Since its founding in 1912, the San Antonio Art League & Museum (SAALM) has been honoring, promoting, and celebrating the artist community of San Antonio and surrounding areas. Its membership list includes many elite artists — the ‘cream of the crop’ — as well as lesser-known aspiring artists, gallery owners, curators, and patrons like me — people who simply find pleasure in art.


Every year the Museum presents a number of exhibits (you can read about them here), and bestows a number of awards to artists for their contributions.


Since 1946, SAALM has bestowed its Artist of the Year Award (AoY) on an artist whose work shows the highest level of artistry and consistency, and who has been a contributing member to the San Antonio art community. Of all the SAALM awards, the AoY may be the most coveted. Its recipient becomes part of the Museum’s history, and therefore part of the city’s history.


This year, SAALM is honoring Sylvia Benitez with this prestigious award.


The process

Every year, a SAALM Artist of the Year Committee nominates a number of area artists for consideration. The committee starts by casting a wide net and reviewing the work of several artists — both SAALM members and non-members. 


That effort results in a list of three finalists who are then reviewed by a panel of three jurors outside of Texas — jurors who do not know the artists. The jurors are typically gallery owners, museum curators, art critics, or university art educators. This year’s jurors were a gallery owner in Charlotte, North Carolina; a gallery owner in Santa Fe, New Mexico; and a university professor of art in Long Beach, California.


And this year, the jurors choose Sylvia.


About Sylvia Benitez

Coming from a family of artists, Sylvia started painting as a child. And she hasn’t stopped.

Sylvia’s medium is oil, and she is nationally known for her exquisite Texas landscapes. In a formal announcement about the award, SAALM President Claudia Langford says this about Sylvia’s work:


“Benitez is a keen observer of the Texas landscape. Her impressionistic vistas of fields, forests, mountains, lakes, and shadows create visual expressions that transcend the merely observed to a moving personal and emotional experience.”


In a private conversation, Claudia told me “You get lost in her paintings.”


Sylvia tells me that she is thrilled to have been chosen as SAALM’s Artist of the Year. She explained that as an artist “having your work recognized is extremely important -- it affirms artistic effort. This award, however, is incredibly special and significant because it means you’ve become part of the San Antonio art community’s very rich history. I am humbled and honored.”

A glance at the About page on her website gives a good feel for her talent and accomplishments: “A recognized installation artist and painter, she is the recipient of many national awards, including two Pollock-Krasner awards, an Adolph and Esther Gottlieb Individual Support Grant, an AICA award, and two National Endowment for the Arts Visiting Artist Fellowships. Benitez is a two-time MacDowell Colony fellow. She is also a Yaddo, Virginia for the Creative Arts, Ucross and Altos De Chavon fellow.”


Her work has been exhibited in museums and galleries throughout the country, including in New York, Maryland, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Texas and Puerto Rico. She is represented by The Hunt Gallery here in San Antonio, The Slate Gray Gallery in Telluride Colorado, and The Wally Workman Gallery in Austin.


In 2010, Sylvia founded GAGA, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that supports women artists in South Texas. GAGA -- which stands for Gentilesci Aegis Gallery Association -- is named after Artemisia Gentileschi, - a woman artist of the 1600’s who became the first celebrated woman painter in what had been an all-male coterie. Sylvia has been GAGA’s director since its inception.

The Award

The AoY award winner is honored by SAALM with ‘The Artist of the Year Solo Exhibition’ at the Museum. Sylvia's exhibition opens on Tuesday, September 20th and will be on display Tuesdays through Saturdays (10:00 AM to 3:00 PM) until Friday, November 4th. There will be an artist reception on Sunday, September 25th from 3:00 PM to 5:00 PM. And there will be an artist talk on Sunday, October 23rd from 3:00 PM to 5:00 PM.


Head over to SAALM on Sunday, the 25th and join San Antonio artists and art lovers as we pay tribute to Sylvia.


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You can see Sylvia’s work in several places. Visit her website, the Hunt Gallery website, the Slate Gray Gallery website, and the Wally Workman Gallery website. And we’ve used one of Sylvia’s pieces — Lavender Ice — as our cover art this month. Take a look at it here.

Jane Gennarelli is co-editor of LNF Weekly. She also edits the Lavaca & Friends weekly arts and entertainment newsletter.

A prestigious and coveted award

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