Sara is back with three of her “Victorians and Egyptomania” blog post. Enjoy!
In the popular Mind
As the field of Egyptology changed, ancient Egypt (and Egypt in general) was fast becoming synonymous in the western mind with everything exotic, sexy, and mysterious.
Egyptomania continued in other areas and the construction of the Suez Canal in 1869 kept Egypt on everyone’s mind. Prince Albert, the consort to Queen Victoria, died in 1861, plunging the Queen into mourning with the nation following her. The Victorians had incredibly complex rituals and rules for mourning and so it’s probably no real surprise that they perhaps saw themselves in the ancient Egyptians and incorporated their symbols and motifs into their practices.
Egyptian revival mourning jewelry was quite popular among women and Egyptian revival style saw a resurgence, making its way into mortuary architecture and memorials. The famous Highgate Cemetery in London had its own Egyptian Avenue and was a tourist attraction even in the 19th century. The trend even made its way to the United States where an Obelisk was chosen as the memorial to George Washington, complete with Egyptian sun-disk!
The rising spiritualist movement in Europe and America incorporated ancient myths and ‘magic’ into their performances and even secret societies formed around various interpretations of the Book of the Dead. The Hermetic Order of the Dawn being one, with high-ranking members dressing in complete Egyptian priestly vestments.
Egypt was the setting of the successful Italian opera, Aida, which opened in 1871, a love story of a captured Ethiopian princess and an Egyptian military commander torn between love and duty. It even had an Egyptologist, Auguste Mariette, designing the costumes, staging, and even suggesting the plot! Hollywood could maybe learn a thing or two!
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, of Sherlock Holmes fame, wrote a short story titled Lot. No. 249 about a mummy, which was just one in the growing number of popular horror and mystery stories featuring a mummy terrorizing the living. It was at this time that the idea of a “mummy’s curse” started to arise in popular fiction. Oscar Wilde published a poem in 1894 called ‘The Sphinx’ in which the narrator questions the Sphinx about what she has seen through the centuries before ultimately rejecting the sphinx and turning to his crucifix.
A New Century and A New Science
As the 19th century came to an end, what had begun as a side project for Napoleon had blossomed a whole new art style and scientific field. Egyptology had grown by leaps and bounds, as had the public’s interest in Egypt and its history. Egypt became increasingly under the influence of European powers such as England and France. The turn of the 20th century resulted in the waning of Egyptomania at least for a time, until one of the greatest archaeological discoveries of all time occurred within the first two decades.
Doug is back with an informative blog on Hispanic architects in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month. Enjoy!
In recognition of Hispanic Heritage Month, let’s look at a few Hispanic architects that have made astounding contributions to the field of architecture!
Luis Barragán (1902 – 1988)
Luis Ramiro Barragán Morfín was a Mexican architect and engineer who influenced many of Mexico’s architects. He received his educational training in engineering and his skills as an architect were self-taught.
Barragán spent much time traveling to Europe, including France and Spain, to further his architectural knowledge of different styles. While in Morocco, he became interested in learning the architectural styles of North Africa and the Mediterranean, which he related to the country of Mexico.
Barragán’s architectural work was referred to as minimalist but rich in color and texture. Nature was a great influence in his ideas, which included walls of stucco, adobe, timber, water features, and the use of color. In 1943 he constructed The Lava (El Pedregal), a subdivision in Mexico City, which was his most iconic work.
Barragán was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1980 after years of designing elaborate houses, plazes, fountains, and gardens.
Ricardo Legorreta (1931 – 2011)
Ricardo Legorreta was one of Mexico’s most prolific architects.
After studying at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, Legorreta went to work at the firm of José Villagrán García (who designed the master plan for the university) and later became a partner in 1955. Legorreta then developed his own practice in 1960.
Under the mentorship of notable Mexican architect and engineer Luis Barragán, Legorreta incorporated bright colors, solid Platonic shapes, and attention to light and shadow within his style of architecture. In his designs, he made it a point to reflect Mexico’s climate and heritage.
Some of his most renowned works include the Camino Real Hotel (Mexico City), The IBM Factory (Guadalajara), The Solana Village Center (Dallas), The Museum of Contemporary Arts (Monterey), and, of course, the San Antonio Central Library here in San Antonio!
Frida Escobedo (1979 – )
Frida Escobedo is a very accomplished young architect who has gained much attention in Mexico and abroad.
In 2009, Escobedo won the Young Architects Forum, presented by the Architectural League of New York. She has also had her work presented in the Mexican Pavilion at the Architecture Biennial in Venice in 2012.
Escobedo earned her bachelor’s degree in Architecture and Urbanism from the Universidad Iberoamericana in Mexico City and a master’s degree in Art, Design, and Public Domain from Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design. She then went on to establish the Perro Rojo architecture studio in 2003 and later founded her own practice in 2006.
Escobedo’s projects include the Hotel Boca Chica in Mexico (2010), The Civic Stage in Portugal (2013), and a unique courtyard for the Serpentine Pavilion in London (2018).
