Celebrating Children’s Literature Illustrators

Today, March 2nd, is Read Across America Day! In celebration of this wonderful activity, Doug is back with a blog post celebrating his favorite illustrators of children’s books. Do enjoy!

Doug Daye

As a child I loved books! I really liked to listen to story books being read to me by my parents, my grandparents, teachers, or the local librarians during story time programs at the local library. I grew up watching shows like “Reading Rainbow” and listening to story books on cassette tape which encouraged my love for books. I felt like story books fueled my imagination and transported me to another world! Here’s a look at a few children’s book artists that I remember from my childhood.

Eric Carle (1929 – )

Eric Carle (from GPB.org)

Eric Carle grew up in difficult circumstances during WWII. During the war, his German immigrant family moved from New York back to Germany where his father was drafted into the military and was held captive as a prisoner for many years. Despite adversity, Carle went on to study graphic art at the Academy of Visual Art in Stuttgart, Germany. He returned to New York City to become a graphic artist for the New York Times in 1952, until being drafted during the Korean War. Upon returning from the war, he returned to his position at the Times, then left to become a freelance artist in 1963. He met children’s book author Bill Martin who encouraged him to pursue book illustration. Together they published their first collaboration project Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? which became a bestseller. Despite their many collaborations together Carle still wrote and illustrated his own books, 1, 2, 3 to the Zoo and The Very Hungry Caterpillar, which was his most famous book.

Carole Byard (1941 – 2017)

Carole Byard (from villagepreservation.org)

After attending high school in New Jersey, Carol Byard went on to study art at Fleisher Art Memorial in Philadelphia and the Phoenix School of Art of Design in New York City during the late 1950s to early 1960s. She was inspired by the Black Arts Movement which began as a result of the Black Power Movement, which called for Black culture to be reflected across music, poetry, theater, and other art media. Byard used her artistic talents to create projects that fit within that goal. She contributed her artistic skills to illustrations for many children’s books including Dreams of Africa (1978) and Cornrows (1980). She was awarded the Coretta Scott King Award for both books. Her other works include Working Cotton and The Black Snowman.

Ezra Jack Keats (1916 – 1983)

Ezra Jack Keats (from the Ezra Jack Keats Foundation)

Growing up in the Jewish quarter of Brooklyn, NY, Ezra was artistically gifted as a child. His family was very poor and suffered hardship during the Great Depression. Though his mother was supportive, his father wanted him to focus on more practical skills in order to get a decent job. However, Ezra continued to excel in his artistic talents. After high school, he took art classes when he could but mostly worked to support his family after father died. He worked as a mural painter for the Works Progress Administration (WPA) and he illustrated backgrounds for the Captain Marvel comic book series before going into the military during World War II. He went on to publish his first children’s book, My Dog is Lost! (1960) which featured Juanito, a Puerto Rican boy, as the main character. Ezra wanted to make it a point to cast minority children as main characters for his stories. His most famous book, The Snowy Day (1962) featured Peter, who was based on a young Black child he saw pictures of in Life magazine. He was awarded the Caldecott Medal for his work in 1963. He also went on to feature Peter in six more books following The Snowy Day. Watch the animated film “The Snowy Day” on Amazon Prime!

Children’s Book Museums

Get info on museums dedicated to children’s books and view artwork by other authors and illustrators here!!

R. Michelson Galleries: https://www.rmichelson.com/illustration/

Eric Carle Museum: https://www.carlemuseum.org/

National Center for Children’s Literature: https://www.nccil.org/

University of Findlay’s Mazza Museum: https://www.mazzamuseum.org/collection/

“Collecting History”: The Most Famous Death Mask You May Have “Kissed”

Seine River, 1880s. (From worthpoint.com)

Villa Finale is pleased to have a copy of what may be Napoleon Bonaparte’s death mask in our collection. As famous as this one may be, there is a death mask more widely seen – and even “kissed” – throughout the world. According to lore, in the late 1880s, the body of a young woman around 16 years old was found in Paris’ Seine River. When investigators pulled her lifeless body from the water, the young woman showed no signs of violence on her person anywhere. She was taken to the Paris Morgue where a pathologist examined her further. After a thorough investigation, the woman’s death was ruled a suicide.

