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.

20160324_114804

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!”

20160324_114704

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.

Santo_Niño_de_Atocha,_traditional_portrayal

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.

santuario-de-plateros

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!

Advertisements

Happy New Year! Villa Finale announces upcoming programs for 2015

Although the first month of the new year is nearly ending, it’s never too late to wish you all a happy 2015!  Since this is the our first blog post of the year, I would like to take some time to tell everyone a little bit about our programs in February, beginning with our signature Music for Your Eyes tour on Thursday, February 5th!

IMG_5081Now in its fourth year, this specialized tour has been one of our most popular programs.  Not only do guests have an opportunity to see the home in the evening (the tour begins at 6:30pm), they are hosted by two of our paid staff who engage the audience about music, art, humorous anecdotes and so much more.  The staff provides demonstrations of the music machines in the house – not performed during our regular guided tours – ending the tour with a sit-down performance by our 1921 Bechstein-Welte reproducing piano located in the home’s Napoleon Parlors.  If you haven’t taken this tour, it is definitely a must!  (The program is repeated several times throughout the year.)

drawing 2Our first family oriented program will be on Saturday, February 7th, Drawing on Experience: For the Love of Art.  The Drawing on Experience program began in England as a way for educators in museums, galleries, science centers and teachers to provide a framework for using drawing as a medium for learning from collections and exhibitions — Villa Finale’s curator, Meg Nowack, brought a version of the program here to Villa Finale to share with children and their parents.  The children and parents will get a brief tour of the home after which they will select an object to draw together inside the house!  This is a great bonding experience for kids and parents or even grandparents!

DSC3043copy2webcopy5Finally, we get in a “loving mood” on Friday, February 13th with “Isn’t It Romantic?” at Villa Finale featuring the vocal talents of Ken Slavin.  The intimate concert of popular love songs made famous by the likes of Frank Sinatra and Cole Porter, to name a few, will take place inside Villa Finale’s Napoleon Parlors.  Mr. Slavin will be accompanied on our 1921 Bechstein-Welte by pianist, Barry Brick.  Guests on this special evening will enjoy appropriate refreshments – we can’t forget the champagne –  prior to the concert and at intermission.  Treat your sweetheart, family member, best friend or treat yourself — many of us are just romantic at heart!  For more information about Ken Slavin, click here.

There is much more to come at Villa Finale, including our popular programs for French Cultures Month in March.  More information about the programs mentioned above is located at the end of this post.  Thank you for your support, and stay tuned for more exciting programs and events in 2015!  (Please call Villa Finale Visitor Services for more information or for admissions at 210-223-9800.  Admissions must be paid in advance.  No refunds or exchanges.  Space is limited for these programs.)

Music for Your Eyes tour – 2/5/15 (6:30pm – 7:30pm)
$20.00 general admission; $15.00 members / students

Drawing on Experience: For the Love of Art – 2/7/15 (10:00am – 11:30am)
$5.00 for one child & parent, $2.50 each additional child, general admission
$4.00 for one child & parent, $2.00 each additional child, members

“Isn’t It Romantic?” at Villa Finale featuring the vocal talents of Ken Slavin – 2/13/15 (6:30pm – 8:00pm; gate opens at 6:00pm)
$27.50 general admission
$25.00 members / students

You can always visit our wesbite www.VillaFinale.org for more information.

Napoleon, Josephine and Maria Walewska: A Triangle for the Ages

Napoleon Bonaparte (public domain image)

Napoleon Bonaparte (public domain image)

The woman most associated with Napoleon Bonaparte is Josephine, whose real name was Marie Josephe Rose Tascher de la Pagerie.  Apparently, Napoleon did not like the name “Rose,” which is what Josephine’s family and friends called her, telling the attractive widow: “I don’t like your name; from now on I will call you Josephine.” (1) The pair met in 1795 when Napoleon was just beginning to make a name for himself in the French military and was seen as one of its greatest up-and-coming officers.

