“Red Ryder” of Cullen Avenue

The large, colorful mosaic image of Ryder Schwartz, known as Red Ryder, is one of the highlights of Jean Graham’s Wall of Welcome on Woodrow Avenue in Austin.

Ryder’s mother, Beverly Lester, and her parents moved to Cullen Avenue in Crestview in 1949, and she grew up there. Beverly returned to live in the Cullen house in 1972, when Ryder was 6. Five years later, Beverly took him to see Turk Pipkin juggling at Symphony Square downtown. Ryder was so fascinated that he went home and taught himself how to juggle. Beverly said:

A lot of people remember him practicing on the sidewalk outside the house.

At age 14, Ryder was named “Most Promising Performer” at the International Jugglers’ Association competition. By the time he reached his early 20s he could juggle five pins and ride a unicycle at the same time. Esther’s Follies veteran illusionist Ray Anderson remembers the first time he saw Ryder do it:

Maybe 10 people in the world can do that . . . other jugglers [watching him] were in silent awe.

Ryder continued to master his art. He became a popular performer around the world, but he always returned to Austin to perform at Esther’s Follies, where he had been a member since 1987.

Ryder died far too young, at age 39, in May 2006. At Ryder’s memorial service, Ray Anderson described Ryder this way:

If you wanted to know what Ryder was like, all you had to do was watch his act. It had its “ups” and “downs.” Occasionally, he would make a drop, but he always picked up the pin and carried on. Everything was delivered with warmth, kindness, and a desire to be loved. And Ryder was loved by all who knew him.

Only a few weeks before Ryder died in 2006, Jean Graham began her installation of the Wall of Welcome. Not long after, Beverly, Ryder’s mother, visited Jean as she worked on the wall. She told Jean about her son and that he had passed away. Jean then created a mosaic of him—juggling five pins while riding a unicycle—and incorporated it into her design.

Youtube includes several videos of Ryder juggling. We feature a video clip of him in our film A Community Mosaic. Ryder’s mother, Beverly, and grandfather C. H. Lester also are included in this website’s History of Hancock Creek, Part 2. We interviewed Beverly on February 9, 2008; a DVD of her videotaped interview is at the Austin History Center.

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