Crowds looking at unidentified bodies at the Paris Morgue. (From medium.com)

Reports about the young woman’s death were reported widely, her corpse was even put on public display as was the custom with unidentified bodies; however, no one claimed her. In the hopes she would be identified, the mortician in charge decided to make a death mask of the woman’s face. He also couldn’t help feeling captivated by the young lady’s beauty and haunting smile that remained on her lifeless lips, one compared to that of the Mona Lisa’s. This mortician admitted to casting the death mask with another intent. He said, “Her beauty was breathtaking and showed few signs of distress at the time of passing. So bewitching that I knew beauty as such must be preserved.”

“L’Inconnue de la Seine”

Although the woman was never truly identified, her death mask caused a sensation; it was reproduced and sold as a morbid fixture to be displayed in the private homes of Parisians, and by 1900, she could also be found abroad. L’Inconnue de la Seine or “the unknown woman of the Seine” was seen as a type of muse within the artistic community; she could be found hanging as a decorative piece in the homes of poets, writers, and artists like Picasso and Vladimir Nabokov. Philosopher Albert Campus called her “the drowned Mona Lisa.”

“L’Inconnue de la Seine” and “Rescue Annie” (From the International Life Cast Museum)

In the 1950s, an Austrian doctor, Peter Safar, was working with Norwegian medical device manufacturer and toy maker, Asmund Laerdal, to create the first CPR mannequin. Laerdal’s young son had nearly drowned but he was saved by Laerdal’s quick use of a form of CPR. Around the time the mannequin was in development, Laerdal paid a visit to his parent’s home. While there, he became instantly inspired by a copy of “the unknown woman of the Seine” displayed in his parent’s home. Just like the French pathologist who had originally examined the young woman over fifty years earlier, Asmund Laerdal found her completely ravishing. It was then the decision was made to use L’Inconnue’s likeness – as she is commonly known today – on the mannequin that became known as “Rescue Annie” or Resucci Anne. Today, the woman who may have drowned by suicide over 100 years ago is responsible for possibly saving thousands of lives. Maybe there was a little bit of foreshadowing in the young lady’s curious smile!

THREE’S COMPANY – “Boy Meets Dummy” – Airdate: December 1, 1981. (Photo by ABC Photo Archives/ABC via Getty Images)JOHN RITTER;CHRISTINA HART;RICHARD KLINE

(If you would like your own copy of L’Inconnue, L’Atelier Lorenzi, a family-run workshop in southern Paris, can create hand-made copies using their own 19th-century plaster mold.)

See the video introducing L’Inconnue de la Seine here:

The Pagan Origins of Christmas (part two)

And now, part two of Sara Breshears’ “The Pagan Origins of Christmas.”

By Sara Breshears

The Party Gets Rolling 

As previously mentioned, in early Christianity, Christmas was not widely celebrated and was overshadowed by Epiphany or the visit of the Magi, which was celebrated on January 6th.  By the High Middle Ages, with Christmas becoming more prominent thanks in part to the coronation of Charlemagne on Christmas in 800 CE and William the Conqueror in 1066, Christmas was the first in a long list of religious holidays that were celebrated.  

Like Saturnalia, Christmas in the Medieval and Renaissance periods was a party, filled with drinking, overeating, and merrymaking!  

In England, Christmas kicked off a long continuous party that culminated in Twelfth Night celebrations, on January 5th.  Leading up to the Twelve Days of Christmas celebrations was Advent, which was twenty-four days of fasting and prayer. This was done by most families to save money and food for to be used the celebrations.  

“Advent calendar from Im Lande des Christkinds (In the Land of the Christ Child). Richard Ernst Kepler (1851-1927)

 

The Catholic Church at the time had strict rules about celebrating during the Twelve Days of Christmas and decreed that only the minimal amount of work could take place during the celebrations. So, Advent was used to prep the farm and household for the festivities and so no rules would be broken. 

