Illustrator Jeni Reeves shares the story behind her research for Enrique Esparza and the Battle of the Alamo.
Young Enrique Esparza hooked me. Susan Taylor Brown’s account of the Tejano boy caught up in the tragedy of the Alamo was inspired. I could hardly wait to begin drawing. Pictures, at once vivid and heartfelt, popped to mind—an auspicious sign for an illustrator. But these images were tentative, sketchy at best. I needed to uncover more Texas history to do Enrique’s story justice. I started by reading a number of academic books on the Alamo and local San Antonio history. Research enriches. It explains details, relationships, motivations. It is also an excellent excuse for a working holiday. Soon after accepting the Alamo project, I flew down to San Antonio.
Every year on March 6th, a pre-dawn ceremony marks the last moments on the last day of the 13-day siege and battle of the Alamo, initiating 5 days of historical reenactments and orchestrated historical programs at the Alamo Historic Site. Here people come from all over the world to pay homage to the 189 defenders killed there.
I had arranged to meet Alamo Curator and Historian, Dr. Bruce Winders, who answered a long list of questions: which flag flew over the Alamo, where the 18-pound cannon was located, and how the Esparza family came into the Alamo after the gates had closed. He explained the ethnic friction between the Anglos and the Tejanos. He pointed out structures long since changed but cornerstones of Enrique’s world. Later, I met with Librarian Rusty Gamez at the DRT (Daughters of the Republic of Texas) Library on the Alamo site. He showed me primary documents, deeds, articles, drawings, paintings, and photographs related to the defenders and their families. The next day, before the Alamo site officially opened, Docent Bill Willeford took me through the Alamo complex to photograph background material for the illustration. Looking for period detail, I toured the town of San Antonio: the Cathedral, the Main Square, the Governor’s Palace, La Villita.
The weekend finale was a series of demonstrations and re-enactments presented by San Antonio’s Living History Association in the Alamo plaza. Re-enactors dress meticulously to period, are good horsemen/women, and provide a detailed, reconstructed picture of the past where rifles, muskets, and cannon play a disturbing but necessary role.
Above: The cannon is fired.
I returned home with an over-the-limit carry-on bag stuffed with dirty laundry, books, notes, and a computer full of digital photographs. Then, I sat down and reread Susan Taylor Brown’s story, seeing in it a richer canvas. I picked up my brush and began to work.
To see some of Jeni’s illustrations for this book, visit our website and select the “Look Inside” tab just below the book’s cover.