Celebrated since 1939, National Aviation Day, August 19, was created by presidential proclamation to coincide with the birthday of aviation pioneer, Orville Wright. Here at Villa Finale, we are also commemorating the birthday of Walter Nold Maths, the home’s last owner, who would have been 102 years old on August 13th. It’s fitting that we celebrate both occasions by highlighting Mr. Mathis’ time as a pilot during World War II.
First, some little known facts about about Orville Wright. A native of Dayton, Ohio, Orville never finished high school – and neither did his brother, Wilbur – but he and his siblings were encouraged by their father to feed their curiosity through reading as many books as they could get their hands on. Orville also played the mandolin and brewed his own candy. Ever the builder, he made his own printing press while in high school to publish his own newspaper with friends contributing to content. One contributor was his friend, Paul Laurence Dunbar, who was the class poet and the only Black student at the school. Although curious by nature, some believe Orville may have been on the autism spectrum due to his being awkward and shy in social situations (although without a proper diagnosis, this cannot be confirmed). In fact, Orville never married but considered his younger sister, Katherine, the dominant female figure in his life and was apparently devastated when she married at the age of 52. Clearly, there was more to Orville Wright than his contributions to aviation. He was an intelligent yet complicated person.
Like Orville Wright, there was also a lot more to Walter Mathis than merely being a collector of decorative art and his restoration of Villa Finale, and up to fourteen other homes in the King William neighborhood alone. At the age of sixteen, Mathis’ mother died suddenly of a heart attack, and this event shaped the person he would become as an adult. Having to work his way through college beginning his sophomore year (his father, Arthur’s business suffered with the stock market crash of 1929 and could not financially support his son’s education) Mathis worked up to three jobs, determined to complete his degree. He had just started a job with the Lone Star Ice Company in 1941, after graduating with a business degree from the University of Texas at Austin, when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7th. The following morning, Mathis and many other young men rushed to enlist because they believed “Hitler was a menace,” said Mathis. “We believed we were going to save the world. That’s not an exaggeration, it’s simply what we thought.”
Walter Mathis chose to enlist with the Army Air Corps (the aerial division of the Army prior to the establishment of the Air Force in 1947). Up to that point, Mathis had never considered flying airplanes but as he said, “War changed everything.” The first part of his training was with single-engine planes at Garner Field in Uvalde before graduating to twin-engine planes at Ellington Field in Houston. He graduated from his training and received his wings in the summer of 1942 at Randolph Field (now part of Randolph Air Force Base). He and others in his group then spent a few months in South Carolina before being transported to a training center in England on a converted passenger ship.
The training center, used by both the United States and the Royal Air Force, was in the parish of Little Easton in Essex, less than two miles from the historic market town, Great Dunmow. It was here that Mathis, by this time a Lieutenant, was assigned to fly the B-25, called the “flying brick” by pilots because it had no glide, it would drop like a heavy brick when they pulled back the throttle. While at Little Easton, he trained B-25 combat crews in a number of capacities including overseas air raids, pilot fitness for bombing raids, and his specialty, instrument flying. Instrument flying was a valuable skill during the War as pilots needed to be proficient flying in the dark and during weather where having a reference to the ground was nearly impossible.
Walter Mathis flew with the 9th Air Force Pathfinder Squadron in support of General Patton during this time, forty-five missions in the B-25 alone. Once the Germans started retreating, he was moved to Le Bourget, north of Paris to fly front-line support. In February 1945, the Allies focused on strategic bombings to transportation and oil targets in order to drive in the final death nail to the Axis alliance. Twenty-seven pilots from the 9th Air Force, including Mathis (by then a Captain), were chosen to fly the pivotal missions. “We always had another bridge or marshalling yard to strike,” recalled Mathis in an interview. “Always something to bomb.” His last twenty missions were flown in an A-26B, a pursuit bomber – the fastest during World War II – which was heavily armed and could carry up to 4,000 pounds of bombs. The Pathfinders’ job was to lead other bomber groups to a designated target amid heavy fire: if the Pathfinders missed, so would everyone else making their mission a failure.
By the time the War ended in September 1945, Mathis had flown sixty-five missions, an incredible feat considering the average tour of duty for an Army Air Corps pilot consisted of twenty-five missions, with fifteen being the average success rate. “There were twenty-seven of us that went over on that group,” Mathis remembered, “and we would mark the orders every time one of them was killed. And only three of us came back alive. Death flew with us.”
Mathis’ decorations for his accomplishments included air and theater medals, three Distinguished Flying Crosses, and a Presidential Citation for a mission flown over Germany. These were all sent to his father who, along with those of his older brother, Arthur, had them framed and displayed in his office. After Arthur Sr. died, the medals were returned to Walter Mathis who hung them at the entrance to his bedroom suite. When you visit Villa Finale, you can still view them there today.
It is sometimes difficult today with all the air traffic we see in the sky to appreciate not only the technological marvel human flight truly is, but also how it has been used for over one-hundred years in combat. Hats off to the early pioneers of aviation, the pilots who take us safely from point A to point B, and to all the aviators who have courageously put their lives on the line for their country. Thank you for your service, Walter Nold Mathis.
McCullough, David. The Wright Brothers. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2016.
Phillips, Charles. (2007). Villa Finale: The Home and Collections of Walter Nold Mathis [Unpublished manuscript]. National Trust for Historic Preservation, Washington, D.C.
