'Mayor of Southtown' fires up inspiration for San Antonio artist

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'Mayor of Southtown' fires up inspiration for San Antonio artist
© Provided by mySA

“Mayor of Southtown” candles by Gary Sweeney 

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“He’s definitely on the Mount Rushmore of quirky characters in San Antonio,” says artist Gary Sweeney, a character in his own rite.

With work displayed across San Antonio — from Hopscotch Gallery to outside the San Antonio Museum of Art — the retired baggage handler is keeping busy with a new artistic endeavor and fundraiser for a local San Antonio gallery. 

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In the early hours of the day, Sweeney has taken up the discipline of crafting wax reproductions of his iconic friend, Mike Casey. It started as a one off, but with Casey’s blessing, it’s transfigured into a fundraising effort for Sala Diaz, the art gallery where the 80-year-old was once the president of the board. 

'Mayor of Southtown' fires up inspiration for San Antonio artist
© Provided by mySA

Global Tech News Daily

“Mayor of Southtown” candles by Gary Sweeney 

Casey, a beloved arts patron, former attorney and longtime eccentric, is known to many in the San Antonio art scene as the Mayor of Southtown, though no such title officially exists. To some, he is also now the inspiration behind the most prominent candle in their home. Fashioned in his signature seersucker suit and straw hat, the wax doppelgänger comes in a variety of dapper shades hues — from lavender to jade green  —  but never the same color twice. Sweeney is still working on that.

'Mayor of Southtown' fires up inspiration for San Antonio artist
© Provided by mySA

“Mayor of Southtown” candles by Gary Sweeney 

In addition to Sala Diaz, Casey’s artist outreach is defined by a series of apartments he established known as “the compound” which over the years has provided affordable lodging to nearly 50 artists. According to Sweeney, Casey has also been known to provide pro bono legal aid to the community. As a man about town, he embodies a lot of 21st century anomalies.  His kindness and peculiarity is partially what makes him such a great muse. 

In the era of athleisure, he is always dressed sharply. Instead of traversing the vast San Antonio highway networks, he opts for bicycling everywhere. He is also known for being staunchly anti-climate control — his mansion has no air conditioning to combat the hot Texas sun. In this way, he’s an environmentalist. 

'Mayor of Southtown' fires up inspiration for San Antonio artist
© Provided by mySA Mike Casey, a longtime resident of the area who was introduced as “the unofficial mayor of King William,” leads a small parade celebrating the re-opening Saturday of a section of South Alamo Street on his bicycle. The $7.2 million project will help tie the south end of downtown with the Mission Reach of the San Antonio River.

“He was actually born in the wrong century. He should have been born in you know, 1920s New Orleans,” says Sweeney. 

'Mayor of Southtown' fires up inspiration for San Antonio artist
© Provided by mySA Judith Maxwell and Mike Casey, right, paddle past other boaters after turning around.

Each Mike Casey candle that Sweeney creates is handmade in his studio using molds he made with artist Jeremiah Teutsch. Standing proud at 12 inches tall, the candles are comparable in stature to your standard Catholic saint votive candle. 

You can mount him on your mantle, tell him about your problems, or abandon him on a shelf —  but you better not burn him.

“God forbid, I don’t think anyone would ever dare light it. Because, you know, that would be very disrespectful to see Mike Casey’s face melting. So I can pretty much rest assured that people aren’t going to be using this as a candle,” says Sweeney. “It’s more of a devotional thing.”

Since its beginnings in late December, the project has taken quite a bit of work already. Sweeney tells me of some unfortunate Casey candle prototypes. “I would just melt down my mistakes and start over again,” he says.

That’s the ironclad case for candle making. 

The demand for the waxy monuments has been high and ongoing, so Sweeney knows he’ll be making them for a while. The counters in his studio space are absolutely covered in wax. At the present moment, he crafts around four a day, and is currently in the process of securing more molds to up his production. Word of mouth has spread quickly, and now there are about 75 candles glowing in wait in his creative queue. 

“I’m going to keep making them until, you know, people stop asking for them,” says Sweeney. 

This isn’t the first time someone has attempted to recreate some of Casey’s magic. Last summer, the arts community rallied to celebrate Casey’s 80th birthday at the Espee Pavillion, formerly Sunset Station. Over 25 different artists interpreted his likeness as tribute.

Now Sweeney finds himself honoring the local figure again. 

Sweeney first moved to San Antonio in the mid-90s, it was somewhere around then when he met the local legend.

“I don’t know when I was introduced to him, but he’s one of those people that everyone knew, if you were in the arts community, you knew who Mike Casey was and of course, the more I got to know him, the more I loved him,” says Sweeney. “He’s just the sweetest man in the world.”

In other words — no one holds a candle to him. That’s the case for devoting Casey’s likeness to wax. 

Where can you get your hands on an authentic Casey candle of your own? Currently, an open house at Sala Diaz where the waxy figurines will be available for purchase is in the works. The candles sell at $50 a piece. 

I ask Sweeney if he plans on broadening the scope of the candle making business. At the present moment, he says he’s unsure, before quipping “maybe I’ll find some more iconic people and start a late life career making candles out of art celebrities.” I suggest he start with a self portrait.

“Well, here’s the problem. I could make make candles of myself, but I don’t think they would sell nearly as well in my case.” 

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