During the Late Middle Ages and early Renaissance, a ‘Lord of Misrule’ was chosen to oversee the celebrations, particularly the Feast of Fools. In England, sometimes the Lord or King of Misrule was chosen by finding a pea in the Twelfth Night cake, not unlike King Cake today. 

In France and in Switzerland a boy would be chosen to be ‘Bishop for a Day,’ much like the Saturnalias Princeps, and would be dressed in bishop’s clothes and could give light-hearted orders though out the day. 

Gifts were usually given on New Year’s Day. On New Year’s Day 1532, Henry VIII of England accepted a set of Pyrean Boar Spears from Anne Boleyn, while he gave her hangings of cloth of gold, silver, and crimson satin. Reportedly, he rejected the gold cup his then-wife Catherine of Aragon had sent him as a gift. How rude! 

Getting a “head” of dinner. (From Pinterest)

The traditional meal during Christmas was the Yule Boar or pig for most people, since they were safer to acquire than a boar, which were quite large and could easily kill a man. Turkey was not introduced from the New World until 1532 and Henry VIII again is the first known English king to eat the bird at Christmas, since at the time, they would have been a new and rare delicacy.  

Chroniclers of the courts of Europe record magnificent feasts being held, games being played, and drunken debauchery! While most peasants couldn’t afford to spend the whole day partying, they too had their fun! 

Homes would be decorated with holly and ivy and large Yule logs, big enough to burn over the course of twelve days were selected and dragged home covered in ribbons to be put on the hearth. Christmas crowns were wooden structures built, covered in holly, ivy, and of course mistletoe, and hung in homes to add a bit of decoration.  

In Germany, in the 16th century these were called ‘kissing bough.’ Made out of evergreens like holly and bay leaves and a touch of mistletoe (of course), these were suspended from a ceiling and required any unaware couple to share a kiss before being freed.  

The Party Ends…Temporarily 

As you can see, up till the 17th century, the whole Christmas season was a never-ending party, with pageants, masques and diners, gambling and sporting, and gift-giving!  

However, in 1647, Puritans banned Christmas in England, condemning it as ‘trappings of popery’ and a Catholic invention. Basically, they didn’t like people having too much fun! Once the Parliamentary forces executed King Charles I in 1649 there wasn’t really anyone to argue with them. 

Three years earlier in 1640, the Parliament of Scotland abolished the observance of Christmas and it wasn’t until 1958 that Christmas was once again a Scottish holiday!  

The Vindication of Christmas (1652) . From thehistoryofparliament.wordpress.com.

Pro-Christmas riots occurred in several cities and with the restoration of the English monarchy in 1660 the ban was lifted, but there were many among the clergy who did not approve of any celebration of the holiday and so resumption of the celebrations were not widely common. 

Early pilgrims in Colonial America (who left England not because of religious persecution but because they believed the Anglican church was not strict enough) continued this intense dislike of Christmas and showed it, by working on Christmas day!  

After the American Revolution, Christmas was not widely celebrated in the United States because it was seen as being ‘too British’.  

It wasn’t until the Victorians and the publishing of Charles Dickens novel,  A Christmas Carol, that Christmas was again widely celebrated in the United Kingdom and the United States. 

This sparked the revival of many of the old traditions along with the emergence of some new ones such as Christmas cards and Christmas trees, though the festivities were markedly, more ‘family friendly’ than in centuries previous!  Caroling, Christmas trees, Yule logs, evergreens, gifts, and games all made a comeback and then some! 

Conclusion 

The history of Christmas, and the festivals and celebrations that influence our modern Christmas, is fascinating and I only mentioned three of many different holidays that were celebrated throughout Europe and the ancient world! 

That all these different pagan traditions were shared and changed and shaped into something new, is amazing and I am glad we still have them.  

Io Saturnalia! 

