The Story of the Holy Child of Atocha

The Mathis collections at Villa Finale contain so much religious art that one would naturally think Walter Mathis, its collector, was a very religious man.  In fact, his collecting of such items was for the mere admiration of the items as art, and they can be found throughout the house.  Of course, he displayed all of them together in different parts of the house according to their provenance like with the Spanish colonial “retablos” found in the upstairs hallway.

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Retablos in Villa Finale’s upstairs hallway.

A “retablo,” called a  “lamina” in Mexico, is an oil paiting of a Catholic saint painted on wood or tin, and sometimes on bronze.  These retablos, which means “behind the altar,” mostly adorned altars in people’s homes.  As a kid, I remember my grandmother in Tijuana, Mexico having many of these images at home.  There were some that were quite frightening – like one of the devil coming to pick up a man on his deathbed … but I guess they were meant to scare kids straight – and one that always caught my attention, as it did my other cousins, of the Holy Child of Atocha or El Santo Niño de Atocha.  One of my cousins asked my grandmother one day what made this child a saint.  My grandmother, in what was her usual comedic way, answered simply, “Beats me, but he’s a very saintly child!”

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Walter Mathis’ Holy Child of Atocha

When I came to work at Villa Finale in 2008, the image of the Holy Child of Atocha in my grandmother’s house popped in my head when I saw that Mr. Mathis had an Atocha child retablo in his upstairs hallway collection.  Of course, I was very excited because this saint has always been one of my favorites!  Funny thing was, just like my grandmother, I didn’t know what made this child a saint until I began researching the collections for my interpretive duties at Villa Finale.  Well, now I can tell you what makes the Holy Child of Atocha a saint!

It all begins back in 711 AD with the invasion by the northern African Moors of the Iberian Peninsula, which included most of modern Spain.  In the 13th century, after the Moors took over the town of Atocha, a central suburb in today’s Madrid, they encarcerated Catholic males and prevented their families from giving them food and water. The only exception to that rule was children under 12 who were allowed to visit and feed family members.  This left jailed men without young children – or children altogether – in quite a quandary.  Their relatives began to pray for help from Our Lady of Atocha, the local name of the holy Virgin Mary and Christ Child located in the town’s chapel.

One day, the local children who were out feeding their captive relatives returned with reports of an unidentified boy who the Moors were allowing to feed all the men who had not been previously attended to.  This boy, reported the children, appeared to be under 12 years old, was dressed in pilgrim attire (with a plumed hat and cloak) and carried a basket of food and gourd full of water.  The miraculous thing was no matter how many prisoners the child fed, his gourd and his basket remained full.  As sightings of the child continued, the people of Atocha ran to the chapel to give thanks.  There, they discovered that the little sandals worn by the Christ Child figure in the arms of Our Lady of Atocha were worn and dusty.  They replaced the sandals only to find them worn and dusty again as the child feeding the prisoners continued his rounds day after day.

The Muslim rule by the Moors finally ended in 1492, but by then the miracles of the Holy Child of Atocha were well known and revered throughout Iberia.  Eventually, the reverence of the Holy Child of Atocha made its way to the New World with the arrival of the Spanish.  By 1554 there was a statue of the Child brought from Atocha to Zacatecas, Mexico where the villagers immediately began reporting sightings of the boy.  And thus the Santo Niño’s adventures in the Americas began.

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Traditional portrayal

In religious art, the Holy Child is typically depicted wearing a large-brimmed plumed pilgrim’s hat, cloak, and sandals.  Sometimes he is barefoot to denote the wearing out of his sandals from walking.  He carries a basket in one hand and staff in the other.  The gourd for water is fastened to the end of the staff.  Other symbolism associated with the image are stalks of wheat, flowers and scallop shell meant to represent holy pilgrimages.  Today, there are two main shrines in the Americas to the Holy Child of Atocha: one in Fresnillo, Zacatecas, Mexico and the other is in the Sanctuario in Chimayo, New Mexico.  The Holy Child is the patron saint of the unjustly imprisoned, the protector of travelers and rescuer of those in danger.

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Holy Child of Atocha in Zacatecas, Mexico.  (From screen capture, YouTube user Viajero981)

 

Next time you come to Villa Finale, take a good look at all the religious art in the collection.  What kind of symbolism do you see?  What part of a story do you think it tells?  And make sure you look for El Santo Niño de Atocha in the upstairs hallway now that you know what makes him a “very saintly child.”  My grandmother would be proud!