There are several stories as to how and where the two met, but it is most likely it happened at a social event.  At the time, Josephine – who was a well-known figure in French society – was the mistress of Paul Barras, Napoleon’s mentor and “de facto” governor of France.  Realizing that she was not getting any younger (Josephine was 32 in 1795) and with Barras’ attention being directed toward another woman, Josephine knew she was facing the possibility of losing financial support for herself and her two children, Eugene and Hortense.  Ever the smart and captivating woman, she set her eyes on the unrefined Napoleon, who, young and inexperienced, immediately fell for her advances.  Josephine could see that the young officer was destined for greatness.  The pair was married in March 1796 with Napoleon receiving a promotion to commander-in-chief of the army of Italy as a wedding present from Paul Barras. (2)

Josephine Bonaparte (public domain image)

Josephine Bonaparte (public domain image)

Three days after the wedding, Napoleon left for Nice leaving his beloved bride behind.  His love letters to Josephine at this time are quite passionate and reveal how love-sick he was without her.  However, Josephine, who unlike her new husband married as a matter of convenience, was back in Paris enjoying the companionship different lovers, most notably a lieutenant named Hippolyte Charles.  The news of Josephine’s indiscretions were eventually revealed to Napoleon who had remained completely devoted to his wife refusing to take on a mistress, like many of his officers had done.  After finally taking on a mistress while in Egypt, he resolved to divorce Josephine but when he returned to France in 1799, she again used her charms to reconcile with her husband.  Josephine, an infamous spender, had gone into deep debt while Napoleon had been away and she realized it behooved her to stay married.

Even though the couple seemingly worked things out, Napoleon’s initial passion for his wife was gone.  This is quite ironic as Josephine’s love for the man blossomed and grew.  This set the stage for a number of mistresses Napoleon would have over his career.  Being a man of growing power and eventually Emperor of France, he had no problems getting any woman he wanted.  At the height of his power in 1807, Napoleon met the Countess Maria Walewska in Warsaw, Poland.  The beautiful 20-year-old Maria quickly caught the wandering eye of Emperor Bonaparte who was quick to ask for a private meeting with the young noble woman.  Maria was married to 71-year-old Count Anastase Walewski who, allegedly, encouraged his young bride to do whatever it took to ingratiate herself to Napoleon with the goal of helping Poland become in independent state.

Marie Walewska (public domain image)

Maria Walewska (public domain image)

And so it was that Maria Walewska, much to Josephine’s chagrin, became not only Napoleon’s friend and confidant, but mistress.  In fact, she joined him for several weeks in Paris and then Vienna.  In May 1810, Alexandre Florian Joseph Walewski was born to Maria.  The baby was allegedly the illegitimate son of Napoleon, although Alexandre claimed in later years that his father was Count Walewski who had legally recognized him as his son.  Be that as it may, the birth of Maria’s son was seen as further proof that Josephine, and not Napoleon, was physically incapable of bearing a child.  This would eventually lead to the couple divorcing in 1809 so he could marry the young and fertile Marie-Louise of Austria who would give birth to a son in 1811, Napoleon François Joseph Charles.

Maria claimed her relationship with Napoleon was born solely out of patriotic duty.  Despite this, Maria’s devotion and love for Napoleon – however it began – was clear to all; Maria even visited Napoleon when he was in exile in Elba.  Although Poland did not reach the large independent state it hoped, it did reach independence as the smaller, but free, Grand Duchy of Warsaw, thanks to Emperor Bonaparte.

Alexandre Walewski (public domain image)

Alexandre Walewski (public domain image)

The final outcome of this triangle is very interesting and history-making.  Although it was proven, through the birth of Maria’s son, that Napoleon was not infertile thus making the case for his divorce from Josephine and the birth of a legitimate heir, Napoleon lost his most arduous supporter and “good luck charm” in Josephine.  Napoleon’s Grand Armee suffered extraordinary losses in Russia in 1812 and never fully recovered until he was finally defeated at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.  The once great Emperor of France died in exile on the British island of St. Helena in 1821.  But what of his son, Napoleon II, the King of Rome, as he was called?

