Chicano artist Jesus “Jesse” Treviño was commissioned by University Health to create La Curandera (1997-98) when the Texas Diabetes Institute (TDI) was being built. The massive painting is sourced from a number of photographic studies, including of the botánica Casa Mireles, whose proprietor, Adela Gonzalez Gardea Mireles, was nearly 100 years old at the time. In the painting, she stands among shelves and cases filled with candles, medical herbs, sweet breads, rosaries, and religious iconography, and casually leans on the counter with a slight tilt of her head. Her eye holds the viewer’s gaze as if to say “Welcome. What can I help you with today?”
University Health originally commissioned the piece for the new institute to pay homage to folk healing traditions and the health services that it would continue to provide on South Zarzamora, which had previously been the site of the Lutheran General Hospital. The location was chosen for Texas Diabetes Institute specifically because of the high prevalence of diabetes in the Hispanic community, and of the chronic diseases diabetes can cause that affect the entire body and by extension, the family and community. Texas Diabetes Institue is a center for diabetes care, research and prevention, as well as providing other clinical and pharmaceutical services for the surrounding community.
After more than 20 years hanging in the lobby, La Curandera needed to be cleaned and reframed. University Health had the piece restored by Scott Jennings Art Conservation while reframing and installation was done by Robert Grothues of Art Incorporated.
For many of the patients who regularly visit Texas Diabetes Institue, the painting is a trip down memory lane. Some were kids visiting local botánicas with their parents, some were parents taking their little ones. When La Curandera was away for restoration, many staff and patients asked where the painting went and when it would return.
On a nearby wall hangs Botánica de Palabras (2022-23), a tribute to La Curandera, created while it was out for restoration. Botánica de Palabras was born of a SMART project partnership with Andy and Yvette Benavides and the students of Briscoe Elementary, and was completed last spring as part of the SaludArte – Art of Healing program at University Health.
The children were tasked with creating a 2023 “botánica” and their vision of what that would look like almost 25 years later. The painting includes Mireles wearing a surgical mask, representing the young people’s view of health care as shaped by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Now both pieces hang near one another, giving all ages a chance to take in the message of healing through the generations in San Antonio’s Hispanic community.
Jesse Treviño’s legacy
Born on December 24, 1946, Treviño spent a lifetime documenting the lives, faces and beauty of Mexican American culture in San Antonio. Treviño’s childhood home in the Prospect Hill neighborhood on San Antonio’s West Side, near where Texas Diabetes Institute now stands, was a major source of inspiration for him. His talent was recognized early, and in high school he earned a scholarship to attend the prestigious Art Student League of New York.
In 1966, Treviño was drafted into the Army to fight in the Vietnam War. While serving in the Mekong Delta, the 21-year-old Treviño stepped on a land mine. The explosion caused severe injuries to Treviño’s body and led to the amputation of the artist’s drawing hand in 1970.
Instead of giving up, Treviño trained his left hand and continued his career as an artist, devoted to depicting his community. The detailed murals and photorealistic paintings that gradually spread across San Antonio’s urban landscape captured everyday life and transformed it into a visual celebration of the city's rich cultural heritage and history. Treviño’s work has been featured in major cultural institutions internationally, found homes in private collections and incorporated into several public art projects. After years of contribution to San Antonio’s robust art scene, Jesse Treviño died on February 13, 2023. He left a legacy of passion, love and beauty for his city, including numerous works of public art like La Curandera.