San Antonio and the Rise of Chili

As you may or may not have heard, San Antonio and Austin have been involved in what has been called the Texas Taco War.  The “first shot” was fired when the Austin Eater’s website published a story that gave Austin credit as the “home of the breakfast taco.”  For San Antonians, it may as well have been the shot fired at Fort Sumnter because there are several things sacred to the people of this city, among them are its baskeball team, its river and its food.  Mayors from both cities met for a “Taco Summit” in which they both brought 50 tacos from their favorite taco joints.  Personally, I would declare San Antonio the winner of this battle in the Texas Taco War.  The Alamo City’s Mayor Taylor presented tacos made with hand-made tortillas as opposed to the tacos made with store-bought tortillas brought by Austin’s Mayor Adler.

As the Texas Taco War continues – there will be a “taco throwdown” where a chef representing each city will bring their best taco-making skills to the table – it made me think of not only the importance of food to a place and its people, but also of cultural appropriation.  In the past, the people of San Antonio have “accused” Austinites of taking credit for Tex-Mex food made popular here.  Now, this “taking credit” for food isn’t a new phenomenon.  One instance happened several generations ago and it involved chili.

No one can say for sure who “invented” chili, it is most likely a delicious fusion of cultures that came together.  The indigenous people of Mexico and South America, like the Incas and Aztecs, were known to cook dishes mixing meat, herbs and peppers long before the arrival of the Spanish.  For their part, the Spanish had been creating spicy meat dishes with pungent smells in their country long before arriving in Texas.  When the Canary Islanders settled in San Antonio, they devised a way to continue making the dishes they so enjoyed using local spices, onions, garlic, peppers and meats.  And so a cooking tradition came to be!

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Chili market, San Antonio, ca. 1890s.

Long before Texas joined the Union, groups of women called “Chili Queens” could be found throughout San Antonio’s plazas serving up their own spicy creations and hand-made tortillas to locals and visitors alike.  From dusk until dawn, these women worked hard to serve the hungry masses; and when darkness came, their patrons were more than happy to eat by the faint light of oil lamps.  Many visitors to San Antonio were “charmed” by the young ladies and their savory fare.  Author O. Henry wrote in his story “The Enchanted Kiss” about the city’s Chili Queens.  He wrote, “Drawn by the coquettish senoritas, the music of the weird Spanish minstrels, and the strange piquant Mexican dishes served at a hundred competing tables, crowds thronged the Alamo Plaza all night.”

 

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William G. Tobin

Enter William Gerard Tobin, a great-grandfather many times over of Walter Mathis, the last private owner of Villa Finale.  A native of South Carolina, Tobin arrived in San Antonio at age 20 in 1853 and two months later met, fell in love and married Josephine Augusta Smith, daughter of the city’s first American-born mayor John W. Smith and the lastmessenger to leave the Alamo.   In 1855, Tobin was city marshal before joining the Texas Rangers in 1859.  When the Civil War broke out, he enlisted in the Confederate Army where he was made a captain.  Although Tobin had a long career in law-enforcement and the military, his true calling was in the business world.  In the 1870s, he leased the Vance Building – which had been headquarters of the Confederacy during the war – near the corner of Travis and St. Mary’s Streets.  He turned the building into a hotel he named Vance House (today it is the site of the Gunter Hotel).  However, Tobin’s business ventures didn’t end there.

By this time, Tobin had spent nearly 30 years in San Antonio assimilating and taking in the local culture, including the food.  His wife’s family, who no doubt had some influence in his newly acquired tastes, could trace its roots to the Spanish Canary Islanders that arrived in San Antonio in 1731.  It is no surprise that Tobin took a great liking to Tex-Mex food and was an early supporter of its consumption.  In the 1880s he had a bright idea: to can San Antonio’s famous chili con carne for sale.  In 1881, he negotiated a contract with the United States government to sell his canned chili to the army and navy.  In 1884, he began to organize an aggressive venture with the Range Canning Company located in Fort McKavett, Texas for the manufacture and canning of chili con carne and other “Mexican” delicacies.  Now, this is where the “Americanization” of chili began for understandable business reasons.

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Reproduction of Tobin’s Chili-con-Carne labels in Villa Finale’s kitchen.

