Richard Rosen

Manager of the Alexander Girard Exhibit at HemisFair ’68

In August of 2012 I had the pleasure of meeting with Mr.Rosen to hear some of his memories of the operation of the Girard Exhibit as well as overall operation of HemisFair ’68. Below is a transcript of my conversation with Mr. Rosen

How did you first get involved with HemisFair ’68 ?

I was off from college and I had a friend who worked in the cultural office for the Fair corporation, he called me one day and asked me if I would be interested in working on the Fair. I said “Yes” and began working on a multimedia exhibit called “Confluence Cosmos” which was located in the new convention center exhibit hall. As opening day came closer I was offered the position of manager of the Alexander Girard exhibit called: “The Magic of People”. As I spent most of my time working first on the Cosmos exhibit and then the Girard exhibit I really didn’t get to see much of the development grounds until opening day, where the grounds looked amazing.

What can you tell us about the exhibit?

The exhibit consisted of forty diorama’s of latin american folk art collected by a man named Alexander Girard who was a very famous interior designer. At the time he had one of the largest private collections in the world, mainly collected from Mexico. Each of the dioramas was a complete picture using certain folk artists so prior to the opening we had several artist coming and going including Georgia O’Keeffe. I got to meet a lot of great artists and personally the whole experience instilled in me a great love for folk art which I still have today. During the Fair my job was to run the building and give private tours to the various VIP’s as they visited the exhibit. The building had one main entrance/exit ramp for visitors and as one entered they would travel in circle viewing the forty diorama’s and afterwards they would exit where they started. The pavilion was very unique and everytime you visited you would discover new things.

What do you rember about Georgia O’Keeffe?

She was a facinating person, she was short and couldn’t reach the top of the display windows but full of life. Sometimes she would pick a dirama sit in front of it and look at it for two or three hours at a time without moving just taking in the display.

What was the atmosphere like on the grounds during the six month run of HemisFair ’68?

It was great, we had visitors from all over the world comming to San Antonio to visit HemisFair. It was fun to see a lot of people my age working at the exhibits from many diffrent nations. One great thing about my job was if I had a VIP come to the exhibit, afterwards I would guide them around the grounds to see other things (sometimes multiple times in one day). Two pavilions which stood out were the United States and Coca Cola pavilions with their incredible shows.

Was there a particular VIP you remember the most whom visited the exhibit?

I would have to say it would be when the President of the United States and First Lady came to visit the exhibit during the July 4th weekend. The planned process was I was to get a phone call as they were approaching the exhibit, meet them at the entrance and give them a tour of the exhibit. Well I waited for the call at the projected time and no call, it finally did come about three hours later and we closed the exhibit. As they were approaching the exhibit I exited the building but was on the exit side of the main ramp so I hopped over the railing so I could be on the entrance side to greet them. However, before my feet touched the ground I had two U.S. Secret Service men pinning me against the wall checking me for any weapons. I explained that I worked at the exhibit and pointed out that I was wearing a HemisFair Official yellow jacket. Finally I was able to get one of the Fair officials to verify that I did in fact work at the exhibit and was not a threat. Once that was cleared I gave the First Family a tour of the exhibit and it was a funny experience, one that I will never forget.

What happened to the Girard Exhibit after the closing of the Fair?

Well, Mr. Girard offered to leave the entire collection here in San Antonio provided that a permament building would be constructed to replace the temporary one on the fairgrounds. However, after the Fair closed everyone involved was so exhausted no one took-up the task and so it ended-up being moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico and is part of a museum of folk art.

How do you think San Antonio changed as a result of HemisFair ’68?

HemisFair was a gateway which introduced San Antonio to the world and vice versa. I feel it had the most influence of any other event in the city’s history, because so many great people came here to work the Fair and many of them stayed afterwards. It changed the artistic and cultural communities greatly, it changed the landscape of the city and I think it was a seminal event. I believe may be approaching another seminal event that will be different as the city and HPARC work to redevelop HemisFair Park for the 21st century. For me personally I have been involved with the fairgrounds since the Fair itself in some form or another. I opened my first theater in a building on the fairgrounds in the early 1970’s and after moving back to San Antonio I opened the Children’s Magik Theater in the same building which housed Laterna Magika during the Fair, so it’s sort of like coming full circle. I am very excited to see what the next chapter of HemisFair will be.