INSTITUTE OF TEXAN CULTURES
ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM
Jonas Perkins (F.F.)
AUGUST 2, 1986
Institute of Texan Cultures
INTERVIEWER: Al Lowman
L: I was looking at your booth yesterday and picked up this
information sheet that you had there and also read Maury
Maverick's story on you, which I had missed earlier because I
don't see the San Antonio Express on Sunday. I live over near
Austin and read the Austin and the Dallas paper on Sunday because
I like the art section of the Dallas paper a lot better
than the Austin or the San Antonio papers. Maury had a right
nice story on you in there.
P: Thank you.
L: Do you happen to recall just for our future reference what
the date of that story was?
P: It was the Sunday week after the Folklife Festival last
year that it carne out.
L: O.K. So it followed last year's 1985 Folklife Festival.
Sunday San Antonio Express, the Sunday after last year's '85
I know he told the story in there but I might just get
you to tell the story again right briefly. What's a nice
Chicago boy like you doing in a place like Fredericksburg?
Perkins 2 .
P: Well, it all started ... I was coming down here for a
vacation, going down to an art colony down i n Mexico City.
You know San Miguel Allende? It's an art colony of artists.
I had heard about it up in Chicago.
L: North and a little west of Mexico City.
P: My car broke down here in San Antonio. At t h e i time i t
was broken i t seemed real unfortunate. But I had a lot of
these little heads that I had been doing with me and some
art work, etc., and O'Neil Ford happened to be in the vicinity
of where I was broke down, his home, and his brother Lynn
Ford. Those two brothers they saw my art work and they said,
"Well, you can't do this and do that at the same time . Either
you're going to have to be braking on the railroad or you 're
going to take a chance and be this artist that you want
t o be."
Because then I was real secure , working on my job and I
had a regular forecast. So I took the chance and I went back
up there and I got a drive-away pick-up and l oaded all my stuff
and then Lynn moved out to Willow Way, no , not to Willow Way,
the other place and he said, "If you do some art jobs a round
here, I'll give you a place to stay. " Took me around and
that's how I ended up here. He knew Mr . Baker . O.T. Baker .
And he brought me down here and old Rocky came out there and
said, "Don't worry about eatin'. You're standin' on top of
food right now," showin' me the different roots and everything.
You know, I could eat. A boy from t he city who was
abso lutely flabbergasted by these people , the energy and the
P: way they believed in themselves. It was the dream of
my life coming through. And so, I took a chance.
L: How much formal training did you have in Chicago Art
P: I went there two years.
L: To the Chicago Art Institute?
P: Yes, sir.
L: What's the normal length of the curriculum?
P: Four year curriculum. At the time that I went there in
the 60's, I wanted to be a realist sculptor. As I was a child
I used to come in there, see all the marble carvings and the
carvings and things from all over the world and I thought
surely that's what they were going to be doing there. But
when I got there, it was all abstract. It was a bit of a
disappointment to me not gettin' the chance to partake in
that field of sculpture.
L: They haven't always been big in the abstract scul~ure,
P: No. Walt Disney , you know, all that started in Chicago.
L: The person that I knew who was an alumnus of Chicago Art
Institute. I don't know that he graduated but he studied
there with Tom Lea from El Paso. He's made an enormous
reputation as an artist of the greater southwest. He's also
done a lot of painting in Australia and Canada. Studied at
the Chicago Art Institute 1929, 1930 under the late John
Norton who was one of the greatest geniuses they had ever
P: on the faculty at the Chicago Art Institute.
L: How did your interest in the western genre get started?
P: The stockyards were there and during the time when I was
a little boy, we used to go downtown there and my Mom and
Daddy would take me down there and I would see the cowboys
comin' in .. We go somewhere we kind of stay the same now.
Our cows look like this when I go there. I would see those
people and people would tell me, "The real peopl e live west
of here, a bunch of real people." That's what they would
talk about. So I really wanted to know so that's how my
interest . . And, of course, all the movies of ours, Red
River came out . As a little child watched that. And I saw
the pictures of Texas. Just seein' that, I just couldn't
wait. All the time it was on my mind ... when can I go
You know always life gives you a chance to enlist; we
enroll in different programs and I think the desire was
always buildin' in me. We enroll in different programs and
the desire was always buildin' in me. So finally I got a
chance to get out.