“Carne” is meat in Spanish.  While beef or pork were the meats of choice for the Chili Queens, Tobin opted to use goat and more than likely, made changes to the recipe and ingredients to better suit the American palate.  While the people of San Antonio welcomed and were used to the many colorful herbs, aromas and higher levels of spiciness, as far as the business, the food had to be attractive to consumers from all over the nation.  On July 28, 1884, just days after Tobin’s dream got off the ground and the manufacturing process began, he died at home never seeing his venture fulfilled.  The development of the project also died with Tobin.

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Lyman Davis

It wasn’t until 1893 that the rest of the world was introduced to chili con carne at the San Antonio Chili Stand during the Columbian Exposition in Chicago.  But it wasn’t until 1921 that an attempt to can chili con carne, by then simply known as “chili”, was reattempted by Lyman Davis of Corsicana, Texas who developed his recipe in the 1890s and sold it to oil workers for .5 cents per bowl from the back of a horse-drawn wagon.  Davis’ early canning machinery was simple, but by 1923 his improved operation was producing 2,000 cans per day.  Davis’ chili became known as Wolf Brand Chili, named after his pet wolf, Kaiser Bill … and the rest is chili history!

So while San Antonio and Austin duke it out during the Texas Taco War of 2016, let’s remember the Chili Queens and people like William Gerard Tobin whose interest in filling our tummies with tasty Tex-Mex dishes eventually helped make chili the official Texas State Dish.  “Viva chili con carne!”

Here is a recipe for “Original San Antonio Chili” (from a Chili Queen) taken from the Institute of Texan Cultures research library, with updated changes by the International Chili Society for shopping convenience:

2 pounds beef shoulder, cut into ½-inch cubes
1 pound pork shoulder, cut into ½-inch cubes
¼ cup suet
¼ cup pork fat
3 medium-sized onions, chopped
6 garlic cloves, minced
1 quart water
4 ancho chiles
1 serrano chile
6 dried red chiles
1 tablespoon comino seeds, freshly ground
2 tablespoons Mexican oregano
Salt to taste

Place lightly floured beef and pork cubes in with suet and pork fat in heavy chili pot and cook quickly, stirring often. Add onions and garlic and cook until they are tender and limp. Add water to mixture and simmer slowly while preparing chiles. Remove stems and seeds from chiles and chop very finely. Grind chiles in molcajete and add oregano with salt to mixture. Simmer another 2 hours. Remove suet casing and skim off some fat. Never cook frijoles with chiles and meat. Serve as separate dish.

 

Villa Finale is celebrating five years: A look back at how we got here!

Villa Finale: Museum & Gardens will be celebrating its 5th anniversary of being open to the public on Friday, October 2nd. Although five years do not sound like much, a lot has happened during that time. I am one of three remaining staff members that were hired before the museum was open to the public, so I thought I would share some reminiscences with you regarding everything that went into opening this historic site and some of the experiences since then.

San Antonio or bust! My car loaded and ready to go from Los Angeles, with three cats in the back, April 2008.

San Antonio or bust! My car loaded and ready to go from Los Angeles, with three cats in the back, April 2008.

I first came to Villa Finale from Los Angeles in early March, 2008 for my interview. It was not only my first time at the site, it was also my first time in San Antonio! I immediately fell in love with the King William District and I remember thinking I was in Disneyland as I made my way from the bed and breakfast where I was staying to Villa Finale for my interview.  The interview I felt went well but just in case I did not get the job I made it a point to see the Alamo just in case it would be my last time in San Antonio for who knew how long.  Little did I know Sandra Smith, who was Villa Finale’s Director at the time, would call me a couple of days later to offer me the position of Manager of Public Programs. Taking the position was a scary decision since my entire family was, and still is, in Southern California; plus, I didn’t know one single person in San Antonio. But I could not pass up this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Not every museum professional gets the opportunity to conceptualize and open a historic site from scratch! In a month I trained my replacement at the historic site where I was employed, packed my apartment,found a place to live in San Antonio, transferred all my personal business and arrived at my new home with three cats in tow on Sunday, April 6th.  On April 9th I officially began at Villa Finale.

Under construction!

Under construction!