Pfeiffer, Maria Watson. (March 16, 2001). Interviews with Walter Nold Mathis for the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Maria Watson Pfeiffer. National Trust for Historic Preservation, Washington, D.C.
Sara is back with part two of her “Victorians and Egyptomania” blog post. This time, Sara focuses on mummies and mummification. Let’s “wrap” ourselves around this fascinating subject!
Of the many artifacts that got shipped back to Europe, what often drew the most attention was mummies.
Mummies were not new or unheard of in Europe. During the medieval period it was believed that mummies were a source of bitumen (or natural asphalt), and merchants would scour ancient Egyptian graveyards and tombs for mummies to grind up and use for mummia, which was believed to have medicinal properties. At times merchants would even steal the bodies of executed criminals to turn into mummies, grind them up, and sell to unsuspecting clients!
In the 19th century it was not uncommon for members of the European aristocracy to purchase mummies as souvenirs of their travels. One French aristocrat and monk by the name of Abbot Ferdinand de Geramb wrote in 1833, “it would hardly be respectable to return from Egypt, to present oneself without a mummy in one hand and a crocodile in the other.”
Mummification for the Ancient Egyptians was an essential part of their religion and they believed that the preservation of the mortal form was essential for living well in the afterlife.
Intentional mummification of the dead in Ancient Egypt dates back at least to the 2nd century BCE or about 2800 BCE. By the time Pharaoh Khufu was building the Great Pyramid at Giza, roughly around 2580 BCE, the Ancient Egyptians had begun to perfect the skills required to preserve a body.
The body was believed to be a vessel for the soul and for the soul to continue existing in the next world, the body needed to be preserved in this one. By preserving the body, the living could offer food and drink and prayers and the soul would continue to exist in the afterlife, enjoying all the things they had in life. If the body was damaged or destroyed, then the soul which would periodically come back to its body, would not be able to recognize it and would be lost.
Mummification took about seventy days to complete. Special priests, acting as embalmers, would first remove the body’s organs through a small incision in the person’s side and wash and embalm them before placing them in separate jars. The heart was believed to be the center of feeling and reason so it would be carefully removed, washed, embalmed, and then placed back within the chest cavity. Often protective amulets and jewelry would be woven into the wrapping to assist in protecting the body as its spirit journeyed to the afterlife.
Members of the royal family, the nobility, and priesthood would often be buried with valuable artifacts meant to offer the dead a life of comfort in the afterlife. Such as their favorite chair, clothing, jewelry, beds, statues of their gods for protection, and servants to work for them.
Usually, only the upper-classes, the nobles, priests, and royalty, could afford the kind of mummification that would best preserve the body, or what Herodotus referred to in his Histories as the near “perfect method.”
Many in the lower end of ancient Egyptian society could probably only afford for the body’s intestines to be removed, injected with oil, and then covered in natron for seventy days before returning it to the family to be buried in a small shallow grave. While not as gold-flecked as the pharaoh’s tombs, these small burials still tell Egyptologists much about what life was like for the average Egyptian.
Unwrapping a grim gift.
In 1834, a London surgeon by the name of Thomas Pettigrew is believed to have held one of the first “mummy unwrapping parties.” While Pettigrew was not the first to unwrap a mummy, he was the first to turn it into a show!
After paying a small fee, academics, affluent members of society, and so on would crowd into an operating theater to watch the mummy be unwrapped. Pettigrew became somewhat of an expert on mummification and was even recruited to reverse engineer the process by Alexander Hamilton, the 10th Duke of Hamilton, who wished to be mummified after his death. He even purchased an ancient Egyptian sarcophagus for the occasion to be buried in. And he was, when he died in 1852!
Mummy unwrapping parties appealed to the Victorian’s fascination with the macabre and the scientific. They also didn’t always go according to plan. Stories of finding a mummy with its head filled with sand, a “princess” who was really a man, and having to pry the linen wrappings away with a crowbar, all filled the headlines.
But eventually public mummy unwrappings fell to the wayside. Many Victorians, like us today, felt that it was disrespectful of the dead, and as Egyptology became a more scientific field, Egyptologists felt that too much information was lost in the attempt to sell a cheap thrill. Though academic mummy unwrapping continued, the public moved on to the next fashionable trend.
A sad fact, though, is that information from these early studies of mummies and ancient Egypt, were used to the support racist ideology of the day and the results have had a long-lasting impact on the field of Egyptology.
One such debate was over whether the native ancient Egyptians were even capable of constructing marvels like the pyramids and the theory that the true builders were in fact Caucasian in origin and not African at all. Phrenology & Craniometry were popular pseudosciences that used measurements of the skull as well as any bump or dips to measure intelligence, and personality traits. Many early anthropologists, in particular George Samuel Morton, used ancient Egyptian skulls and mummies to “prove” his racist theories.
Even renowned Egyptologist Flinders Petrie believed that at one point in predynastic Egypt (6000 BCE-3100 BCE), a “Caucasoid race” had invaded Egypt and had taught the native Egyptians the methods to construct these monuments.