After his father abdicated in 1814, Marie-Louise escaped with the boy to Austria and was given the title Duke of Reichstadt by his maternal grandfather.  Marie-Louise remarried Austrian General Count von Neipperg in 1821, only a few months after Bonaparte’s death.  Apparently, Marie-Louise had two illegitimate children by Count von Neipperg prior to their marriage, a fact that the young Napoleon François saw as a weakness in his mother allegedly saying, “If Josephine had been my mother, my father would not have been buried at Saint Helena, and I should not be at Vienna.  My mother is kind but weak; she was not the wife my father deserved.” (3)  Clearly, Josephine’s reputation as a strong woman preceded her, not being lost even in the eyes of the boy who was the reason for her divorce.  The young Napoleon II would die at age 21 of tuberculosis.

Napoleon II (public domain image)

Napoleon II (public domain image)

As far as Maria Walewska, she divorced Count Walewski and married a Count d’Ornano in 1816.  She died shortly after giving birth to a son in 1817.  Maria’s legacy is two-fold: first, her success in convincing Napoleon of Poland’s need to be independent.  Second, her giving birth of Napoleon’s illegitimate son, Alexandre.  It is through Alexandre that Napoleon Bonaparte’s direct lineage continues … ironically, it’s through several descendants of a child he had out-of-wedlock with an actress, Rachel Felix and whom he later adopted.

At Villa Finale’s upcoming La Fête Napoléon, a gala celebrating the Napoleonic era, costumed actors portraying Napoleon, Josephine and Maria Walewska will be in attendance greeting and interacting with guests.  Now that you know how this triangle affected the course of history, what would you ask?

La Fête Napoléon, a gala celebrating the Napoleonic era: Thursday, March 27, 2014 at 7:00pm.  Admissions begin at $200 per person.  Proceeds support Villa Finale’s ongoing community efforts.  Call (210) 223-9800 for admissions or further information.

End Notes:
1. Proctor Patterson Jones, Napoleon: An Intimate Account of the Years of Supremacy (San Francisco, California: Proctor James Publishing Company, 1992), xxxiii.
2. Ibid.
3. Felix Markham,
Napoleon: A Startling New Interpretation of His Life and Legend Based on Recently Discovered Documents (New York, New York: Signet, 1966), 249.

Sources:
Jones, Proctor Patterson.  Napoleon: An Intimate Account of the Years of Supremacy.  San Francisco: Proctor Jones Publishing Company, 1992.

Markham, David J.  Napoleon for Dummies.  Hoboken: Wiley Publishing, Inc., 2005.

Markham, Felix.  Napoleon: A Startling New Interpretation of His Life and Legend Based on Recently Discovered Documents.  New York: Signet, 1963.

Second annual staff retreat: Galveston, Texas

On the Tall Ship Elissa

On the Tall Ship Elissa

Those of us who work at Villa Finale are fortunate to have leadership that encourages staff enrichment and development. For the second straight year, we loaded a mini van and all headed to Galveston to visit historic sites, places of interest and meet with other in the fields of museum and preservation.

As in 2013, our accommodations were once again at the Michel B. Menard House.  Built in 1838, the house is now the oldest surviving house in the city and is operated by the Galveston Historical Foundation.  After carefully picking out our rooms for our stay, we headed out to the Texas Seaport Museum to tour the Tall Ship Elissa.  Built

Boat tour of Galveston Bay

Boat tour of Galveston Bay

in Scotland in 1877, the barque is one of the oldest sailing ships in the world.  The ship is kept in tip-top shape by caring volunteers, many of whom have an opportunity to sail on the Elissa as a reward for number of hours served.  Many thanks to Rachel for the wonderful tour!  After our visit on the Elissa, the staff received its own private boat tour of Galveston Bay by the very entertaining Captain Wes and his one-woman crew.  The staff was enthralled by the amount of dolphins we saw frolicking throughout!  A highlight of the day was an Italian dinner with colleagues from the Galveston Historical Foundation.  Sharing stories about historic preservation over fine food and a glass of wine was a fitting way to end day one.