My first order of business was to become immersed in San Antonio history, especially the great accomplishments by Walter Nold Mathis. I had to write subject documents on all the major themes covered at the site: King William, Villa Finale (the house), Walter Mathis and the Mathis collections.  Mind you, as a Southern Californian born and raised it wasn’t entirely easy although I had a great understanding and knowledge of the mission system in the West and Southwest. On weekends, I made it a point to go downtown and visit the missions as well as other places of interest to become familiar with the city and its history.  For weeks, I visited archives all over town with Meg Nowack, Villa Finale’s Curator and Deputy Director, accumulating photographs and historic information to use for our exhibitions and interpretive material.

With Meg Nowack in Villa Finale's kitchen planning out exhibits for the Visitor Center, late 2008.

With Meg in Villa Finale’s kitchen planning exhibits for the Visitor Center, 2009.

The most difficult part was becoming familiar with Walter Mathis’ collections since most objects were packed in boxes. Somehow I found a way to write about things I couldn’t really see! I am so thankful to my colleague Meg Nowack who was patient and kind enough to guide me during that first year towards useful places I could find the information I needed. She was also great to work with as we put together exhibitions for our former Visitor Center that was located at 122 Madison. And speaking of colleagues, Meg and Chris Roddy, our former Buildings & Grounds Manager, and their spouses became my very first friends in San Antonio. They welcomed me into their homes and we all got together for dinner or happy hour every week. To this day, I am so grateful to them for their hospitality and friendship!

First volunteer class, 2009.

First volunteer class, 2009.

A little over one year before Villa Finale opened to the public I began to put together Villa Finale’s guided tour and a volunteer program (since I also assumed volunteer coordinator duties at the time) including writing a volunteer handbook, an orientation model, and guide training materials including a syllabus. Being someone who began in the field as a museum volunteer, I knew Villa Finale’s volunteer program should be welcoming, inclusive and informative. I will never forget that first class of volunteers – some of which are still with us – for not being intimidated to study and learn the tour we give at Villa Finale. The over 12,000 individual objects we have in the house have been known to “scare” people away from becoming guides. Fortunately, most stay and become very enthusiastic about Villa Finale!

Volunteers at our opening celebration, September 2010.

Volunteers at our opening celebration, September 2010.

As volunteer training revved up, so did work at the house, inside and outside. Cleaning, repairing, unpacking and putting everything back just as Walter Mathis had it by using photographs taken right after he passed away in 2005. When I first arrived at Villa Finale, opening day seemed so far away.  Meg, Chris and I ofted joked among ourselves about how nice it was to have this wonderful historic house to ourselves!  Finally, the day that seemed so far into the future came: our grand opening celebration on September 30, 2010. I remember being so proud of seeing our first class of volunteers in action! But the real thrill came when we opened to the public on October 2nd. After all, Mathis left this wonderful gift to share with the general public and really, this is for them!  The day of our opening, I remember reflecting on everything that was accomplished to get to that moment: the creation of marketing blurbs, interpretive materials, designing a logo, work in and around the house, recruiting volunteers … so much leading up to it, and much more to do!

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Volunteer Guide, Dalal, leads one of the first public tours at Villa Finale, October 2, 2010.

Since our public opening on that day in 2010, there has been much change and growth at Villa Finale.  With our ongoing research, we have updated a lot of guide training and marketing materials.  We have also left the former Visitor Center at 122 Madison to focus operations at the historic site and are currectly thinking about how we can provide visitors that service at Villa Finale’s grounds.  We have tried hosting some events and programs that haven’t quite worked out while others have been amazingly successful.  To be more identifable to the general public, we added “Museum & Gardens” to our name, a small move that has helped immensly.  I have also seen volunteers come and go, all wonderful people who enjoyed their time with us but had to leave due to life’s demands.  And of course, great colleagues have also come and gone.  I have also had the pleasure of seeing several folks from our volunteer and intern ranks promoted to staff positions, including our current Execuitve Director, Jane Lewis.

Villa Finale as Grand Marshals of the King William Parade, April 2011.

Villa Finale as Grand Marshals of the King William Parade, April 2011.

Villa Finale is truly a labor of love and I am so happy I made the difficult decision to move so far away from home to be a part of this great project. Today, I have many wonderful life-long friends in this city, many of whom I’ve met through my work at the site and through colleagues. If you haven’t visited Villa Finale yet, I invite you to do so! Perhaps your first visit could be at our 5th anniversary celebration called That Was the Year That Was: 1967 on Friday, October 2, 2015 from 5:30pm – 8:00pm (admission is free). Mathis bought the house in 1967 and we wouldn’t be here without him!

