted Mexican scenes and visited San Miguel de Allende, which at one time was a favorite getaway for King William neighbors. Taylor’s works can be seen at the San Antonio Art League, local museums, and on the walls of lucky neighbors (just ask Ethel!).
If you have any memories of Taylor or stories about his work, please share them with me.
- Rose Kanusky
Ethel Pedraza and her family lived next door to the Taylors on Mission St. for many years. Following are some of her memories:
I remember him well, painting under the huge pecan tree in the back yard. He would wear a black beret, with his scarf blowing in the wind. I think of him often, especially in the fall.
He would be out there for hours, painting. My Dad made sure not work in the back yard while Mr. Taylor was painting.
Mr. Taylor’s wife’s first name was Elizabeth. With a twinkle in his eye and a smile, he would say “My wife is Elizabeth Taylor,” then he would say, “How about that?”
The first word that Dante, my oldest nephew, ever spoke was “pop.” Mr. Taylor’s kitchen was right across one of our bedrooms. The houses are very close, about ten feet apart. When Mrs. Taylor had a meal ready she would start yelling “POP, POP!” numerous times. Mr. Taylor was outside painting, he couldn’t hear too well. I remember that we were eating in the dining room, and all of a sudden we heard a baby’s voice yelling “Pop, pop!” We all ran to the bedroom, and there was the baby, just smiling and yelling “Pop, pop!”