Visiting the Hill Country, one might have seen sculptures of locally famous people. It’s likely that local sculptor Jonas Perkins created many of them.
Sculptures like The Great Benini Luminary Mosaic Sculpture in Johnson City, busts of Cora Phillips and Paul Phillips Sr. at the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church in Fredericksburg, and the “Night Watch” Korean War Memorial at the Tobin Center San Antonio, are some examples.
He’s also well-known nationally for his works, including a sculpture of American sculptor Gordon Parks.
His talent has earned him much recognition, but it didn’t come without hard work, adversity and a life of unique experiences.
Perkins was born in Phoenix, Illinois, which he called an “experimental town.”
“(The town) grew up out of the industrial age of Chicago during the great migration where all of the black people were leaving the south and going to the jobs in the factories,” Perkins said.
His love for art came from his mother, who was a ceramics teacher. She encouraged him to “become a great leader for our people and to do something amazing.”
He studied for two years at the Art Institute of Chicago from 1968-1970, but he wanted to go somewhere that he could focus more on sculptures.
Perkins headed to the Institute Allende Art Academy of San Miguel de Allende in Mexico. But before he could arrive, his car broke down at the house of American architect O’Neil Ford, who designed the Tower of the Americas and the San Antonio Riverwalk.
“I ended up showing them my art work and told them I was going to San Miguel to do my art,” Perkins said. “O’Neil said, ‘I’ll teach you more here than you’ll ever learn down there.’”
Becoming an artist
Perkins lived with O’Neil’s brother, Lynn Ford, who was a wood carver, and studied under both of them until Lynn’s death.
“Before Lynn died, he made me promise to pay him back for getting me started by dedicating my life to being an artist,” Perkins said.
He moved to Fredericksburg in April 1977. Here, he built his unique house out of recycled bottles and cans, Styrofoam covered with foil, and old satellite dishes.
Jóhann Eyfells’ effect
He also built a workshop on his property, which he finished with help from Cindy Cornelius, an artist in residence whom he met in 1999, when her car broke down on Interstate 10.
“I didn’t have a cellphone back then. He pulled up right at that time and helped me get my car fixed,” Cornelius said. “We’ve been friends ever since.”
She decided later that she wanted to pursue her dream of being an artist, and reached out to Perkins in 2015.
His inspiration to help her was due to his upbringing and Jóhann Eyfells, another wellknown Fredericksburg artist with whom he had become friends. Eyfells died on Dec. 3, but his effect on Perkins lived on.
“He told me, ‘There’s no greater thing than to be able to help another artist to get going,’” Perkins said.
Eyfells also inspired Perkins to start working on pieces most important to him.
“I started looking at (my unfinished art) just sitting there after Eyfells got ready to die, and I realized I’ve really got to pick and choose what I’m going to do,” Perkins said.
Someday, he hopes to open an art walk on his property, which would include sculptures of historic Fredericksburg people like Mark Wieser and Jóhann Eyfells.