Thank you, San Antonio for your growing support these first five years. Also, thank you to all of my colleagues, past and present, for making and continuing to develop Villa Finale. And a HUGE thank you to my friend, former colleague and professional mentor Max van Balgooy who told me about Villa Finale and provided much-needed guidance during my first couple of years here. I cannot wait to see what the future brings!

Enjoy the gallery below featuring glimpses of Villa Finale: Museum & Gardens history!

Her generosity lives on: Myra Stafford Pryor

myra pryorAmong the many people who owned 401 King William aka Villa Finale were Colonel Ike Pryor and his wife, Myra. The couple purchased the home in 1896 from E. B. Chandler and Thomas H. Franklin who bought the property after it went up for auction in December 1895 following the foreclosure on Edwin Polk. What was interesting about the transaction from Chandler and Franklin to the Polks is that the deed states Myra paid $2,500 in cash upfront “out of her separate money given her by her mother.” This bit always intrigued me and it didn’t make complete sense until I looked further into the life of Ike Pryor.

At the time they purchased the home, Colonel Ike’s career as a cattle merchant was in transition. He and his brother were left penniless after the severe winter of 1886 – 1887 decimated their herd. After losing his livestock, he borrowed $70,000 on his good name to invest in the Texas and Colorado Land and Cattle Company and settled in San Antonio. While he continued to be a respected businessman, there was very little wriggle room financially as far as it came to major purchases, and this is why it makes sense having Myra’s name as the source for the home’s downpayment as clearly stated on the deed. My fascination with Myra Pryor didn’t end with the purchase of the property.

One day while taking a jog along the River Walk, I noticed her name on a plaque by the AT&T Lock and Dam, under Brooklyn Avenue: this is when I knew there was more to her story. Ike Pryor married Myra in 1893 after his first wife, Sarah, passed away. Myra was born in Columbus, Ohio to a well-to-do family. Myra had married once before but was left widowed after the passing of her first husband, George Early, in 1888. She lived with her second husband, Ike, in King William (at what is now Villa Finale) until 1901 when they purchased 100,000 acres in Zavala County, a property they called “77 Ranch.” After the lifting of the blockade of Cuba following the Spanish-American War, Ike made a fortune by shipping cattle on speculation to Havana for “spot sale” (cash for goods delivered on the spot). In 1908, they founded the town of La Pryor, roughly 20 miles south of Uvalde. Ike died in 1937 leaving his fortune primarily to Myra. Myra died in 1943 leaving Frost National Bank as the trustee of her estate valued at $750,000 (over $10 million today) for the purposes of “a trust created for charitable purposes in perpetuity.” It was Myra’s last will that all net income remaining with the Trustee should be used solely for charitable purposes at the Trustee’s discretion.

This last provision and others in Myra’s will and testament were challenged by some of her family members in court. While they won a case in District Court that invalidated the creation of a trust, the Court of Civil Appeals in San Antonio in 1945 reversed that decision upholding her last wish to create the Myra Stafford Pryor Charitable Trust. Today, this Trust has over $25 million in assets and annually gives over $1 million to charities and non-profit organizations. Among the many wonderful initiatives funded by Myra’s generosity are full time tutors and mentors for San Antonio’s underpriviledged youths, funding for trainers for Guide Dogs of Texas, and new state-of-the-art technology for the Mays Business School at Texas A&M. Her legacy in San Antonio lives on!

Villa Finale visits San Antonio’s historic Milam Building

There are many beautiful historic buildings throughout downtown San Antonio.  Many have more history than we realize!  One of those is The Milam Building located at 115 E. Travis in the heart of the city’s business district.  Villa Finale’s staff had the honor of receiving a personal tour from Sam Trevino and Diane Coliz who are part of the building’s staff.

IMG_7681Built in 1928 and designed by architect George Willis, The Milam was not only the tallest brick and concrete-reinforced structure in the United States when it was built, it was also the first air-conditioned commercial high-rise in the world (21 stories).  It was named after Colonel Ben Milam who led 300 volunteers into San Antonio in December 1835 in an attempt to take it from the Mexican army.  According to our guide Sam Trevino, the building was a hub of activity after it opened.  Businesses were found on the ground level, including a barbershop and the Milam Drugstore & Diner (that closed its doors in 2011), and other shops, including a bridal boutique on the basement level.  People from all over the city and tourists would come into the building to get away from the heat and wonder at The Milam’s engineering feat.

