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 Texas : Features : Columns : "Letters from Central Texas"

JOHN TRLICA

by Clay Coppedge


GRANGER - Every picture tells a story only as long as people know the story.

A visit with Dan Martinets is in order if you want the story on the photographs collected in the book "Equal before the Lens: Jno. Trlica's Photographs of Granger, Texas" by Barbara McCandless.
John Trlica operated his Granger studio from 1924 until the mid-1950s. He photographed people and places, but mostly people - regardless of race or religion. This was a time when most rural businesses in Central Texas closed their doors to black and Hispanic citizens.

The book's cover is a picture of a young girl with long black hair holding an ear of corn. This is no ordinary ear of corn; this is the most famous ear of corn in Williamson County history because it carries the symbol of a cross.
Louis Escobedo with the ear of corn
Martinets, 85, says he was stunned to see the book's cover. He remembers the little girl and that ear of corn. "The girl's name was Louisa Escobedo," he says. "She was quite the little tomboy. You'd hear a big whoop and it was her chasing one of her brothers down the street." (See update: It is actually Louis Escobedo. Uncle Louisis still living...more)

"Equal before the Lens" author Barbara McCandless writes that the corn was grown by Louisa's father, Jose, on the R.R. Cole farm near Hearne in 1932. Martinets would have been 12 years old.

Jose Escobedo said the sign of the cross on the corn meant a big war was coming soon. The prophecy came nine years before Pearl Harbor but about the same time Hitler came to power in Germany.
Martinets photo studio Granger Texas
Martinets photo studio

Courtesy of Dan Martinets
McCandless notes in her book that Trlica went to work on the farm owned by Dan Martinets' grandfather, Josef, the day after he arrived in Granger in 1900.

"The Martinets family was to become very important in Trlica's growth, influencing his life in the church, in retail business, and, most importantly, in photography," McCandless writes.
John Trilica Photography Studio in Granger Texas, vintage photo

The Trlica Studio

Photo courtesy Dan Martinets

Trlica's belief in photography as something that should be available to everyone, not just the upper class, set him apart in his day. "For his time, I guess you would have to say he was avante garde," Martinets says. "He photographed black folks, Hispanic folks. He might not have known it, but he probably took pictures of the Ku Klux Klan too."

Dan Martinets' father appears in several of the book's photographs, as Trlica liked to photograph Czech social events as well as the social events and businesses of Granger.

One man in a picture with Dan Martinets' father is identified by Martinets as a man who went on to become a lobbyist in Washington - not that there's anything wrong with that. "He represented Granger in Washington," Martinets notes, then recalls seeing the man drive to market with a couple of filthy, squealing pigs in his car. "The next thing you know, he's riding a limousine in Washington."

The picture doesn't tell that story; it take Dan Martinets to do that.
Texas famed photographe John Trlica's wedding photo
The Photographer in front of the lens:
The Trlica wedding photo
Photo courtesy Dan Martinets
Martinets remembers Trlica as a pleasant and precise man with an interest in a lot of things. Even so, he could be aggressive when it came to promoting his business. If you ever passed Trlica on the road, Martinets says, he would pass you right back. "He wanted you to see that spare tire cover he had on the back of the car."

The covers advertised the name of Trlica's studio and carried the slogans: "Photographs Live Forever" or "Photographs Tell The Story."

In the process Trlica not only promoted his business but also the democratic benefits of photography. Maybe that's why he saved those thousands of negatives. Or maybe he knew his photographs, taken as a whole, contained artistic and historical merit.

Whatever the reason, his grandson's donation to the University of Texas of John Trlica's photographs, negatives, equipment and surviving business records provides a rare glimpse not only into his business, but also into the life and activities of a small Texas town.

Clay Coppedge
"Letters from Central Texas"
- November 1, 2005 column
See
Granger Through The Years
by Clay Coppedge
Granger, Texas

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