While these beliefs no longer exist in mainstream archaeology and Egyptology today, the damage still lingers in the field, and are present in modern fringe archaeological theories, such as ancient aliens.
To learn more about mummification and the study of mummies, click here.
With the Olympic Games in Tokyo officially opening today, Museum Attendant Doug Daye was inspired by the Games and items in Villa Finale’s collection to bring us this fun blog post. Take it away, Doug!
If you’re a fan of the Olympics like I am, you are excited about the Tokyo Olympics that are about to take place! Not only do I enjoy the Olympics, but I also enjoy learning about the Greeks and Greek mythology (probably because Disney’s Hercules was one of my favorite movies as a kid). Since the Greeks founded the Olympic games, why not look at some of the Greek-related items in our collection at Villa Finale!
Chariot races were the event that founded the Olympic Games in ancient Greece around 680 BCE. It was very popular and appealed to all social classes, from slaves to those of royal status. Races usually consisted of small two wheeled chariots, pulled by two, four, or six horse teams. The drivers were generally slaves or those who came from underprivileged backgrounds, who could become wealthy if they were successful. Races were held in the Hippodrome which was a huge stadium specifically designed for chariot racing. These races were very dangerous, resulting in serious injuries (or death) for both riders and horses!
Pan and the Nymph
Pan was known as the God of shepherds, hunters, forests, meadows, and the mountainside. The Greeks associated his name with “pan” meaning “all.” He is characterized as a man with two horns, a beard, and the legs and tail of a goat. He is often associated with nature and pasturelands. He is frequently portrayed in literature and various works of art. He was known to inhabit the countryside of Arcadia, playing his flute and vigorously pursuing nymphs.
Nymphs were often called minor goddesses, but other translations refer to them as spirits or ethereal beings. They were tied to a certain feature of a landscape or place such as springs, rivers, trees, and meadows. Also, they had the ability to morph into trees, flowers, animals, or other things in nature. Physical descriptions of these beings always portray them to be young, beautiful maidens with long hair and decorative garments. Though nymphs were believed to be located everywhere, they were also believed to be very elusive to humans and often only seen in the company of gods like Dionysus, Artemis, and of course Pan.
Theseus and the Centaur
This sculpture, created by Antoine – Louis Barye, portrays the story of Theseus fighting the Centaur Bianor. In the story, Greek hero Theseus is invited to attend the wedding of his friend Pirithous, the king of Thessaly. Pirithous also invited his neighbors, the Centaurs (who have the upper body of a man and lower body of a man) to also attend the ceremony. The Centaurs behaved in a very disorderly fashion by drinking too much and causing chaos. They tried to kidnap the bride, but Theseus quickly stepped up to fight them off and rescue her.
The Cumaen Sibyl
Sibyls were prophetesses whose prophecies played important roles in major events. They claimed to be under the authority of a certain god and they were usually affiliated with an ancient oracle or temple. According to historic records there were twelve sybils but the Cumaen Sibyl was the most well-known. She was the priestess of the god Apollo that resided in Cumae. There are two events where she played a crucial role in the foundation, and success of Rome. First, she sold the Sibylline books (a collection of prophecies written in rhyme) to the last king of Rome, Tarquinius Superbus. Second, she foretold Aeneas’s future in Italy which led him to the underworld to see his father. There he was told that his descendants would found Rome.
Hephestus was the Greek god of fire, blacksmiths, artisans, and volcanoes. According to Greek mythology, he was the son of Zeus and Hera. In other versions, he was the son of Hera alone. Because he was born deformed, he was thrown out of Mt. Olympus by Hera, who was disgusted by his appearance. He was later returned to Olympus by Dionysus. He was married to the goddess of love and beauty, Aphrodite, who often had multiple affairs. In art, he is usually shown as a middle- aged, bearded man, supported by a cane, wearing a close fitting cap over scruffy hair, and standing over an anvil. He had a workshop under a volcano where he was assisted by servants made from gold. Being an excellent craftsman, he forged many weapons that were used by the gods, such as Athena’s shield, Cupid’s arrows, and Apollo’s chariot.
Enjoy the Olympic games and be sure to come visit the museum to check out these objects in person!
Interpretive Guide, Sara Taylor is back in part one of “Victorians and Egyptomania.” Why did our great-great grandparents many times over LOVE everything and anything Egyptian? Read on and find out!
While Napoleon and his contemporaries were content to incorporate Egyptian motifs and architecture into everyday buildings, décor, jewelry, and even clothes, the Victorians were at a completely different level!
The Victorians or the Victorian Age, gets its name from Queen Victoria, who reigned as Queen of the United Kingdom, Great Britain, and Ireland from June 1837 to her death in January 1901. Her reign saw the expansion of the British Empire and was a time marked by great social, political, and scientific changes. Not just in the British Empire, but all over the world.
The Victorians were responsible for or were the origin for many things that we enjoy in our everyday life (including our favorite house, Villa Finale!). While Napoleon re-introduced the splendor of Ancient Egypt to Europe on a scale never seen before, the Victorians took Egyptomania to a whole new level!
