One Austin art puzzle leads to another

Jess Coleman Akin painted Alvino Mendoza’s portrait.


This is Part 2 in a two-part Austin art puzzle.

To recap, World War II veteran Alvino Mendoza, 91, contacted us because he owns two signed and numbered prints by deceased artist Gerald Harvey Jones, who signed his pictures “G. Harvey.” Mendoza wanted to preserve them. We confirmed that there’s an active market for G. Harvey prints online.

As we were leaving Mendoza’s house in East Austin, his wife, Rebecca, and his son Seth brought out a second art puzzle: a painted sketch made of Alvino in 1959.

Who made it and why?

Round Rock native Alvino Mendoza grew up in the La Loma district — “at the very top of the hill” — on East 10th Street.

“Most of the Hispanics there were field workers,” he said. “We went to South Texas and picked a lot of cotton, then back up to Manor, Jonah and Hutto, then out to West Texas.”

One year, the field work meant that Alvino returned too late to enroll at Allan Junior High. He was directed to the Bickler Academy, where he met Rebecca, who had grown up in the the French Legation area.

She persuaded him to join the Navy. After he was discharged as a Seaman First Class, they married in 1946. Their little house was not suitable for a family.

“My wife would say: You work on houses for people over on Balcones Drive,” Alvino recalled about his construction jobs, which overlapped his time in the postal service. “Why not build one for us?”

He did. But he also kept up his other work, including a job for the artist who painted the portrait with its rough signature and date.

Rebecca: “Wait! There’s something on the back.”

In spindly cursive and print it reads: “By Colman AKIN 1959.”

Jess Coleman Akin was an Austin artist, who, among other things, was a charter member of the Austin Yacht Club. The only other image of his that we found online was a 1949 self-portrait executed in a similar brooding style.

Seth: “That’s exactly what Dad looked like when he came home from work.”



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