The original air conditioning engineer, Willis Carrier, designed a system that steadily delivered just IMG_7629over 300 tons of cooling capacity to all the businesses on the ground and basement levels plus the 750 offices throughout the building.  The temperature throughout was kept at 80 degrees in the summer with 55 percent humidity and in the winter 70 degrees with 45 percent humidity.  Although the system has been updated twice, in 1945 and 1989, one can still see the original footprint in the mechanical room located at the basement level. The basement level also contains an area which the Milam staff would like to one day connect to the River Walk located adjacent to this part of the structure.  Of course, being a historic building, much planning and working with the Historic Design Review Commission is needed to accomplish this construction.

IMG_7675In addition to the milestone in climate control achieved at The Milam, visitors could also marvel at the beautifully hand-carved wood in the lobby which displays a lot of the charm found in business structures in Chicago and New York.  The allure of the lobby is carried through to its elevators and mail-carrying system which can still be seen and remains in use.  One of the highlights of our tour was seeing the incredible view of San Antonio from the roof-top … simply amazing!

Today, The Milam remains a commercial structure – we were told the building is at 72 IMG_7648percent occupancy – it also hosts special events, pop-up shops, art exhibitions and charitable events like the Texas Special Olympics “Over the Edge” event where donors can rappel down the side of the building beginning at the 22nd floor!  (See a video of the event by clicking here.)  Guests are always welcome to visit Lula’s Mexican Cafe (which opened in the summer of 2011 at the original site of the Milam Drugstore & Diner), tour the building, ask about hosting a special event or rent office space with 24-hour access.  While modern office buildings may have amenities not found in historic structures, none can compare to the charm and nostalgia found at places like The Milam!  Next time you’re in downtown San Antonio, walk into the building and experience it for yourself!

A special thanks to Sam Trevino of Milam maintenance and Diane Coliz of Red Star Property Management, Inc. for their hospitality!  For information about rental space within The Milam, visit www.themilambuilding.com or www.redstarproperties.com.  (Photos by Orlando Cortinas)

Villa Finale Retreats to Fort Worth – Part 3

My last post ended with our staff leaving the Fort Worth Water Gardens on our way to the Amon Carter Museum of American Art on the third day of our staff retreat.  First, a little background.  Amon G. Carter was the founder of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, a civic leader and a collector of American art.  (There is much more to Amon G. Carter: for more information click here.)  He died in 1955 but in his will left terms for the creation of a museum to house his collection plus other fine examples of fine American art.

Today, the Amon Carter Museum of American Art houses many fine examples of paintings and sculptures.  Further, the museum educates the public through a variety of special exhibits and programs.  We were fortunate enough to be there during a grammar school visit; normally, this would be a distraction if you’re just visiting for fun, but being in the field, you are always looking for ideas to incorporate into your organization.  Some of the art may seem a little daunting for children to grasp; however, when given the opportunity and with the right guidance, young people can and do appreciate many subjects adults may otherwise not give them credit for understanding.  I listened in on some of the instruction and conversation the children were engaged in; the educators at Amon Carter were really making the kids use their own experiences and powers of observation to convey the messages seen in the art … kudos to them!

Aside from “eavesdropping” a bit on the school children’s lesson, our staff had ample time to view the beautiful art throughout the museum.  Personally, I also enjoy reading text on all the labels.  This is great because you learn more about the work and an artist, but not so great when you’re pressed for time!  And indeed we were as we made a short walk down to our next stop: the Kimbell Art Museum.

Before I get into the wonderful art found throughout the Kimbell, I would like to first mention the ingenious design of the main building which is the work of Louis Kahn.  Completed in 1972, the structure is designed with light as the main theme.  Kahn’s designed called for barrel vault ceilings with narrow plexglass “skylights” that would allow for natural light.  However, in order to avoid direct light from damaging the pieces within, the natural light is disseminated by aluminum reflectors that hang directly underneath each skylight.  The result is an open and bright gallery that allows for an enjoyable viewing experience of the artwork.