1504961_10203115961559100_930486206_n

At Shangri La

Day two began early the next day.  The staff, still tired from the boat ride and all the excitement of our arrival, stuffed itself in the van for a ferry ride that was the beginning of our trip to Orange, Texas and Shangri La Botanical Gardens and Nature Center.  The Center, a program of the Nelda C. and H.J. Lutcher Stark Foundation, is sprawled out over 200 acres; the Botanical Gardens contain over 300 plant species, many of which are in meticulously maintained green houses.  For me, the Pond of the Blue Moon and the Children’s Garden were the most fascinating.  After lunch at Shangri La, the staff received a tour of the 1894 W.H. Stark House, also in Orange.  The three-story house is furnished with original family pieces and is definitely something to see if you’re ever in Orange.

McFaddin-Ward House

McFaddin-Ward House

Our historic homes tour did not end there.  Our next stop was Beaumont and the McFaddin-Ward House.  The house, built in 1905, was the home of W.P.H. and Ida Caldwell McFaddin and family who made their fortune from the cattle and oil business.  The entire house is lavishly decorated but I think the staff would agree that our favorite place in the house was in the third floor, where the McFaddin boys lived.  It was quite the “man cave!”  For those of us who have made our careers in the museum field, the curatorial storage was an incredible thing to see – everything is carefully stored with proper materials and using best practices.  I was like a kid in a candy store!  Thank you so much to the McFaddin-Ward staff for sharing the space

Bishop's Palace

Bishop’s Palace

with us!  After yet another long day, the staff enjoyed down-time back in Galveston with a delicious dinner at the Saltwater Grill: you can’t go to Galveston and not have sea food!

On our last day in Galveston, the staff made its way to the Bishop’s Palace.  This was a stop during last year’s trip, however, some of us were unable to travel so I am happy it was added to the agenda once again.  The Bishop’s Palace is an absolute must-see if you’re ever in Galveston!  Designed and built in 1892 by architect Nicholas Clayton for railroad magnate Walter Gresham, the unfurnished house is nearly 21,000 square

Inside the magnificent Bishop's Palace

Inside the magnificent Bishop’s Palace

feet on an incredibly small lot but, wow!  What an amazing structure!  From its intricate wood details to its beautiful windows, the Bishop’s Palace does not need any furnishings in order to shine.

Next stop after the grandeur of the Bishop’s Palace was The Menil Collection in Houston.  This was an opportunity for each staff member to wander on their own to enjoy their preferred forms of art.  The stop at the Menil was fitting before our visit to Rienzi – the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.  Rienzi is actually a house museum for European decorative arts located in Houston’s historic River Oaks neighborhood.  The home itself was built in 1952 for philanthropists Carol Sterling Masterson and

Sunset in Galveston

Sunset in Galveston

Harris Masterson III who, among their many endeavors, were avid collectors, much like Walter Mathis who owned

Villa Finale.  Unlike Villa Finale, however, Rienzi continues to add to the collection for the purpose of displaying items that are the best examples of its European theme.  It is always a treat to visit unique sites like Rienzi.

Needless to say, the staff was tuckered out after our three days of nonstop visits!  We arrived back in San Antonio safe and sound, just ahead of a rare freeze.  I guess it was very fitting as we “cooled down” from a very busy and exciting trip.

A “saintly” mystery solved

san antonio prior to lampIf you have visited Villa Finale, you most-likely remember seeing the very unique “saint lamp” in the home’s Library.  The piece was not “born” a lamp; in fact, it is a Walter Mathis originale.  As he was known to do with several items in his collection, Mathis altered the item from church relic to a clever piece of home-decor by having a custom-made pedestal wired for use as a lamp.  The statue, which is the centerpiece of this “enlightened” piece, fits perfectly at the base and in fact, itself was not altered in any way, thereby maintaining its integrity other than the addition of a crucifix and timepiece by Mathis.

