“Thank you” Villa Finale Volunteers!

Author Elizabeth Berg wrote, “There is incredible value in being of service to others.”  Here at Villa Finale, we highly value the service of our dedicated volunteer staff.  Our volunteer program began back in mid 2008 with only three on the roster and since then we have had a number of wonderful folks join our ranks.  From staffing events, guiding tours, providing security for our collections, polishing silver, conducting research and even modeling for program photos, our volunteers can do it all!

I began in the museum field as a volunteer and I understand how valuable one’s free time is which is why I, and the rest of our paid staff, are so grateful to those folks who show up to help week in and week out.  This being Volunteer Appreciation Week, we would like to say to all of Villa Finale’s volunteers, THANK YOU … we appreciate you!Image

Times they are a changin’ at Villa Finale

IMG_1026This October, 2013 will mark the third anniversary of Villa Finale opening its doors to the public.  As a new site, we are still looking at better ways we can serve the general public and the community.  We began opening the grounds at the beginning of the year and this has turned out to be very well-received as the site is now more inviting.  Also, during the last couple of years, we discovered that many people wanted to see Villa Finale but had either very little time or were confused about the location of the Visitor Center to buy admissions (the Visitor Center is located four blocks from Villa Finale).  In order to be accessible to more people, we are proud to announce the following changes to Villa Finale’s operations effective April 2, 2013.

Villa Finale will now be offering self-guided tours (first floor only) Wednesday – Saturday from 11:00am – 2:00pm.  Our popular guided tours will continue to be offered on Tuesday at 1:00pm and 2:30pm, and Wednesday – Saturday at 10:00am and 2:30pm.

Admission prices
Guided tour admissions will remain the same: $10.00 general, $7.50 for seniors, students and military.  Self-guided tours (first floor only) will be $7.50 general admission and $5.00 for seniors, students and military.  There will also be an option to upgrade from a self-guided tour to a full guided tour of the entire house.  Members of Villa Finale and / or the National Trust will continue to receive free tour admission.

Carriage House, ca. 2008. Parking available on King William and Sheridan Streets.

Carriage House, ca. 2008. Parking available on King William and Sheridan Streets.

Admissions and Museum Shop
The sale of admissions will be MOVED from its current location at the Visitor Center (122 Madison) to the Carriage House located on the grounds of Villa Finale at 401 King William Street (we will no longer be selling tour admissions at the Visitor Center).  Some of our most popular merchandise will also be sold from the Carriage House with some merchandise still available for sale at the Visitor Center.  (The Museum Shop is currently having a 40% off moving sale so don’t miss it!)

Business Hours
The following are the business hours for all areas of Villa Finale: grounds, Carriage House (admissions and Museum Shop) and the Visitor Center at 122 Madison.

  • Grounds: Tuesday, 12:00pm – 4:00pm; Wednesday – Saturday, 9:30am – 4:00pm
  • Carriage House (admissions and Museum Shop): Tuesday, 12:00pm – 4:00pm, Wednesday – Saturday, 9:30am – 4:00pm
  • Visitor Center (at 122 Madison): Tuesday, 12:00pm – 4:00pm; Wednesday – Friday, 9:30am – 4:00pm.  The Visitor Center will be CLOSED on Saturdays.

Please note: all areas of Villa Finale are subject to closures for maintenance or special events on select dates and major holidays.

Parking for Villa Finale
Guests are welcome to park along King William Street or Sheridan Avenue.  The site can be accessed during regular business hours from the front gate on King William or the driveway gate off of Sheridan.

And of course, we are always looking for volunteers, especially with the addition of self-guided tours.  There is minimal training involved (click here for volunteering information).

This is an exciting time of positive change at Villa Finale!  Make sure you stop by and visit if you haven’t already.  And for those of you who work downtown don’t forget, we welcome you to enjoy your brown bag lunch on the grounds of Villa Finale.

Thank you, San Antonio for your continued support!

Villa Finale’s grounds: A serene getaway

Front gateOur South Texas weather has been perfect recently for enjoying the outdoors here in San Antonio; so if you happen to find yourself in the South Town area, why not stop by Villa Finale and enjoy our recently opened grounds for a stroll or nice picnic on the vast expanse of the lawn.