L: What was your earliest artistic expression? What did
you do? Did you do a lot of drawing when you were little?
P: No, I didn't. I went to a Catholic Primary School up
until the secondary school. Second year I went to parochial
schools. We had a little bit of arts and crafts. Not much.
Drawings with charcoal and things like that ... I made a little
Pe rkin s 5 .
P : a l tar once but my first sculpture didn ' t come 'til I
was about 16 or 17 year s . 17 years old. A friend of mine
came over and had a l ump of clay . . my Mother did
ceramics . . . and I said , "Gee , that ' s nice but I wish I
could form my own. She had a lump of the clay and I said ,
"Le t me try one. " And my friend was there and I had a little
piece of clay and I started doing him and sure enough it
looked like him . I said, "Gee , t his is neat . I like doing
this ." And so I did that for a few years and about the
time I was 19 , I had a group of things . I had done some wood
carvings and everything out of wal nut like this . I took those
down there to the Art I n stit ute , that' s when I started.
L : So , in other words, all of your work has been three
dimensional. You ' ve never really done two dimensional stuff .
P: O' Neil Ford want ed me to go to U. T . up in Austin. A pro-
fessor up there tell Mr . Perki ns I ' d like a coon dog . '' " I t hink
we ought to leave it just like he is" . It just popped out .
He was taking me as a student . Sometimes we just get a
gift like the guy here plays by ear . He gave me a pen and
said , "All right , if you can draw me with this pen a sculpture
of someone . " A millionare says, "Yeah, do that and I'll write
you out a check with that pen f or a million dollars . " I
couldn ' t do it . You know, it's just right i n t hose three
d~me nsion that I find my talent and that ' s what my art .
L: You never make a sketch of a ny kind before you sit down
to tackle something?
Perkins 6 .
P: No, I have a series of glimpses . . if I can get a person
to sit before me , I can see very clear ly three dimensions and I
can work around that center . But as f ar as sketching it out
I j ust .
L: What are your favorite subjects?
P: I like strong characters in people, men especially . I
look a t men and I l ike to see what l ife has done to ' em . I'm
doin ' one o f Nat Love now. I'm going through a divorce and
my wi fe , she wanted me to go on with my art istic work and put
our children in a place they can be educated . My son's getting
old enough where livin' out there in the country i n a rock
house, remote , man is not meant to live like that all of his
life . You need to get int o the main stream, public schools,
things like that .
My life right now calls for me to be so much right there ,
you know. And so . . it's peaceful . . it ' s like we 've
always helped each other before; we're helpin ' each other now
personal, that ' s what I 'm tellin ' you about . So my art work
. who ever would ask me , I'm willing to do that right
now . I made that promise t o the old man. He said , " I 'll
help you i f you promise you won't qui t ."
L: I think that's a square deal . I've got a 20 year o l d son
right now that's about that stage .
that ' s the problem.
It's making him not quit ,
We never have gotten around to my original question :
. . ,
L: What's a nice Chicago boy like you doing in a place like
Fredericksburg? How did you get to Fredericksburg?
P: Well, I seen an ad in a newspaper
on this ranch with Dr. Larry Miller .
. after livin' out
. he's the guy, this
new wheelchair, he's come out with this new Alexis wheelchair.
He has a place in New Braunfels. I lived with him for four
years out in the country. Now I'm trying to go back and live
in town. It was driving me crazy inside that aircondition,
the air conditioner, and everything. I just wanted to get
back out there. I wanted to build this house that Lynn told
me to build. He said you've got to build you a place; build
you a studio. Just do that because he never had one. He
was a craftsman all of his life and never had his own studio.
And, so, I said, "Well, I don't know how I'm going to buy
land; where am I going to get land?" So, one day I seen this
ad in the newspaper: "Own your own land. Little or no money
down." And so I got the newspaper and went out there and it
happened to be a friend of theirs and a friend of mine. They
were sellin' it. So I put $320.00 down. It was all the money
I had, the rent money and everything. So I got that and I
gave 'em the money and I called my Mother up and she gave me
enough money to buy a tent ... a hundred and some dollars.