The “saint lamp” was an item Mathis acquired early on in his collecting endeavors.  In fact, there is an interior photograph (left) of the statue – before its conversion – proudly displayed in his home in Monte Vista, circa 1950s, years before his purchase of Villa Finale in King William.  The home, located at 705 East Mulberry, was razed for the Highway 281 project.

st anthony river walkIn all the years Mathis owned the lamp, he was quick to identify the statue as being that of Saint Anthony of Padua, something that would make perfect sense since San Antonio, Mathis’ hometown, is named after the saint.  (A Spanish expedition arrived here on June 13, 1691, St. Anthony’s feast day.)  However, there has been some question about who the likeness is truly representing, especially since opening the house to tours.  As some have pointed out, St. Anthony is normally depicted holding an open book on which sits the Christ-child, a reference to a vision had by Anthony.  (See photo at left: statue of St. Anthony along the River Walk.)  The statue on the lamp contains none of the symbolism normally associated with St. Anthony.  So who could the figure truly be?  A few people, even some of Villa Finale’s volunteers, have suggested it may be St. Francis Xavier.

St. Francis Xavier (1506 – 1552) was attending the University of Paris where he met Ignatius Loyola.  The pair, along with others, took monastic vows and were the first Jesuits after being ordained in Venice in 1537.  Due to his missionary work throughout Asia, where he converted over 2,000 people, St. Francis Xavier is known as the “Apostle of the Indies.”  Despite his work throughout the continent, he never accomplished his life-long dream of reaching China.  He took ill and died on the island of Shangchuan, less than nine miles from mainland China while waiting for the ship that would take him to his destination.

IMG_2997So how is Francis Xavier depicted in art?  Normally as a young, bearded Jesuit (humble) holding a torch and flame, cross and / or lily.  Other than the beard and Jesuit robe, the statue on the lamp has none of the other symbols, either but the hands, despite missing several digits, show clear indications of having something resting in them at one time (left).  Additionally, Dr. Marion Oettinger, Curator of Latin American Art at the San Antonio Museum of Art, identified the saint in question as being Francis Xavier on a recent visit to Villa Finale.

Although Walter Mathis was a great admirer of religious art as well as an avid collector of it, he cannot be faulted for mis-identifying Francis Xavier as St. Anthony of Padua.  With over 8,000 saints, blesseds and venerables recognized by the Catholic Church, many of us would have made the exact same assumption.

Cited: Jones, Alison.  Saints.  New York: W & R Chambers Ltd., 1992

A True Story: Meg and the Victorian Society in America American Summer School, Newport, Rhode Island

1. Lyman-Hazzard House

1. Lyman-Hazzard House

I am now an alumnus of the Summer School, Class of 2013.  I survived!  Upon acceptance, course director, Professor Richard Guy Wilson wrote, in a letter sent out to the class before we all gathered on June 9th, we were NOT to wear new shoes because we were to be on our feet for six to eight hours a day. 

But…but…I had a pair of new sandals I just had to wear.

He was right of course. It was intense.  All in all, the group of 31 saw 62 sites in nine days. Yup, that averages out to seven sites a day.  The roster included churches, mills, private homes and historic house museums, libraries and art societies.

The Victorian Society Summer Schools, yes there are two: American (Newport) and British (London) was established nearly 40 years ago.  Here is an excerpted description of the schools, taken from Society literature:

2. 1890's Marble House

2. 1890’s Marble House

Both schools focus on a variety of 19th and 20th century architecture and material culture. Through lectures (we had thirteen) site visits and tours (62) of important buildings – many of which are not open to the public – students acquire a comprehensive understanding of the aesthetic, social, economic and political forces that shaped our modern age.

I benefited greatly from further education about one of the most beauty-filled periods in our history, the Victorian era. This time in history was also highly interesting to Villa Finale’s Walter Mathis, as any of you who have visited know!  I like to believe Mathis surrounded himself with beauty because he derived a great deal of happiness and contentment from it.  Aesthetics should be a part of the lives of everyone, but the concept is often ignored. 

