Paisano Program Celebrates 40th Anniversary
“Walking home over a route we’ve learned by heart, under a sky so familiar we wear it on our shoulders like a cloak, the little Paisano house gleams in the distance like a lantern, so much home we wish we never had to let it go.” – Sandra Cisneros
Time. Place. Inspiration. Trust. A feeling of home - some reflections of the more than 40 former fellows who returned to the Paisano ranch on March 8, 2008 to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Dobie Paisano Fellowship Program. They came to remember their time at this special place, to meet the only other people in the world who could understand what the ranch means to them, and to honor the fellowship program that transformed their lives.
Founded in 1967 to honor Texas folklorist and writer J. Frank Dobie, the ranch and writer-in-residence fellowship program provides solitude, time, and a comfortable place for Texas writers or writers who have written significantly about Texas. To date, 79 fellows have occupied the rustic little house and reaped the benefits of this hill country retreat.
Audrey Slate welcomes former Paisano
fellow, Billy Porterfield
As the buses rolled in to deliver the guests to the ranch for the anniversary celebration, the glorious sunlight barely outshone the excitement and anticipation of the returning fellows and honored guests. Soon screenwriters, playwrights, poets, novelists, animators, potters, photographers, weavers and artists were getting to know one another and sharing their experiences as Dobie Paisano fellows. And all spent time before one of the many displays set up in and around the old Dobie house—displays that showcased the many accomplishments of the former fellows: over 100 books of poetry, fiction, and non-fiction, numerous feature films, documentaries for PBS, highly rated television episodes and miniseries, important theatre productions, and countless state and national literary awards.
One of the many displays showcasing the
work of Paisano fellows
Sarah Glasscock, 1992 fellow, novelist and writer of educational books for children (on topics ranging from immigration to women who’ve shaped American culture) spoke for many when she shared what the Paisano fellowship meant to her: “I think the words inspiration and trust most sum up my stay at Paisano. Inspiration comes from the beauty of the land and the sweet ranch house and from being one link in a long chain of fellows. Trust comes from the fact that the university entrusted J. Frank Dobie's house and 254 acres to me for six months. The trust worked both ways, too, because I always knew--through flood, fire, or wandering longhorns--that Audrey Slate and Clint Smith would go out of their way to take care of me.”
Sr. José Cisneros
The program’s very first fellow, Billy Porterfield, former writer for the Houston Chronicle, and author of a poignant chronicle of his 12-year Depression-era odyssey on the road with his parents, brother and sister, was joined by the most recent fellow, Allison Moore, who is writing of another journey. Her historical fiction records the lives of children who rode the Orphan Train – a one-way train out of New York City that delivered unwanted and orphaned children to train stops throughout the United States, including Texas, where they were literally inspected – especially the teeth – and chosen or not chosen on the spot.
One of the day’s special guests was Sr. José Cisneros, illustrator renowned for his historical depictions of the people and culture of the old Southwest. His Borderlands—The Heritage of the Lower Rio Grande through the Art of José Cisneros chronicles events in the history of the border between Texas and Mexico. For his contribution to understanding history through his art, he was honored by Pope Paul II, the King of Spain, Juan Carlos I, and by then Governor George W. Bush.
Sr. Cisneros addresses the group with
assistance from Margo Adair as
Michael Adams listens from the podium.
Born in 1910, Cisneros was the oldest fellow to return to the ranch. As a child, his family lost all their belongings when their home in Durango was looted during the Mexican Revolution. After many difficult years of wandering, the family settled in Juárez, Mexico. When Cisneros arrived in El Paso, Texas at fifteen years of age, he had only had four years of schooling, all of which had to be repeated. Fond of books and Spanish American History, he used the horsemen as his main subjects. And since he is color-blind, he worked in pen-and-ink and with a box of colored pencils marked so he could read their colors.
After receiving a moving tribute, Sr. Cisneros spoke briefly of his pleasure in returning to the ranch and what his experience there meant to him. Having spent his career creating art that was commissioned by others, his fellowship in 1969 afforded him the time, place, and financial support to create the art that he wanted to create. He said that in becoming a Paisano fellow, he found the freedom to paint what he wanted to paint, and thus was born the true artist inside him.