Having been renovated this past summer, we wanted the public to be able to come explore and enjoy the gardens of this historic site.  Villa Finale’s property backs into the River Walk so access is available straight from the River or street level.  Once you are here, you can take advantage of our Formal gardenhouse tours available daily.

Grounds are free and open to the public Tuesday, 12:00 – 4:00pm and Wednesday through Saturday 9:30 – 4:00.  A free downloadable self-guided brochure of our grounds is available by clicking the link below or at our website www.VillaFinale.org.

Grounds self-guided brochure

“Look South: A Culinary Adventure” recap

On Wednesday, October 6, 2012, Villa Finale hosted a special fundraising event called, Look South: A Culinary Adventure.  Click here to read more about the event as well as to view a special slide show.  Exxon Mobil provided additional sponsorship for the event.

You may also click on the video link below to view a special remembrance of Look South courtesy of our friends at The Pearl.  Thank you to all who made the evening one to remember!

Thomas H. Mathis: Businessman and pioneer (part two)

Mary Jane Nold Mathis, ca. 1880

The firm of Thomas and John Mathis, known as J. M. and T. H. Mathis, greatly helped the improvement of the Aransas Bay pass between St. Joseph Island and Mustang Island by contributing $5,500 to a project that included widening and deepening.  This also gave access to the deeper water of the Gulf of Mexico from the bay.  Among their many other public improvement projects were the building of bridges, county roads, buildings, and the construction of the Orleans Hotel, to name a few.  In 1880, after over a decade of doing business together, the brothers went their separate ways.

However, Thomas Mathis continued doing business on his own in Rockport.  In addition to his ranching operation – he owned 24,000 acres of land along the Nueces River – his financial contributions led to the Western Union Telegraph company setting up business in Rockport, the construction of the first telephone line in that part of Texas, and the building of the first cold storage meat refrigerating plant in the state.  His success was due in part to his keen sense for business as well as his congenial personality which ingratiated him to the citizens of Rockport.

Thomas H. Mathis’s grave in Rockport.

Although involved in many business affairs, Thomas always remained active in his family’s life.  His first wife, Cora Linda, had died of typhoid just a few months after their marriage.  In 1875, he married Mary Jane Nold of Ketucky, a music teacher who had arrived in Rockport to join her parents in 1874.  The couple had eight children whom, despite being financially secure, were taught the value of hard work by their parents.  One of the Mathis children’s most detested tasks was pulling the weeds from the yard of the family home.  According to family records, the Mathis boys would avoid the work by making numerous trips to have a drink of water.  Father soon caught on to their plan, however, and had a water bucket placed close to their chore area to stop the lollygagging.

Mary Jane Mathis was just as involved in the community as her husband.  She was the organist at Rockport’s Presbyterian Church for 35 years until a broken wrist prompted her retirement.  For 25 years, Mary Jane was also president of a ladies organization called the King’s Daughters – her Rockport chapter did much of the charity work in Aransas County.

Thomas Mathis died on March 19, 1899.  Mary Jane continued to live in the family home in Rockport for the next 25 years after her husband’s passing.  For the last 16 years of her life, she lived in Corpus Christi – a portion of this with her daughter, May Mathis Green and her second husband, Harry Watson.  Mary Jane Nold Mathis died on February 26, 1943 and was buried in the family plot at Rockport next to her husband.

Thomas H. Mathis: Businessman and pioneer

The following is part one of a series of blog posts on the history of the Mathis family.

Thomas H. Mathis

Thomas Mathis, great-grandfather of Walter Nold Mathis, was born in Stewart County, Tennessee on July 14, 1834 to an agricultural family. At 20 years of age, he moved to Southern Arkansas to attend a school overseen by his cousin, Dr. Josiah Thompson Mathis. A couple of years later, Thomas organized his own school in Warren, Arkansas before attending Bethel College in Mishakawa, Indiana.

Thomas H. Mathis

Lured by the prospect of the livestock industry, Thomas moved to Southwest Texas in January, 1859. Together with another cousin, John M. Mathis, he made a moderate profit through the sale of livestock and was well on his way to growing his business until the outbreak of the Civil War. Forced to close his cattle business due to a blockade of Gulf ports imposed by the Union Army, Thomas turned his attention to tobacco. During the Civil War, tobacco was plentiful for men serving on both sides – however, it was very difficult for civilians to obtain and maintain their habit. Thomas was successful in dodging the blockade and importing tobacco from Tennessee and Kentucky thus meeting Texans’ demand for the product. In the fall of 1862, Thomas left his business to join the Confederate Army, serving until the end of the War, after which he returned to the tobacco industry.

