San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas

February 23rd, 2009
The Devil's Clackdish: In praise of public art

Jack C. Hays, in statue, rides past the Hays County Courthouse on the courthouse square in San Marcos. Photo by Sean Wardwell.

The Devil’s Clackdish: A column
Scene Editor

You may drive by it every day. It may seem more like a fixture than art. It may even be that you don’t really see it anymore when you drive by it.

But the statue of John “Jack” Coffee Hays on the corner of LBJ Drive and Hopkins Street on the courthouse square in San Marcos is a public work of art that says something different to everyone who listens.

Texas sculptor Jason Scull is telling us something about Hays, himself and you every time you look at it. That’s part of what all art is. It is a way of telling you about yourself, your world and the artist.

Art should also raise questions. This sculpture, which can just look like a guy wielding a gun, wearing a hat and riding a horse asks plenty of them. What kind of weapon is that? Why is he riding with such purpose? What kind of horse is that? Who is this guy? What is the sculptor like? (You can see more of his work at

Nobody has to hold a gun to your head to get you to appreciate the arts. But, let’s face it, if anybody could, it would be Colonel Jack Hays with that Colt repeating revolver.

Some may know the rousing stories of our county’s namesake, some may just know his moniker is attached to high schools and others know that he played an extraordinary part in Texas history, especially for a guy who spent most of his life in California after the gold rush, founding the town of Oakland and surveying the land for President Franklin Pierce.

But it’s fitting that this sculpture resides in San Marcos, not only because we are his namesake county seat but because our population is partially composed of college students who are the same age as Hays was when he was one of the founders of the legendary Texas Rangers. The Hays sculpture is the picture of youthful intensity and vigor.

The Texas Rangers were a group of men who were fierce both in their loyalty to their friends and their dedication to their independence. Looking at Scull’s sculpture, you can certainly see this quality as Hays rides, hell-bent for leather, towards the future.

Hays was described as “too brave” and as someone who was not “afraid to go to hell all by himself.” Do you see that in the sculpture? The artist certainly seems to and does a good job of composing the statue to show it. If you’ve noticed it, too, then you are a judge of sculptural composition.

Who can imagine Paris without the Eiffel Tower or London without Big Ben or Seattle without the Space Needle or Sydney without that amazing opera house? Buildings and sculptures and murals are all public works of art that describe your environment. Since the Hays sculpture’s dedication in 2001, it has begun to shape the way observers and residents see San Marcos.

The town square in San Marcos and the sculpture of Jack C. Hays paint a picture of an independent, proud, civic-minded place with thriving local businesses and extraordinary vintage architecture. All these things are integral and inter-related to a healthy local community and economy. The courthouse with its Beaux-Arts style and Corinthian columns is the beautiful centerpiece of this picture.

So, there’s a sculpture of Justice on top of the courthouse, Jack C. Hays rides on, the daffodils are blooming in the court yard by the Charles S. Cock House and the river runs green and blue as the train sings yet another tune as it passes by, all in the course of four or five blocks on Hopkins Street.

This is all a part of what art is, and, if you’ve noticed any of it, you have the basic building blocks to become an art connoisseur. That’s just one of the many side benefits to pubic art.

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0 thoughts on “The Devil's Clackdish: In praise of public art

  1. Your description is poignant. How easy it is to overlook that which is found in our own backyards. The installation of public art benefits the community for many generations. The inspiration and imagination found in Scull’s statue will remain as a “fixture” and a voice to those who take the time to listen.

  2. Hays and many other Texas Rangers laid a path of destruction for Native Americans in this State during Mirabeau Lamar’s policy of extermination. How interesting for me, as an inidigenous person, to see such figures depicted so heroically in beautiful works of art. Yes, it is important to contemplate these public sculptures and, as you suggest in your article, to raise questions about these monuments to our history.

  3. It is true that we take public sculpture for granted, and seldom recognize its artistic value while driving by during a busy day. This is a good time to think about other public art in San Marcos, like the native American chief by the Fish Hatchery building, the fireman by City Hall, or the mosaic mural on the cement wall by the river at City Park pavilion. Take time when you can to think about exactly what you’re seeing…what does it represent? Who are the artists? In the case of the mosaic mural, it was done by San Marcos public school students quite a few years ago…quite an undertaking for kids!

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