Terry Galloway (right) enjoy's the day's
activities with her companion, Donna Marie Nudd
Another former fellow, Lowell M. White, underscored Cisneros’ sentiment. “Basically, beyond the simple validation that the Dobie Paisano fellowship brought me—and validation and recognition are certainly an important part of the fellowship—my fellowship brought me the time and space I needed at that point in my life, the time I needed to read and think and get my writing moving. A wonderful time, in a wonderful place.”
Mrs. Jerry Andrews surrounded by her daughters
and members of the Johnson foundation
Terry Galloway, a hearing-impaired writer, director, actress, founding member of Esther’s Follies, and recipient of one of the highest honors in performance studies, the 2004 Leslie Irene Coger Award for Distinguished Performance, remarked, “The Dobie was heaven. It was wild and it was peace. And out of it came every bit of creative work I did for the next twenty years -- three solo performance pieces, two plays, hundreds of cabarets, ten short comic videos, a handful of personal essays, and more workshops in writing and performance than I can remember. And now two other projects -- a new 220-seat theater of my own, The Mickee Faust Academy for the REALLY Dramatic Arts, which will have state-of -the art accessibility for performing artists with disabilities; and a memoir, Mean Little Deaf Queer, forthcoming from Beacon Press in Spring 2009.”
In addition to the fellows at the anniversary event, a number of special guests were in attendance. Dudley Dobie, J. Frank Dobie’s nephew, and his family; numerous members of the Texas Institute of Letters, a great partner and supporter of the program; and Steve Leslie, Executive Vice President and Provost, and Victoria Rodríguez, Dean of the Graduate School at The University of Texas at Austin. Mrs. Jerry Andrews, daughter of Ralph Johnston, - the most important figure in acquiring the ranch and one of Dobie’s best friends – was accompanied by her daughters and members of the Johnston Foundation, which generously supports the program with annual stipends for the fellows.
Both Mrs. Andrews and Audrey Slate, Director of the program for 33 years, were honored for their support and dedication to the Dobie Paisano fellows with an inscribed crystal vase.
Director Michael Adams eloquently spoke of each of the fellows in attendance, touching on their unique talents and accomplishments. He concluded the program by quoting a poem written by Steve Harrigan for his daughter - who was six months old when they lived at the ranch. Steve, poet, screenwriter, novelist, and well-known Texas Monthly journalist, was in attendance with his family, including his daughter and her son, who turned six months old the weekend of the event.
"You were not yet six months old
that morning I saw the deer outside the kitchen window,
poised there by the propane tank,
poised in the frosted acreage between the house and the spring.
You were asleep beneath the swan decals on the headboard on your crib,
dreaming something you would not remember
Or recognize, some old imageless dream
That would be with you all your life.
You did not see the deer.
Still I choose to remember holding you up to the window,
Both of us leaning over the sink
Staring at the doe on the frozen lawn.
I remember how she came to the window
And stared back at us, wanting in,
Tired of so much sorrow and grace.
This is the dream I have invented for us both.
It took place one early morning
While you were sleeping
and I was at the kitchen window
Looking out at the deer
who stood in the frost
in that place beyond memory,
Steve Harrigan and his grandson
And for a few hours during the anniversary celebration, the former fellows and guests were able to come in, rekindle old memories and create new ones.
To view photos of the event, please visit http://www.utexas.edu/ogs/Paisano/40th/photos.html.
To support the Paisano program and receive a print from distinguished photographer and former fellow, Jim Bones, please visit http://www.utexas.edu/ogs/Paisano/support/.
For more information about the Dobie Paisano Fellowship Program, please visit http://www.utexas.edu/ogs/Paisano/.
To read a feature story about the ranch, please visit http://www.utexas.edu/features/archive/2003/paisano.html
By Kathleen Mabley, April 2008
Read more Feature Stories