In February, 1867, Thomas and John Mathis relocated to Aransas Bay – by joining forces with other local businessmen, the town of Rockport was founded. In their new town, Thomas and John created the firm of J. M. and T. H. Mathis, built a wharf, and chartered a steamboat. This steamboat, the Prince Albert, was the first to enter Aransas Bay for commercial purposes. Only a couple of years later, the Prince Albert was lost at sea – this did not deter the men, however. In August, 1869, the Mathis’s firm convinced the Morgan Lines, the first steamship company in Texas, to run ships out of Rockport. The Morgan Lines had sailed their inaugural vessel, Columbia, in 1837 and had survived the commandeering of their steamships by both armies during the Civil War.

Not only did the Mathis’s firm persuade the Morgan Lines to run ships out of Rockport, they also became agents for the company. This would be a partnership that would take both Thomas and John’s business to bigger and better places for their families and Aransas Bay.

Villa Finale’s landscape restoration begins!

The landscape restoration project here at Villa Finale is well underway and big changes are already evident throughout the site. At the moment, we are finishing the initial demolition and pre-work phase getting ready for the new plant material and hardscapes to be installed. Let me tell you, it is very exciting to see the work in progress and visualize the difference this renovation project will have on Villa Finale! Just the relatively simple task of removing crowded trees and shrubs along both the north and south edges of our landscape has provided a new opportunity to visualize what the restored landscape will reveal.

The irrigation work will start soon adding the much needed sprinkler system to the landscape, especially since we are already in stage two water restrictions here in San Antonio once again. Water conservation and eliminating water waste is very important to us so we added as much drip irrigation to the new system as possible. This will help us manage our water use and get the water directly to the soil where it is most beneficial to the newly installed plant material. In keeping with our organic landscape practices, we are amending all the planting beds with compost to add nutrients and organic life to our soil; this will greatly aid in the health of the plants and in the soil’s ability to retain water.

The landscape renovation project has been in the works for some time now and we’re all happy to see it fulfilling its anticipated promise! Be sure to stop by Villa Finale to see the work and share in our excitement!

Villa Finale Paintings on loan to San Antonio Museum of Art!

"Casa Ranchera"

The San Antonio Museum of Art has asked to borrow two Theodore Gentilz paintings from the Villa Finale Collection for a show entitled Theodore Gentilz: Mission Life of San Antonio and Northern Mexico which opens on March 2nd and closes May 20th 2012The show is part of an exhibition series called San Antonio Collects, truly a great fit for Walter Mathis and his Villa Finale.  The paintings Man and Pueblo Home, a charming watercolor and Casa Ranchera, oil on canvas, are two great examples of Gentilz’s illustrative style.



"Mexican Man with a Cane Walking Before Pueblo Houses"

Theodore Gentilz, (1819-1906) was an established young painter when he set sail for Texas in 1843, leaving his home in Paris, France, forever.  He was invited to come to Castroville by fellow Frenchman Henri Castro, the founder of that town, but settled in San Antonio where he opened a studio in 1847.  He left as his legacy a rich pictorial account of the people of San Antonio, its environs, and Mexico.  He also worked as a surveyor, creating detailed, illustrated maps of areas surrounding San Antonio and most of northern Mexico.  Many of his paintings of Mexico, like the two on loan, were painted during surveying trips.  All of Villa Finale’s Gentilz collection, eight in total, hangs in the Mathis Sitting Room.

Theodore Gentilz: Mission Life of San Antonio and Northern Mexico, runs from March 2nd through May 20th, 2012.  For more information about the San Antonio Museum of Art’s exhibit, please click here.  You may also contact SAMA directly at (210) 978-8100.  The San Antonio Museum of art is located at 200 West Jones Ave., San Antonio, TX 78215.

Villa Finale presents: A European Concert Series!

If any of our blog-reading audience has been to Villa Finale, they will have noticed that Walter Mathis was a lover of music in his home, as well as a great supporter of the performing arts in his beloved San Antonio. This passion inspired Villa Finale staff to organize a concert series featuring vocal music from Germany, Italy and France. The series is generously supported in full by Mr. and Mrs. (Laurie) Thomas Saylak of Scarsdale, New York in honor of our first council chair and Walter Mathis’s niece, Jessie Mathis Kardys.