So I took that tent, got a wheelbarrow and a 55-gallon jug
and I went out there and I started diggin' me a little
P: I had sweats every night.
At that time in Fredericksburg hadn't been any blacks
moved in there in over a hundred years. Even for people not
black, or just strangers, this close community, just because
of the social pressures that had been applied to them.
L: Yeah. I know exactly what you are saying.
P: So I said, "Gee, what did I do?" Anyway, they watched
me for years. People'd just come, you know. People'd come
out there, I'd be out there diggin' and pickin', wasn't
gettin' much of my art work done those years but I got by.
I dug in and I've been workin' nine years on it. I can
go downtown, places, and people are friendly and like me:
just being a human being. Doin' my work, I've found that
social acceptance ... once Lynn told me civil rights, negro,
he had gained them by a group but yoursocial rights, you gotta
gain them on your own . . . And so he told me I could do that
and I believed him.
L: Fredericksburg, I suspect, may be changing, like New
Braunfels, some of these other German communities just by
virtue of a very significant number of folk from elsewhere
just . •
P: Changed over night.
L: Yeah. The pressures you're describing here were prevalent
well into the 1960's. I think the '70's marked some
P: Oh, yeah.
L: There were a lot of folks coming up from Houston, places
L: like that and they saw Fredericksburg ... "what a
charming, quaint little town . . wouldn't this be a great
weekend retreat place?" or whatever. So, that's what happen-ed
to Fredericksburg now. They 've got residential subdivis ions
and apartment complexes and condominiums and everything else
that ' s prevalent in San Antonio, Houston, Dallas, e lsewhere.
They 've got those same things in Fr edericksburg now. So you
know, it ' s changing.
P: I hope tha t it will a lways keep the heritage and the charm
that it has because Fredericksburg was always the point where
economicall y it was sound. I hope it always s t ays that way .
L: They didn ' t spend money they didn't have .
P: I l ove it here.
L: How do you find it now , what's the artistic milieu like
up there? As an artist who do you have for company in
P: Like Jack Maguire. He used to be here at the Texan
Culture. I had a couple of things to come up and I've been
able to talk to him, long distance , a coupl e of t imes . Like
I go over there . We're not buddies or anything , but he's
we l comed me to his house . He has a little condominium up
there. There ' s a l ot o f artists that were up there . In this
little s ubdivision s ince I got there, there ' s been an influx
o f 'em. We have maybe ten artists that live there.
Mi chael Moss, he ' s , he does traditional furniture . He ' s
P: going to be here today. He does early Texas primitives.
You know, reproductions. He tried to get all the old woods
that he can to make it into furniture. He's there. Like
G. Hobby has just moved into town in Fredericksburg in the
last year and a half and restored an old horne. And there's
a number of other artists in Kendall County and all around there
that I meet and I have exchanged with.
It's growin'. I think that whole area is goin' to be
/ almost a mecca like Sante Fe was . . Between Kerrville c. ·. ·:
aad San Antonio. You see, San Antonio has the influx and the
big city atmosphere. But as far as just a place for an artist
to live, the Hill Country and that area is really going to be
something. The cowboys of America are up there in Kerrville.
L: I was fixing to ask you about that. Do you spend much
time up there? At that cowboy art museum?
P: Well, I go up there for their shows and their openings.
I was a member of that. I just got a letter from Mr. Karnes
reminding that I need to re-up on my membership. Pay my
dues. Swell bunch of artists. They've all seen me cornin'
up and seen my place in society and know I'm cornin' 1n .
Registering what's happened in our lives. Like Nat
and those guys, rnakin' sculptures of them. Well, we were
part of it. As long as .n·hold up my end of the work and I
keep doin' my work better, then I'm goin' to be . . So
it's kind of like that.
L: I had another question right on the tip of my tongue and
I have lost it. Let's talk a little bit about your, the
processes that you use. Specifically, what do you do? And
then, how do you do it?
P: Well, what I do
L: Let's say you've got a subject, an individual now, whose
likeness you're going to create. What's the process?
Start to finish.