The Roots of Egyptology
After the French were expelled from Egypt in 1801, Egypt remained nominally part of the Ottoman empire, ruled by Muhammad Ali Pasha, a former commander in the Ottoman army, who would establish a dynasty which would rule Egypt until the 1952 revolution. It was from Pasha that our old friend Giovanni Belzoni, an explorer and early archaeologist, received permission to explore and excavate many ancient Egyptian tombs. While by modern archaeological standards he is considered little above a looter, he is still considered a pioneer in what was the early stages of archaeology and Egyptology.
As the years went on, the European interest in Egypt grew, not only due to its fascinating history, but also for its resources and strategic location.
A New Science
This was the time where archaeology truly began to become a science. Prior to the late 19th century, archaeology focused on more on finding artifacts that were artistically beautiful, or strange to the European eye, than on what they could realistically tell about the people who created the object.
Excavations also tended to be haphazard and finds that did not meet the excavator’s criteria were overlooked or tossed away as insignificant.
This all began to change in around 1840.
In 1842, Karl Lepsius led a Prussian team of scientists and specialist to record the remains of the Ancient Egyptian civilization. Lepsius who had studied under one of Jean Champollion’s disciples, based his expedition much on Napoleon’s own. They carried out some of the first truly scientific studies of the pyramids of Giza as well as Saqqara, Dashur, and Abusir. The expedition lasted four years, before the group returned to Europe to publish their findings.
Lepsius discovered a Ptolemaic manuscript in 1842 and dubbed the text, “The Book of the Dead,” mistakenly believing it to be a holy book, much like the Bible or the Qur’an.
The Book of the Dead was in fact a collections of spells and prayers meant to help guide and protect the deceased person’s soul on its journey to the afterlife. These books were never codified and so no two were exactly alike. They were customized to a person’s wishes and could be bought pre-made with blanks where a person’s name could be filled in by a scribe for a small fee.
Auguste Mariette, an early French archaeologist in connection with the Louvre, began excavating the ancient burial ground of Saqqara, unearthing the avenue of Sphinxes and the Serapum in 1848. Ten years later he accepted a position with the Egyptian government and began to eliminate illegal excavations as well as limit the sale and export of archaeological artifacts. A year later he convinced the Ottoman Viceroy to establish a museum which would become one of the most famous museums in the world, the Cairo Museum.
In 1880 Flinders Petrie led an expedition to Egypt that would truly change the face of Archaeology and Egyptology as we know it!
Petrie can almost certainly be called “the father of modern archaeology.” His expedition in 1880 conducted the most complete and accurate surveys of the Giza plateau to date. He was also the first to try and reason how the pyramids were built based on scientific evidence.
Petrie introduced to archeology the idea of taking methodical measurements and records of the site and all artifacts and in the process uncovered many artifacts and ruins that would have been lost or other overlooked. Petrie was also a mentor to Howard Carter who in the early 20th uncovered the famous tomb of Tutankhamun.
He was friends with Amelia Edwards a writer turned Egyptologist, who championed preserving the ancient moments of Egypt, which at the time were at risk from modern development and over-tourism. Many sites had already been lost by the time their efforts began and they were determined not to lose more.
In 1884 Petrie led an excavation of the ancient city of Tanis of Indiana Jones fame (yes it really exists!). Here he took leadership of the dig away from the overseers and workers. Prior to Petrie, in what is called the “old system”, the overseers and local diggers were heavily pressured to dig incredibly fast to find large and impressive artifacts quickly, and thus a lot of smaller, but still significant artifacts were overlooked or lost.
(Look for part two of this story where Sara will “unwrap” the subject of mummies!)
Every June, the American Humane Society celebrates Adopt-A-Cat Month, which is also the height of “kitten season.” Villa Finale has a history of adopting cats, so we thought we’d veer away from the “educational” posts for the day to appreciate the feline friends who have come through this wonderful place, beginning with Cupcake Mathis.
Cupcake, a little calico, first showed up at Villa Finale while Walter Mathis still lived here in the early 2000s. Apparently, Mr. Mathis had never had a pet before so when she strolled into his gardens, his first instinct was to ignore her. But as animal lovers know, cats will not be ignored! After a few days, a friend suggested he put some food out for the calico. Mathis’ response was, “Fine! But she will have to eat outside.” After a few days, Mr. Mathis moved Cupcake’s food just inside the door off his rear porch. And as cats have a habit of doing, Cupcake had the run of the house after a few weeks! Cupcake could do nothing wrong in Mathis’ eyes. Something was knocked over in the house? Well, someone else had to be responsible. Certainly NOT Cupcake! After Mathis died in 2005, Cupcake went to live out her golden years with his good friend, Edward Schroeder.
Keeping up with the tradition set by Cupcake, the staff at Villa Finale has adopted a few cats since I’ve been on staff. In 2008, the year I was hired, a little black and white cat made himself at home here. Not only at the site, but in our office. This was a time when we were not open to the public so the cat, who we named Beauregard Cogswell Norton III, or BooBoo for short (“Beauregard” was in honor of a street in King William and “Cogswell” after Villa Finale’s first owner).
After BooBoo Norton, a big orange tabby we named “Bowie” (after the knife) came straddling along. This was around 2010 or so. He stuck around about a year until another black and white kitty made her way to us. The staff named her “Cello.” Cello enjoyed sleeping on Villa Finale’s front porch, right in the baskets where the museum “booties” we used to have visitors wear before entering the house were stored.