3. Ochre Court

3. Ochre Court

Mathis had the idea that visitors would be able to experience the home of a ‘Victorian gentleman’ when they visited Villa Finale.  As a result, the house appears as if there is not one square inch left uncovered.  The effect is dazzling and incredibly appropriate for the era. He was spot-on in his decoration.

On the more practical side, during the nine-day course, I examined the successes and challenges in historic preservation, collections management and historic house and landscape interpretation in Newport, a highly successful model of heritage tourism.

4. Breakers kitchen

4. Breakers kitchen

I was able to study houses and their collections not normally on view, and have access to the people who keep and interpret them.  Since I am responsible for a collection numbering 12,000, I was able to observe both stored and exposed collections in a variety of historic house museums and understand how to counter wear on buildings and collections caused by visitors. 

Professor Wilson took us through Newport chronologically, going from this – the 1690s Wanton-Lyman-Hazzard House (1) to this – 1890s Marble House (2).

I learned much about what is successful and what really just doesn’t work in historic houses: for example, the offices within Ochre Court (3) and the big plex boxes (4) in the beautiful Breakers kitchen.

I felt that Walter Mathis would have been pleased with the summer school, after all he was a long-time member of the Victorian Society and there were so many things that appeared in the tours that also appear in Villa Finale! Another pewter-filled Welsh dresser (5). Can you find Villa Finale’s oyster plate? (6). Lots of encaustic tiles on porches! (7). Enamel eggs, chalices (8) and micro-mosaics (9). A whole cabinet full of Wedgwood Fairyland Luster (10).

Villa Finale lends a helping hand at the Texas Governor’s Mansion

The Texas Governor’s Mansion, during the years 1980 to 1982, underwent a major restoration funded by the Friends of the Governor’s Mansion. Walter Mathis was deeply involved with the Friends group and was asked to be on the restoration project committee. At the time, Mathis had already been residing in Villa Finale for thirteen years and was actively restoring other historic structures in the King William neighborhood.

The Mansion project was very special as Mathis got to choose, with the rest of the committee, exceptional American antique furnishings from the best antique dealers in the nation. He also had a hand in choosing drapery and floor coverings, decorative and fine art objects and very likely had a say in the landscape as well.

Mathis was definitely in his element – Texas, a historic house and antiques! And he didn’t have to buy a thing or find room for it in his already-full home!

A letter in the Villa Finale archives, dated March 31st 1983, invites Mathis to the San Antonio Conservation Society Annual Awards Dinner where the Governor’s Mansion received a Special Award for a “restoration that has brought to all Texans a renewal of pride in this symbol of our State’s unique heritage.”

Fast forward to June of this year, when the Governor’s Mansion was finally at the end of a major restoration and renovation, and when I was invited to assist Jane Kartokin, Administrator and Curator of the Friends of the Governor’s Mansion and a member of Villa Finale’s Advisory Council, to reassemble the rooms in this beautiful historic house. I, in turn, invited my colleague Karina Serna, to come and help too. Jane gladly accepted us both, as the job ahead was tremendous!

For four intensive days I transferred myself to Austin where I did everything from dusting and silver polishing to placing furniture and objects in (for example) Sam Houston’s bedroom! Also drank a lot of coffee and folded a lot of packing paper. It was such a rewarding experience working with Jane, Karina (in a setting that was NOT Villa Finale!), the Governor and First Lady’s staff and others who volunteered their time to help. We even had a visit from First Lady Anita Perry, who graciously acknowledged our hard work.

It was most fun seeing the presence of Walter Mathis throughout the house. Many objects that are in Villa Finale’s collection are repeated in the collection owned by the Friends group and displayed in the mansion. When I look at photographs taken after the 1980s restoration, I noted the choices made by Mathis and the committee had not changed at all.

Thoughtful and classic decoration lasts for decades! I encourage everyone to have a tour of this stunning house, now as fresh and lovely as ever! And then, of course, tour Villa Finale!