P: First of all, fix the image; I gotta secure the image in
my mind and know exactly what I'm trying to deal with. That's
one thing, to know I really want to do this. Once I fixed
that, that's what I want to do, then whatever aids I can get
to enhance that, I try to use it. Like if I . . like I'm
doing that head of Roddy. We look at him but that wax has
got to translate into a person exactly what the piece of wax
is saying. But I'm translating that instantly a little child
can recognize who that is.
To do that, I look at it not only through my eyes but
through the eyes of a specialist like . . doin' the teeth .
once I open it up, I go to a dentist and he'll say, "No,
this tooth here is round, this is square.~ Or, the jaw is
pushed back. This is type 2 . I'm learning dental terms,
you know. Or I go to a hair stylist and I'll ask the hair
stylist, "What am I doing? What am I doing wrong about that
hair style. I don't have a picture from the fact, what would
that look like?'' Or a doctor. He tells me about the chronia
masse (?). This is too high; this is like his expertise
P: is .
. I go to each expert in their field and then let
them show me what I'm doing wrong and then I 'll translate it
into my media .
I 'm doing Daedalus for the Daedal ian Society . They ' re
the retir ed military . . . Billy Mitchell started [an organization
of military pilots. E~ They were tel lin ' me about
how the wing is made. I didn't know a wing was cut ; I have
never studied birds or looked at 'em t hat closely . But
their wings are cut and they told me t his is what creates the
lift. So when we ' re doing this wing on this winged man ,
Daedalus, Daedalus was a sculptor , and he studied these things
up in that tower and tms i s what he saw. He waxed those
wings together and through their imagination and through my
hands , when the two things get managed toget her and t hat
arti fact comes forth . That ' s what I 'm doin ', a transl ator .
Do you start working with a lump of wax?
no. Well , sometimes I s t art out with a lump of wax .
Tell me what you start with .
P: I start with wax or clay , either , depending on what the
subject is going to be doing . Or sometimes I ' ll use both .
I' ll use wax for the inside of t he eyes like that head I 'm
doing of Maury Maverick . It ' s all p l aster underneath . There ' s
a framework, armature . Sometimes I'l l build my armature f rom
steel. I had that longhorn . He's got an armature made out
of steel and wire mesh and rebar and all of thi s stuff. I'll
P: cover that with clay. Then after I make that one clay one,
see that steer hangin' up? I'll press a mold and make him
out of wax and then refine that same image in wax. In the
clay I didn't see certain things ... I'll have to do it
sometimes three or four times to get the image. And if I
look at the wax and say, ''I'm really far off" then I'll just
cast the whole thing out of plaster and then carve it and get
it really tuned down to really where I want it. Because the
c l ay enables me to put the mask together without a great deal
of expense and get the form but the media I can use to really
see better with is plaster . I can see the shadows and the
depths whereas in clay you can't see those shadows and depths
A~d everytime you make a reproduction of what you ' ve done
is like a negative. You've got your negative there . But yet
still you don't really see what you've done because your eye
is also going ahead of you and saying, "Yeah, you're doing
a great job. You're all right." You know, it fools you.
And as soon as you make a casting of it and look at it from a
different media point, it's not the same.
mut once I get it into bronze, what bronze does, bronze
heightens whatever sensitivi ty that image has is like a sound,
like a bell, it vibrates , it will make that image vibrate.
Once I get that, I want to make sure that's right.
L: I don't know anything about it. How do you get from wax
or c l ay to bronze?
P: O.K. What you do, is you make your image. Here ' s your image
right here, this cup . This is made out of wax. What I do
is I take this image in wax and I have a solution called
sodium silica. It's three parts. The first part is a
l iquid; the second part is a powder, a f lour ; and the third
part is a stucco like a fan. And this sodium silica is a
high refractory compound. It can withstand thermal shock
very nicely and it doesn't move so much.
I take this wax cup , o r this styrofoam cup even, and
I dip it in this solution. First coat is painted to get
all that detail and it'll pick up everything on all those
little lines and everything. And then after I put the
fiiEt. c oat on
L: Wait a minute. You dipped it and now into this solution
and then you're talking about painting. What are you
painting it with now?