All three of the site kitties I mentioned didn’t stick around too long, that is until around 2014 when Miss Kitty appeared at the site (very original name, we know). We thought she was a bit feral at first because, unlike the three felines before her, Miss Kitty wasn’t as friendly. She didn’t like to be picked up or petted. However, she enjoyed being around us as well as the shaded gardens, fresh water, and the abundance of food we all left in her bowl! After a few weeks, she allowed herself to be petted and eventually, even picked up! When we took her to be fixed, the vet let us know she had already been spayed. We guessed she was mostly likely abandoned by a previous owner. No matter: she made herself right at home at Villa Finale – where she is welcomed – and where she continues to live happily to this day! Miss Kitty even has her own heated cat house to use in the winter. What a spoiled cat! If you visit us, you will probably see her asleep under the car port or lounging under the shade of the gardens. Miss Kitty has become very accustomed to visitors and the constant activity.
Then came June 4, 2017. My husband and I went out for an extra long walk that day along Medina Base Road, near Lackland Air Force Base. We were walking along when we heard a tiny “meow” behind us. It turned out we were being followed by a little back and white kitten! He let me pick him up but I put him down thinking his mama was probably nearby, but the little guy continued to trail behind us for a mile, all the way home! My heart melted at this point. I know, what a sucker! We gave him a bath outside in a cooler – closest bin we had handy – then fed him. That little fella was hungry as can be! Because we already had two indoor cats at home that we were trying to assimilate with my husband’s corgi, we couldn’t keep him, as much as we wanted to! I reached out to my friends on Facebook to see who could give him a good home; that’s when Jane Lewis, Villa Finale’s Executive Director said, bring him to the office! Well, this is where the hungry kitty, now named Billy K. (after Billy Keilman, who owned Villa Finale from 1924 – 1925), continues to this day! We welcomed him onto the staff and gave him a title that reflects his talents: Director of Leisure & Recreation. While Miss Kitty’s domain remains Villa Finale’s gardens, Billy has the run of the Carriage House. He will join in on Friday staff meetings and entertain visitors with his long naps against his favorite window. What a life! If you visit, you’ll probably see him lounging in the Carriage House, belly up. Make sure you tell him how cute he is if you see him. He LOVES the attention!
As you can see, here at Villa Finale we have a long and cherished tradition adopting felines. Both Miss Kitty and Billy get regular checkups at the vet and our staff – a bunch of soft-hearted animal lovers – takes turns cleaning litter boxes as well as feeding these unforgiving hungry little mouths!
On behalf of our staff, in honor of Adopt-A-Cat Month, we would like to ask those of you who have a little room in your home and in your heart to adopt a feline from your local shelter or Humane Society. There are so many loving kitties, like Miss Kitty and Billy, that need forever homes (and don’t forget, if you can’t adopt, you can also donate to your local organization). Among our little staff of seven, we have 14 cats and 6 dogs so we are “meowy” BIG on pet adoptions! I would be remiss if I didn’t highlight our kitties at home (all rescues). What a purrfect bunch!
Here are some links to local organizations if you would like to adopt or donate!
Today, Museum Attendant Doug Daye gives us his impressions of his visit to the San Antonio African American Community Archive and Museum, also known as SAAACAM. Enjoy Doug’s post and do make plans to visit SAAACAM for yourself!
When I moved to San Antonio, which was only a couple of years ago, I took some time to go and explore many of the attractions that the city had to offer. I had only been to San Antonio a handful of times as a child with my family: I had been to Six Flags, SeaWorld, and the San Antonio Zoo, but now was my time to explore San Antonio as a new adult resident.
I explored various places around the city including the Pearl, a few restaurants, the Riverwalk, a few of the parks, and (of course) the Alamo. I also found out about various fun, local events such as the Luminaria Arts Festival and Fiesta. However, as I was adjusting to San Antonio and exploring that city and its culture, I noticed that there seemed to be a lack of representation for African Americans. As a young Black man that was new to the city, I felt left out and disappointed. Eventually, I found out about the San Antonio African American Community Archive and Museum (SAAACAM) and their efforts to educate the community. The SAAACAM seeks to interpret and preserve the history of African Americans in San Antonio that intertwines with the legacies of the Spanish, Mexican, German, and Canary Island populations who contributed to the foundation of the city.
Upon my visit to the SAAACAM exhibit space, I was impressed with the timeline display that features notable figures and events in Black history in Texas and San Antonio. Here are few names included on the timeline:
Hendrick Arnold – a spy during the Texas Revolution who relayed information to General Travis at the Alamo
Joe – a slave of William Travis who also fought at the Alamo and survived to tell about the massacre
General Gordon Granger – a messenger sent to Texas to announce that the Civil War had ended and slaves were free on June 19th, 1865 (two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation)
Ms. Artemis Bowden – became principal of St. Phillip’s Day school, a school for African American Girls, and later founded St. Phillip’s Junior College
Hattie Ruth Elam Briscoe – became the first African American woman to graduate from St. Mary’s University Law School and served as Bexar County’s only African American female attorney for 30 years
Garlington Jerome Sutton – elected to the Board of Trustees of San Antonio Junior District, and was the first African American from San Antonio to serve on the Texas State Legislature
They also feature a transitional exhibit space that features various subjects that change every few months. Currently, they are featuring the achievements of Eugene Coleman who started SNAP, which was an African American news publication that highlighted civil rights activists, segregated business practices, and various issues concerning the Black community of San Antonio. He also had many other achievements including becoming one of the original staff members for Ebony and Jet magazines.
