A BUS RIDE ACROSS TOWN in San Antonio opened Dr. Wayne Yakes’ eyes to art when he was just a toddler. The son of a single mom who worked three jobs to send him and his sister to private school and college, Yakes says his mother thought it was never too early to start appreciating art. “We grew up very poor in the San Antonio barrio,” says the now Denver-based physician. “We caught the bus downtown and transferred and took that to the north end of San Antonio to the McNay Art Museum. I was absolutely taken by the paintings, especially the self-portraits of Vincent van Gogh and Paul Gauguin. I liked it so much that we went there two or three times a year.” And from there a lifelong love affair began.
Yakes recalls that his mother, who died in 2018, noticed his appreciation for Marc Chagall’s Dream Village, an oil on canvas that features scenes of the artist’s native village, Vitebsk, in what is now Belarus (then part of the Russian Empire). Over the years, the painting remained one of Yakes’ favorites, and a dream of his own was born.
“I was so impressed with the level of the art collection at McNay,” he says. “And somehow, in the back of my mind, I wanted to do something similar, to have my collection on display, like [Marion Koogler] McNay and her husband did, donating their home to house their works as a museum.”
As an adult, Yakes went to the Barnes in Philadelphia, which houses its art collection the way you’d experience it in a home. “I saw Albert C. Barnes’ collection and it emboldened me. This was a man who was a physician like me,” Yakes says.
Yakes spent his undergraduate education at Rice University (where his professor in a creative writing course was acclaimed Texas writer Larry McMurtry) and earned his medical degree from Creighton University School of Medicine. He then served in the U.S. Army for nearly 12 years. Yakes is internationally recognized as a leader and innovator in the diagnosis and treatment of vascular malformations.
Yakes has decided to give back to the city where he grew up, a place that gave him so much. He has purchased a building at 310 W. Commerce St. in downtown San Antonio and is planning to open a museum to showcase his collection of 5,000 works of modern art by Russian and other European masters, as well as Asian, Jewish, Arab, American, Canadian and Native American artists. That collection, by the way, now includes 90 hand-watercolored Bible etchings from the 1958 series by Marc Chagall, displayed at the Dallas Museum of Biblical Art, where Yakes is chairman of the board of trustees.
San Antonio is a city that loves its history, and Yakes is pleased that his building is in a historic area adjacent to the old 1720 Spanish Governor’s Palace. (In 2018 that museum hosted the king and queen of Spain during the city’s tricentennial celebration of its founding by Spain’s Canary Islanders.) He plans to name it the Frances A. Yakes Museum of Art, after his mother.
Currently, there is a construction project just outside the planned museum’s doors. The San Pedro Creek Culture Park is a four-phased river walk park that spans just over two miles, coursing through the west side of downtown. A cousin to the famed River Walk, it will add riverside walking trails with landscaping, adjacent businesses and housing units. Yakes is a San Antonio native son who feels it can’t be finished soon enough.
“Everything on W. Commerce Street is blocked due to the constant construction, delaying any potential opening,” Yakes notes. The museum will initially feature what he describes as the world’s largest and most important collection of the greatest living modern Spanish artist, Alvar Suñol, as well as original works by Salvador Dalí and Pablo Picasso, all from Yakes’ collection.
Yakes entered the world of art collecting with the initial purchase of an Alvar Suñol oil painting in 1982. Again, his mom was indispensable. He recalls visiting the home of art dealer Paul Zueger in Denver, where he saw the painting. “At the time, the artist was not doing many oils on canvas, and his paintings were tough to get. I asked Paul if I could buy it, and he said, ‘No, I can’t sell it to you.’” So Yakes brought in his mother to speak to Zueger. “My mother’s a closer; you can’t tell her no. Paul, after being ‘convinced’ by my mother, let me buy the painting only if I would outfit his exercise room with workout equipment. So, he still has his exercise equipment, and I will always have that gorgeous Alvar painting.”
The next time your travels take you to San Antonio, be on the lookout for a new arts institution named for a woman of indomitable spirit and lovingly remembered by her art collector son. *
Freelance writer and editor Connie Dufner is a proud Texan transplant living in Washington, D.C. She is a former editor for Modern Luxury Dallas and The Dallas Morning News who has been covering interiors journalism since 2001.