P: Painting it with a little paint brush. I take a little
paint brush ... it's two parts. The flour is mixed with
the water ... of this ... it's kind of like ... you
know, that stuff they used to put in the radiators years ago?
P: I have a little paste like a batter, kind of like a
pancake batter. And I paint .
Perkins 15 .
L : O. K.
P : I have a little paste like a batter , kind of like a
pancake bat ter. And I paint
L : It ' s been dipped then you paint it with t his batter?
P : Yeah . The first coat , you paint it on because you get
a1r bubbles otherwise . So after you dip it a nd get i t on
there , then you let that dry for 24 hours . Then you come
back the nex t day and you di p a second coat .
L: Jonas , I want to make sure t hat I 'm following this here .
The very first thing you ' ve done to that cup , that object,
i s t o paint i t with s omething?
P: With .a slurry. We call it a slurry.
L : And then you dip it?
P : The n I dip it . You see , I paint it with sodium silica
just by itself . Sodium silica just by itself is just like
a glue . To get r i d of that surface tension on that object
because normally t his would be a wax and the wax causes a
surface tension and air molecules get right on there and
you ' ve got to get rid of that. One way to get rid of that
is carbon tetrachloride , dippin ' it i n that . But that ' s
L: Can you still buy carbon tetrachloride?
P : Yeah , you can still buy it at chemical warehouses even
though it changes your genetics . They sti ll sell it .
L: Where do you get it?
P: Well, I called a place up here on the northside by the
airport. They had it.
L: What's the name of the place where you get it?
P: I've got it written down in my book.
L: Carbon tetrachloride is wonderful to clean dirt on
P: Is that right? You can get it in gallon containers.
L: I don't need that much.
P: I had to get some because it also thins .
L: Getting back to this. First thing you've done is to
paint it with sodium silica. And then the next thing is
to dip it in a solution o f slurry .
P : Slurry. Sodium silica and flour, which is like a pan-cake
batte r . The n a f ter you dip it in that, you let that
drain and dry. And then you dip it in a sodium silica by
itself again, just a liquid. That wets it. After you wet
it, then you dip it back in the sodium silica flour mixture
and then you pour it out and then you stucco that first
coat with a very fine sand , r eally fine sand, like a 120
me sh sand. And then you get that sand coat on there.
Then you let that dry . Afte~that dries, you go back again ,
back up, with the same sand .
And the third coat is rougher sand . Like you ' re sanding
wood. You get that second coat of sand on there and it's
repeat ed until you get eight coats on there . Then after
that eighth coat, you put a sealer coat, which is just the
Perkins 17 .
P: sodium silica and flour itself like it was on that second
primary coat . And that smooths it off so that any granules
are not flying around in your oven . That's just to bind it
all up . And after you get done with that , you let that dry
and you take the whole object and you put it into an
oven . . . clean all this cup off . . . and take the whole
object. Preheat your oven to about cherry- red hot; once
it's cherry-red hot, which is about 1500 degrees, you take
the whole object and you place it i nside of the oven. That
is called thermo shocking, shocking to the wax . And the
wax is immediately vaporized into gas, carbon. Some of it
burns through the shell and some of it even comes through
the pores of the shell. When all this burns perfectly
white , like this , the shell becomes white, like this cup
and if you see any smokey or dark spots on it, you can
understand that that spot's got carbon in it. Carbonized .
You pour your metal in there, the carbon will ignite and it
will cause little volcanoes into the piece . So you don't
want to do that. You want to keep it all white . So you
check to make sure there's no cracks or anything. Wherever
you have to, you patch it up and then you heat, after you' ve
checked, then again heat that mold up. At the same time
you've been working with that, you have another oven going
over there that your metal is being heated to 1950 degrees.
P: You want to take that metal up to about 2,000 degrees;
not too much over 2,500. I mean 2,200. Take it up to about
2,200 degrees and as you take it out, every minute you have
it out, you're losing 200 degrees.