As a young Black man who is still fairly new to San Antonio, I am glad there is a place where I feel that I can connect to and learn about the contributions African Americans have made to this city’s history. I’m glad that I can inform and encourage others to visit the SAAACAM and support them in their efforts!
Find out more about the SAAACAM and their community events, including the Black History Film Series and River Boat Tours here: https://saaacam.org/
In part two of our Texas Artists series, Villa Finale’s Visitor Services Coordinator, Lisa Stewart gives readers an introduction to printmaker, Mary Anita Bonner whose beautiful prints can be found throughout the museum’s rear hallway staircase. It may sound strange for these attractive works to be displayed in a rear staircase, but this is the area of the house Walter Mathis used from day-to-day so it only makes sense for them to be located where he would have been able to admire them the most.
Enjoy part two of this series, and do make sure you visit us soon to get a better of look at these timeless prints. You really do need to see them in person to truly appreciate the artistry!
Mary Anita Bonner (1887 – 1935)
Mary Bonner was born in Bastrop, Louisiana. She and her brother and sister spent their formative years on the family plantation. In 1897, six years after her father’s death, her widowed mother and two siblings moved to San Antonio. The city was considered a “health resort” in the late nineteenth century due to its relatively dry climate and its reputation for being a place with cultural opportunities. The family was drawn to the San Antonio River and acequias which reminded them of the bayou where they had lived.
Mary began formal art training at about age 16, and while it is not clear if she studied with the father, Robert, or the son, Julian, she did get training from the Onderdonks. It is believed, however, that her first art teacher was Robert Onderdonk.
1922 was a significant year in Mary’s evolution as an artist. While spending time in Woodstock, New York, a mecca for artists, she saw an exhibition of lithographs that interested and inspired her so much that she decided to study printmaking. While on this trip, she found the nearest printmaker who was 4 miles away. Mary hiked the trip to visit him, and was, at first disappointed that he said he did not want to teach her lithography. He told her he didn’t think she was strong enough to handle the often very heavy materials and tools for lithography.
However, he recommended pursuing etching instead, and thus began her career. At this time, Mary Bonner was totally committed as an artist by the urging of the lithographer she met in Woodstock. She devoted herself to her art and although she created beautiful work in many mediums, she was most prolific as a printmaker.
Mary lived mostly in San Antonio, but also traveled with family to Europe. The artistic climate there was most likely very appealing to her. Although Robert Onderdonk’s daughter Eleanor, also an artist, had established a career in the arts as Curator of the Witte from 1927 to 1958, the Onderdonk’s overall experiences as struggling artists in Texas made it evident to Mary that there was only minimal encouragement and little stimulation for artists in Texas. The University of Texas, for example, had no art department.
Along with her experiences in 1922 in Woodstock, and her enthusiasm for the artistic opportunities in Europe, Mary decided to set sail to France. She was quite aware that it would be easier for a woman to study art in Europe than in the United States at this time. Once settled in her small apartment in Paris, she went from studio to studio in search of a printmaker she wanted to be her mentor and teacher. She chose printmaker Edouard Leon, whom she felt offered the kind of instruction she sought.
Mary became known mostly for her etchings of Texas cowboys, cowgirls, and ranch life. Her medium expanded to watercolors as well. She was the only noted early 20th century woman popularizing Texas subjects and she received international recognition for a piece called “Texas,” which was a group of three etchings based on Texas ranch life. In the early-mid 1920s, her work was exhibited in salons in Paris, and among others, the Department of Prints and Drawings of the British Museum, and the Print Room of the New York Public Library, and certainly, in San Antonio. One of her signature details was using the landscape for borders around her subject matter, rather than as background. If you look carefully in these borders, you will find rattlesnakes, centipedes, cactus, horned frogs, bats, and more.
Edouard Leon, Mary’s mentor, along with his wife, considered Mary as part of their family and in 1927 accompanied her to San Antonio after a whirlwind of exhibiting and lecturing in several cities in the northeast. Edouard was exhibiting at the Witte – a solo exhibition of his etchings – and was also to serve as one of three jurors for the second Texas Wildflower Exhibition. While they were in San Antonio together, Mary and Edouard managed to spend most of their time painting and sketching in the Spanish missions and other scenic places in and around the city.
From there they went to Houston where Mary’s etchings were on exhibit at the Museum of Fine Arts and following that, to New Orleans and Philadelphia. By this time, some reviews of their exhibitions suggested that Mary Bonner’s talent had surpassed her master.
As Mary’s mother got older and ill, she felt it was time to return to San Antonio. Mary got very involved in plights and causes of artists in San Antonio, working hard to raise funds not only for art and artists, the museums and art leagues, but also conservation efforts and the Conservation Society of San Antonio.
