We see them so often in San Antonio that we may forget to notice them, or at least to note how extraordinary they are: intricate light fixtures of perforated metal, on the Riverwalk, in our stores and banks, in some of our finest homes. The delicate patterns that these fixtures project on our walls and walkways are part of the sensual world of our city, as natural to us as the flicker of luminarias or the shadows of papél picado. But they are the work of a few inspired men and women, living and working here in our neighborhood – part of a tradition that, fortunately, is set to persevere.
Isaac Maxwell was one of several architects who were early pioneers in King William when it was still an edgy and decaying place. He started his career with E. B. Flowers in the 1960s, just across the street from O’Neil Ford’s offices at King William and Guenther. In Flowers’ office Maxwell worked beside a friend from architecture school, William McDonald, with whom he shared a passion for handcrafted wood and metal fixtures to complement the buildings they designed. Self-taught, and initially making the lamps and metal-clad doors themselves, they were part of an even older tradition. In a 1982 interview in Texas Homes magazine, both men acknowledged their debt to Lynn Ford – the brilliant craftsman, brother of architect O’Neil, whose own works in wood, metal, and ceramic were key elements of the Fords’ regionalist modernism.
They acknowledged the debt but also their differences, from Ford and from each other. Maxwell’s metal work was the most ornate of the three, requiring hundreds of precise strokes of hammer and awl. (Isaac was quick to point out that Lynn Ford drilled his holes, but Maxwell punched.) This level of handwork, combined with Maxwell’s perfectionism, carried a cost. As his architectural practice grew, the demand for metalwork outpaced the time to complete it. It was at that point that he hired a craftsman then in his 20s, Gregorio “Goyo” Rebollar, to lead this part of the business. In an historic storefront on South Alamo at Mission Street, Rebollar led a crew of craftsmen in realizing Isaac’s designs.
Isaac Maxwell died in 1998 at age 59. His wife, Judith Maxwell (also an architect) and Goyo kept the metal shop going at the South Alamo location, guided by a generous archive of Isaac’s drawings (they had long since developed a method for transferring these designs to metal, copying the original drawings full-scale to paper templates that could be attached to the metal and punched through). It was Judith’s wish to pass the business to Rebollar, which transition was catalyzed – as things in King William often are – by the redoubtable Mike Casey, who had been the Maxwells’ close friend since he moved to the neighborhood in the 1970s. In 2014, with Rebollar now full partner, Isaac Maxwell Metal relocated to 1135 South St. Mary's. Shining On: Isaac Maxwell Metal stay in the loop Photo: Jack Kent Gregorio Rebollar and Mike Casey search Isaac Maxwell's archives for their next project.
The new location is in a small blue bungalow, part of an artists’ compound that includes gallery Sala Diaz and has been home to generations of artists and students.
Today Rebollar’s crew is a family matter, including his grandson Abel Gonzales and son-in-law Jacob Reza; daughter Judith helps in the office.
Recently retired from his law practice and partner with Rebollar in Isaac Maxwell Metal, Casey devotes himself to business development. He speaks happily of recent commissions and queries from contractors and architects across South Texas. There are plans, he says, for Maxwell’s original drawings to be permanently housed at UTSA – maintaining the archive as resource and inspiration for future architects and designers, even as the tradition lives on in the hands of Goyo Rebollar and his descendants. - Jack Kent