So you get it up to about 2,200 degrees and that minute
or half minute by the time you pour it, it's 1,950. I
don't have a gauge or anything anymore, I just look at it
and I'm able to look at it, take a piece of wrought iron
or something, stick it in there, if the metal doesn't stick
to it and just runs completely off, then you know it's
ready. But if the metal sticks to that wrought iron, then
you know that that metal is not hot enough. That wrought
iron adds a l ittle bit of contamination to it . . those
old habits and I should break 'em . . use graphite rods
I look at it and I can see if the metal is
And when it's . . just like coffee . . I just pour
it right in there.
L: You have left an opening in the mold so that the liquid
can be poured in?
P: Pour in, yeah. I make a little cup like this . . maybe
I'll have a funnel-shape 'cause if you make a flat, flat
like this cup, it'll just sit in the cup, it won't flow
down in there. It's got to be a funnel, V-shape. All the
sprues and airguns have been rigged on a piece according to
what we're pouring, too. That's a further step involved,
Perkins 19 .
P: just riggin' it . See, it's exchange. Even in this cup ,
the air is in this cup, right? When you 're in a mold situation,
you have heat inside of there and there are gasses that are
still inside of there . You're exchanging your gasses and
air for metal . You have to have air vents.
L : Yeah. Right. Now tell me , is this wh a t is referred
to as the lost wax process?
P: Lost wax process.
L: Who , in your estimation, is the greatest practitioner
of the lost wax process practicing in America or the world
today? First of all , are there a lot o f people doing it?
P: There are a lot more people doin' it now . For the most
part, most artists leave that as a technician's job. It's
a technician's job. It's like the architect in the construction,
At one time, it used to be the same guy . Now , as far
as the artists are concerned, they send theirs to a foundry.
There are several founderies here in this area but there
are few artists, I don't know very many . There 's a couple,
two in Austin, a couple out there that are doing their own
casting. They call ' em the Wild Bunch.
L: But you do your own casting .
P: I do most all my own casting myself. They're mine from
start to finish.
L: Is there anyone in this field , doing this work, you
particularly respect? "If I could be as good a s this guy is ,
I would feel that I had arrived" . Do you have that feeling
Perkins 20 .
L: about anyone?
P : No . For what I'm aiming at, I wish I could be l ike the
Renaissance artists. I always think about the Renaissance
artists. They had to not only make their tools , but .
L: They were so diverse in their skills.
P: Yeah. Because I see it, I see that in my life so much .
I do something, I gotta worry about how am I going to get
that to go with that.
L: You spoke about hanging around some of these cowboy
artists- folk up there at Kerrville .
P : The one I admire out of the bunch is Lawson , Mel Lawson.
He specialized in his cantinas. He made sure that it lends
itself t o his subject. He does buckaroos; he does a bunch
of buckaroos. Those buckaroos are all the color , the
movement , he's great . I think he ' s one of the , if not the
best, of the western artists . One of the best.
L: Are you familiar with the lost wax bronze casting of
P: Oh, yeah. Harry Jackson . Sure am . His forte is one
leg on a animal . He does a lot of horses on one leg and the
guy turned on the side. Yeah . Harry Jackson. I 'm fami liar
with his work. He's great, too.
L: Have you read his book on the lost wax process?
P : No. Never read his book. Never read his book.
L: He ' s got one. You might f i nd it interesting . It's been
out for many years . We're talking about 20 years ago, he di d
L : this book . Published by Press, up at Flagstaff,
Arizona. When I bought it about 20 years ago , it was a
twenty dollar book. The reason I bought it is it's a pretty
book to look at. He explains the process in there.
And then here about four, five years ago the Abrams Art
Book Company of New York did a big book on him . . . one
hundred twenty-five dollar book with examples of his work.
And, of course, what interested me, one of the things that
interested me, is he's doing so much polychrome work , which
I don't fully understand. He applies color to his bronzes .
P: To his bronzes .
L: To his bronzes . Have you ever done anything like that or
even had the urge?
P: No. To the point my color would come in as far as like
the same kind of color they use on pottery . I have this idea
that I can do my bronzes and paint them with a glass, almost ,
I almost enamel them. I' ve had this enameling urge to color .
It ' s completely different. I haven't seen anybody do it so
I kinda been thinking on that term, something I want to do.
L: Think that might be the next frontier you ' ll explore?
P: Try doing different acids on 'em. Sulphates and all that .