The front Napoleon Parlor; Photo by Carol Highsmith.

The concerts will be held in the front Napoleon Parlor and we will make use of one of the largest objects in our collection, the Bechstein-Welte grand piano, which has been tuned, repaired and ready to play! The vocalists are talented graduate students from the University of Texas at San Antonio Music Department who will sing German lieder (romantic songs) and arias during the first concert on December 8th, duets and arias from Italian opera for our February 16th concert and French operatic arias, duets and melodies for the final concert March 22nd. An optional tour, focusing on decorative and fine art in Villa Finale’s collection originating from the evening’s featured country, will be given after each concert.

Villa Finale has held only one other concert in the Napoleon Parlor, and that was a French-themed concert that occurred last March, part of a series of events held at Villa Finale in conjunction with San Antonio French Cultures Month. The audience was captivated by two sopranos who performed French songs and excerpts from French opera. It was a magical evening in a beautiful setting and we’re looking forward to replicating this amazing experience, threefold!

Admission for each of the concerts is $15 for Friends of Villa Finale or National Trust members, $25 for non-members.  Space is limited, please call (210) 223-9800 during business hours to make your reservations.  Pre-paid reservations only, please.  People with paid admissions meet at the front gate of Villa Finale at 401 King William Street; gate opens at 5:30 pm, concert begins promptly at 6:00 pm.

Dates for “Villa Finale Presents – Concert Series 2011-2012”
December 8, 2011: “Frohe Weihnacten!” German Holiday Concert – featuring music of Mozart, Schubert, Tchaikovski and Wolf
February 16, 2012: “A Trip to Italy” Italian Concert – featuring music of Cilea, Donizetti, Mozart, Rossini and Vivaldi
March 22, 2012: “From the French Salon to the Stage” French Concert – featuring music of Bachelet, Delibes, Duparc, Gounod and Massenet

Conservation Celebration!

This fall season has been a wonderful time at Villa Finale…the reasons?  We’ve had fifteen objects return from their long summer sojourns in conservators’ studios.  Three Julian Onderdonk (1882-1922) oil paintings and twelve mantel clocks came back to roost in the past two months. 

"Pool on the Guadalupe," before treatment.

The paintings, thanks to a generous grant award from the Dallas-based Summerlee Foundation, were cleaned and stabilized.  Through no fault of anyone, just age, they had issues such as actively flaking and lifting paint, discolored varnish, unsuitable or no backing, improperly executed retouching, losses or punctures and overall discoloration. Mark van Gelder of Art Conservation Services of Austin painstakingly handled all of those issues, cleaning inch by inch with cotton swabs, repainting where paint had flaked, tightening the canvas and stabilizing the frame.   Van Gelder conserved on one small painting entitled Valley Near Williams Ranch – Twenty Miles West of Kerrville, which hangs in Villa Finale’s Dining Room, one medium-sized Texas bluebonnet painting and one very large painting entitled Pool on the Guadalupe River. 

Here is where I will be perfectly honest with you, dear reader: previously I did not care for, in the least, Pool on the Guadalupe River.  It was a muddy, dark painting with no depth whatsoever and something or someone had punctured the painting right in the center of the pool.  But when I went to van Gelder’s studio to see the finished product, my jaw hit the floor.  Here before me was a stunning deep river pool, greenish-gray, lined with limestone ledges and stands of fall trees in the background.  It was wonderful! I understood why Onderdonk painted this scene and why Walter Mathis acquired it.  It was a pleasure to behold. 

"Pool on the Guadalupe," after treatment.

So not only do your eyes get a treat at Villa Finale, your ears will too when you hear the chime of our many clocks.  Their repair was another grant funded project, this time from an award from the National Trust’s Historic Sites Fund.  

The clocks add a liveliness and warmth to the house that Mathis enjoyed – the sound and movement of the clocks also give energy and vitality to the current interpretation of the museum.  It goes without saying that the clocks are also an important part of Villa Finale’s decorative arts collection and are inherently valuable.  They date from the mid- to late 1800’s and are primarily French.       

My colleague, Sylvia Gonzalez-Hohenshelt and I put together a little video about the clocks for your viewing pleasure:   CLICK HERE TO VIEW VIDEO