Speaking of the art … amazing!  And so was our docent, Len Schweitzer, who knew the subject matter passionately well!  The permanent collection itself is relatively small, less than 350 pieces, but – following the collections policy established by the Kimbell’s Board of Directors – the works collected into the institution are to be based on the highest quality rather than quantity.  The Kimbell boasts such artists as Caravaggio, Michelangelo, Monet and Matisse, to name but a few.  In addition to paintings, the museum also houses antiquities, Asian, pre-Columbian, and African pieces such as sculptures, ceramics, bronzes and more.  The Kimbell is a MUST-visit when in Fort Worth.  Admission is free and so is an app available for download with visual and audio information (if you do not have a pair of headphones on you, no need to worry.  The Kimbell’s shop has headphones for sale at a reasonable price).

Our staff was exhausted but fulfilled with our trip to Fort Worth.  You really do not know how much one’s state has to offer unless you get out there to explore.  Whether you’re planning to visit Fort Worth or another city near or far, do your research to see what best fits your interests and pocket-book.  So much to explore, so little time!

We’re looking forward to our next retreat in January 2016.  Where we go next remains to be decided!  Any suggestions?

Villa Finale Retreats to Fort Worth – Part 2

I ended our last blog post with our visit to McFarland House, but the day did not conclude there.  We hopped in our van (aka the “iceberg”) and headed to the historic Fort Worth Stockyards.  Beginning in the 1860’s, the city of Forth Worth was the last major stop for cattle drovers heading up the Chisholm Trail before heading into Native American Territory.  Here, cattlemen stocked up on supplies and enjoyed rest and relaxation.  During the next two decades more than four million head of cattle made their way through Fort Worth earning it the nickname, “Cowtown.”  The arrival of the railroad in 1876 made this district a bustling center for business that included livestock shipping, packing houses, auction blocks, saloons and hotels.  The thriving business at the Stockyards earned it the title of “The Wall Street of the West.”  The rise of the trucking industry, among other factors, eventually lessened the significance of the area as a business center.

In 1976, it was officially designated with the title of National Historic District.  While some buildings, including historic packing plants, were lost, many were saved from the wrecking ball giving the district its unique western flair.  In fact, Fort Worth can boast as having the last standing stockyards in the country!  The Stockyards today continues to celebrate and preserve Fort Worth’s rich cattle industry history by maintaining an active stockyard with a variety of animals (a huge bonus for our animal-loving staff), shops, bars (including Billy Bob’s known as the world’s largest “honky tonk”), and a rodeo.  Visitors can also enjoy an old-time cattle drive down the main street, called Exchange Avenue, twice daily.

Now, you can’t travel and not try local cuisine.  Up to this point, we had been in town two days and we had had a number of people tell us to eat at a restaurant called Joe T. Garcia’s (apparently, word of mouth has been a traditional way of advertising for this eatery since day one).  I mentioned our staff loves animals, well, we also love eating so off we went to Joe T. Garcia’s!  The restaurant has a very interesting history; founded in 1935 with a capacity of only sixteen people, the business soon gathered local fame as people would wait for hours to eat its delicious enchiladas and homemade tortillas.  The seating capacity today is 1,000 with the location spread out over one city block.  If you ever visit, don’t be surprised by the lack of menus.  You can choose from either enchiladas or fajitas but trust me, you will have food galore!  You can see in the pictures below we had plenty of leftovers!

After satisfying our bellies and getting a good night’s rest, we rose bright and early for a visit to the Forth Worth Water Gardens built in 1974 and designed by architects Philip Johnson and John Burgee.  The park serves as an oasis from the hustle and bustle of the concrete jungle and let me tell you, it certainly is!  There are three focal pools of water including the main “Active Pool” which has a series of terraces leading down into its center.  It can be very intimidating climbing all the way down as the water rushes below you at every step; beware if you suffer from vertigo.  The “Quiet Pool” takes you down 20 feet by a series of steps which gives an “Alice in Wonderland” illusion of falling down the rabbit hole.  Once at the bottom, folks are treated to a serene blue pool flanked by tall, overlooking cypress trees.  The walls around you are dressed by gently cascading water in stark contrast to the rushing waters of the main waterfall.  Pool number three, known as the “Aerating Pool” is composed of a series of sprinklers designed to spray up to walking level thus creating the illusion that one can indeed walk on water!  I was told that on sunny days this pool reflects incredible rainbows!

At this point we switched gears and drove to the Amon Carter Museum of American Art and the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth’s Museum District.  However, that experience I will save for part 3 of this story!

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