L: In your demonstrations out here , how far do you go?
P: Well, what I try to do is that ... right now I ' ve brought
in several other artists, with me and some students, apprentices.
And other artists friends that I have taught over the
last year, this same process . A~d each one of these persons
had an input into that area in which t hey have shown interest .
P: I have all the stages out there right now . I don't have
that whole steer here , I'd liked to have gotten it all down
here. Show the framework and everything. I'll probably try
to get it down here today or tomorrow . I have in a l a rger
scale but all the smaller scale things are out there. I plan
t o even pour something t oday .
L: I was fixing to ask, do you actually heat the metal out
there , pour it, and all?
P: Pour it and all. I have that furnace I have just
built and we ' re going to put it together today. That's another
one of the steps that you need an oven. It's out of a 30
gallon boiler plate; t hat hot water heater is a boiler plate.
I show people they can use that boiler p l ate , it ' s expensive
metal. Where they can actually make the stuff right there
a t the house. All t he stuff i s there at the house that they
can just about build a furnace . You can use a vacuum cleaner;
a blower off of a car, the heater from the car , and just a
l ittle gas . You don't have t o have a big volume comin' out
but a small volume . Takes a little longer but you do i t
just right. So I wa s goin ' t o t each ' em how to put t he oven
There are people I have talked to and I say, "Come on
down . I'll show you how to put the oven together down there."
So that is one step I 'm going to do entirely right here. I
have a ll the pieces and just put it together r i ght out there.
Perkins . 23.
P: Jim Collins from Poteet, Texas, he has that Eclipse,
that big windmill . And they're missing the weights to make
it work. He had one weight and these weights cost him two
hundred fifty bucks for the weight. It's a horse. I told
him just bring it over. We'll make a mold right out here.
So we went down there and made a mold to it. I'm going to
get it so he can get it cast down at Alamo Iron Works. I'm
making a pattern so he can put it on a board. They can do
it. We can have it here in Texas.
L: How many of these Fo l klife Festivals have you been to?
P: This is my fourth one .
L: Your fourth one. Four in a row?
L: When was your first one?
P: I think it was in 1975.
L: Seventy-five. What was your impression of it then and
what ' s your impression of it now, nearly a dozen years later?
P: Oh , it's changed. I t's changed a little bit but I think
the idea, a nd the essence of it, hasn 't. I think the idea is
to bring folks t ogether of all our cultures. Instead of having
this one here and that one there but t o serve just like
Texas has. I think this is more a symbol of Texas than anything.
L: What was your first impression of it? Had you been here
during the earlier Festivals? The first time you came, you
were a participant? Is that what you're saying?
P: I was a participant and I had never saw anything like
this before. All the noise, and all the people, the different
foods . All the different colors. I was impressed. Very much
impressed and moved by it. I loved i t. I really loved it.
L: A dozen years l ater your attitude changed any at all or ... ?
P: No. I'm just a little older.
L: Aren 't we all? (laughter)
P: Just a little older . Aches just don't go away quite as
quickly. I realize that if I turn that oven on, try to stay
on there four days ... I couldn't stay in there four days
where my first days I was just sweatin', just . .. you know,
but now I've learned how to time myself off. I miss those old
boys from Alpine, though; miss that old chuckwagon crew they
used to have out there. I don't know, it was just a charisma .
L: Cliff Tyner from Albany .
P: All those guys. I miss that riggin'. I seen Mr . Baker
out there. Mr. Baker ain't changed a bit.
L: No, he hasn't.
P: I don 't see how he does it. He looks just like he .
L: That 's right. I saw him yesterday and I said , "How you
doin' there Father Time"? I've known the guy for twenty
years and he's not changed a bit.
P: I can't understand it. Must be those herbs that he ' s
eatin', something we don't know.
L: Maybe Rocky perscribed a potion for him. (laughter)
We've had some r eally great Festivals here. Some years, I
L: think, more successful for everybody concerned than
others. But that's to be expected over fifteen years.
Where do you expect to be five years from now?
P: Well, my aim is to be a known sculptor. Have that ambition.