Sadly, Mary died in San Antonio at the young age of 48 from a blood clot, while recovering from a surgery for ulcers. As a memorial in 1936, Eleanor Onderdonk, who was the curator at the Witte Museum, displayed a retrospective exhibition of Mary’s work which generated enough enthusiasm in printmaking to create the Mary Bonner Graphic Arts Club in 1937.
To see how you can make your own etching at home à la Mary Bonner, watch Villa Finale’s “Let’s Start with Art!” here:
(CONTENT WARNING: The following blog post contains descriptions of violence. Reader discretion is advised.)
In 1834, a nine-year old boy in Durham, Maine named Major Mitchell committed a horrific crime on his eight-year old classmate, David Crawford. On a Monday when classes were not in session, Major had somehow convinced David to go with him to a pasture, even after Major had been taunting the younger boy with names. His intention, Major admitted, was to kill David. Why? He didn’t know.
Although the initial fight was broken up by a neighbor, while on his way home, David was again attacked on the road by Major who got him into the woods where he was beaten again (for a more detailed account of this very violent ordeal, click here). The attack lasted several hours until Major suddenly decided he didn’t want to be caught by the neighbor who had broken up the original fight, so he let David go.
A Portland lawyer, literary critic, and avid advocate for phrenology named John Neal involved himself in Major’s defense. Phrenologists believed phrenology was “the only science of the mind” capable of explaining a person’s capability – or character – by the enhanced portions of the brain; they called these sections of the brain “organs.” As the skull takes shape around the brain, its surface becomes an index of a person’s physiological tendencies, according to phrenologists, via “bumps.” It should be noted, phrenologists only looked to confirm their own theories – a form of “confirmation bias” – and explained away any contradictions.
Neal befriended the boy and sought the help of scientist Isaac Ray, who was then interested in phrenology, and others who took phrenological measurements of Major’s head. In his writings, Ray revealed he could clearly see Neal had an interest in advancing phrenology as a credible science through the Major Mitchell case. In fact, Neal had read Major’s account of the attack – which remained consistent, even when told verbally – but considered it unreliable based on Major’s detached demeanor when repeating it; to counter this, he looked for physical reasons to explain why Major had such violent tendencies. Perhaps young Major had received an injury to the head at some point?
Nancy Plummer, Major’s mother confirmed that at only one week old, the boy had taken a fall off a high chest of drawers causing swelling to his head (why a one-week old baby was put atop of a high chest is another mystery). Ms Plummer blamed this event on her son’s aggressive behavior as he grew up. Neal deduced: if a small child is not responsible for falling on its head, it is not responsible for the consequences that follow; and if the attack on David was a consequence of Major’s head injury, then the boy couldn’t be legally responsible.
For the plea hearing, Neal had casts made of Major and his mother’s head to compare the differences: normal versus flawed. Isaac Ray and other phrenology experts testified, although their testimonies and measurements contradicted each others’ findings. The only link between all of them was the “organ” of the brain thought to be responsible for “destructiveness” located above the ears. In Major’s skull, they said, this area was quite accentuated.
Although Major Mitchell himself chose to plead guilty at the hearing, the plea was not accepted due to Neal’s self-appointment as his counsel. Earlier, he had advised Major not to plead guilty. As the trial moved forward, Neal prepared his case based on using phrenology for the first time in court by proving injury to the head. However, Major’s mother refused to be involved and doctors, who were not experts in phrenology, provided the expert medical testimony about the two boys. Neal was so determined to make his case using phrenology that he discounted other reasons for Major’s uncontrollably violent actions. For example, could the boy have had some congenital defect? Were there other disturbances?
In the end, the judge refused to allow phrenological testimony based on the study being mere “theories” that had no place in front of a jury. The judge instructed the jury to discount any information they had heard based on phrenology and instead focus on the following: at the time of the assault, did Major Mitchell know right from wrong? The jury determined he did. Major Mitchell was found guilty and sentenced to nine years hard labor.
The case of Major Mitchell is fascinating. It marked the first time in United States history that a defendant’s attorney sought leniency based on there being a defect with a client’s brain. Or, another way of looking at it, the first time a form of “psychiatric” testimony was used in court, even if it was the pseudoscience of phrenology.
By the beginning of the 20th century, phrenology started losing support due to its inconsistent and weak methods of proving findings, as well as its use by certain classes of people to reinforce pre-existing stereotypes about humans who were not Caucasians. In today’s courts, we see more and more psychology-based forensic evidence brought before juries to determine whether a defendant is mentally fit to stand trial. It is interesting to speculate what would have happened if the Major Mitchell case were brought to court today. You think he would have stood a better chance?
Speaking of Major Mitchell, accounts have him turning up in his hometown around 1870, married and working as a farm laborer. There is no record to indicate whether the areas above his ears settled down or not.
If you would like more information on how psychiatry is used in legal cases, including the Mitchell case, visit the website of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law here: https://www.aapl.org/
Click below for a fun short film from 1936 about phrenology by British Pathe called “Just Bumps.” The title alone should entice you!
Below is our introductory video to phrenology featuring Villa Finale’s own original Fowler phrenology head.