That's what I want to do. I keep thinkin' about,
you know, I would liked to have gone to London with them
Bears; been part of that program that went over there. But I
didn't. Mr. Miller is one of their sponsors. He sent me a
letter. They're going to have a showing here in San Antonio
so I just said, "Well, what's the use of going anywhere? I
don't know much what they're talking about over there".
They're opening that new store and they're going to have a
show for me at Marshall Field's here.
P: So I have a couple of supplements to do. And, so, I guess,
this is it. I just have to. Something says you can open up
the world inside of a book. That's what Lynn always used to
tell me. The world was right there. Even if you went to all
those places that you may dream about, you couldn't do everything.
Certainly wouldn't be able to do all your work.
So the older I'm gettin', the more ... it's nice to talk
about and to dream about doin' these things but I've realized
what I want to do now. I was tell in' a guy there last n ight .
he come up to me, rather, and told me, he said, "You may be a
one percent person because thousands of people don't know what
they want to do".
Perkins 27 .
L: That's right. Knowing what you want to do and then getting
with it. That's what I'm trying to tell this son of mine
right now . Getting it figured out and then getting with it .
I have enjoyed this conversation tremendously and I am
certainly grateful for your dropping over here this morning
to share some time with us. I don't know what the ultimate
destination o f these interviews are going to be . One pos s-ibility
is a documentary film that they ' re talking about here
for a number of years . And another possibil ity is somebody wri te
a history of the Festival . There are a number of things we
might possibly do with these interviews . We've been talking
to folks f o r the last half dozen years that I know of . Every-body
brings a different perspective to it; from a different
viewpoint not only with regard to their craft but to the
So, Jonas , thank you very much.
P: O.K. It s been a real pleasure .
TAPE I , Side l , about 48 minutes
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INTERVIEW WITH: DATE: PLACE: INSTITUTE OF TEXAN CULTURES ORAL HISTORY PROGRAM Jonas Perkins (F.F.) AUGUST 2, 1986 Institute of Texan Cultures (Folklife Festival) INTERVIEWER: Al Lowman L: I was looking at your booth yesterday and picked up this information sheet that you had there and also read Maury Maverick's story on you, which I had missed earlier because I don't see the San Antonio Express on Sunday. I live over near Austin and read the Austin and the Dallas paper on Sunday because I like the art section of the Dallas paper a lot better than the Austin or the San Antonio papers. Maury had a right nice story on you in there. P: Thank you. L: Do you happen to recall just for our future reference what the date of that story was? P: It was the Sunday week after the Folklife Festival last year that it carne out. L: O.K. So it followed last year's 1985 Folklife Festival. Sunday San Antonio Express, the Sunday after last year's '85 Folklife Festival. I know he told the story in there but I might just get you to tell the story again right briefly. What's a nice Chicago boy like you doing in a place like Fredericksburg? Perkins 2 . P: Well, it all started ... I was coming down here for a vacation, going down to an art colony down i n Mexico City. You know San Miguel Allende? It's an art colony of artists. I had heard about it up in Chicago. L: North and a little west of Mexico City. P: My car broke down here in San Antonio. At t h e i time i t was broken i t seemed real unfortunate. But I had a lot of these little heads that I had been doing with me and some art work, etc., and O'Neil Ford happened to be in the vicinity of where I was broke down, his home, and his brother Lynn Ford. Those two brothers they saw my art work and they said, "Well, you can't do this and do that at the same time . Either you're going to have to be braking on the railroad or you 're going to take a chance and be this artist that you want t o be." Because then I was real secure , working on my job and I had a regular forecast. So I took the chance and I went back up there and I got a drive-away pick-up and l oaded all my stuff and then Lynn moved out to Willow Way, no , not to Willow Way, the other place and he said, "If you do some art jobs a round here, I'll give you a place to stay. " Took me around and that's how I ended up here. He knew Mr . Baker . O.T. Baker . And he brought me down here and old Rocky came out there and said, "Don't worry about eatin'. You're standin' on top of food right now" showin' me the different roots and everything. You know, I could eat. A boy from t he city who was abso lutely flabbergasted by these people , the energy and the Perkins 3. P: way they believed in themselves. It was the dream of frt.~e my life coming through. And so, I took a chance. -