Sources: 

https://www.historic-uk.com/HistoryUK/HistoryofEngland/A-Tudor-Christmas/

https://www.history.com/news/christmas-traditions-tudor-england

https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b03ndb8c

https://www.historyextra.com/period/tudor/alison-weir-tudor-christmas-history-advent-calendar-festive-facts-siobhan-clarke/

https://www.ancient.eu/Saturnalia/

https://www.ancient.eu/Aurelian/

https://www.britannica.com/topic/Saturnalia-Roman-festival

Remembrances: A Very Gen X Christmas

When I first joined the Villa Finale project in 2008, I was very excited about the wide range of interpretive eras we could tackle. From the construction of the house in 1876 (and even before if you figure Villa Finale was built on Alamo farmland) through Walter Mathis’ death in 2005, the epochs and variety of subjects we can cover at the museum for programs, events, and the like are far-reaching, even when talking about Christmas. If you have visited Villa Finale during our Holiday Open House Tours (a first-floor, self-guided experience from now until December 19th) you may have noticed the wide-ranging decorations that include some from the 1970s and 1980s. Since I do spend a lot of time in the house, I began to think: what would it have been like to celebrate Christmas as a kid in Villa Finale?

The Mathis Christmas tree was almost always placed in the Main Hallway, ca. 1970s. Check out all the presents!

Mind you, Walter Mathis did not have any children of his own. More than likely, his great-nieces and great-nephews would have been the first children in the house during his ownership and, just like me, they would be Generation X (born between 1965 – 1980). And just like today, those children would’ve most looked forward to the presents … specifically, toys! So, what sort of toys were popular with Generation X children? Let’s reminisce a little, shall we?

Christmas 1978: opening presents with my brother while dad talked on the phone. This is the year I got my Whoopsie doll! I was so happ-ee!

There are so many toys I can cover but times-sake, I will only highlight a handful. You’re invited to share your favorites in the comments! Let’s begin with this: who remembers the catch phrase “Weebles wobble, but they don’t fall down”? Weebles, the egg-shaped roly-poly toys manufactured by Hasbro, made their debut in 1971 with a variety of “Weeble people” and accessories including vehicles and playsets. There were over 40 sets of Weebles manufactured between 1972 and 1982 but there was only ONE I just had to have: the Weebles Haunted House (1976)! Santa Claus did come through with this fun little set for us one Christmas. I guess old “scary-looking” houses were always in my future!

One of our most popular holiday programs at Villa Finale is the “Music for Your Eyes – Holiday” tour where we not only demonstrate the museum’s music machines, but also talk about toys for Christmas, especially dolls (incidentally, we will be having a live virtual version of this tour on December 17th). On the tour we talk about the Cabbage Patch, the most popular doll of all time (mass-produced by Coleco in 1982), but in this blog post I would like to mention a little-known doll, “Whoopsie.” Manufactured by Ideal between 1978 – 1981, little pigtailed Whoopsie had a vinyl body that, when its tummy was squeezed, would let out a little “whistle” as both of her pigtails would fly up. I mean, what Gen X little girl wouldn’t want one? I can’t tell you how happy my six-year-old little heart was to find Whoopsie under the Christmas tree in 1978. Thanks, Santa!

I also recall toys my brother – who is four years younger than me – wanted for Christmas. Like many little boys back in the early 80s, my brother was obssesed with “Masters of the Universe,” the Mattel line introduced in 1981 that gave us such characters as He-Man, Skeletor, Battle Cat, and all sorts of other strange, super-muscular personalities. I remember my brother had his Masters of the Universe action figures all over the house, including one He-Man that had armor that could be punched and dented at the chest! My mom never understood my brother’s fascination with those monos feos (ugly-looking action figures), but my brother sure loved them! I remember how excited he was to get the Castle Grayskull playset for Christmas one year. Castle Grayskull was where He-Man or Skeletor or someone lived – not sure. Ha!

Castle Grayskull: “Fortress of Mystery and Power for He-Man and His Foes”

We Gen Xers experienced the “golden age” of arcade video games (1978 – 1982). We loved going to the mall, having mom give us a couple of dollars in quarters to spend in the arcade while she went shopping. Gen Xers were among the first to grow up with home video game consoles, as well. I remember being about four and watching all wide-eyed as my uncles (who were in their late teens, early 20s) played Pong. It was magical! There were other home video game consoles that followed including the Atari 2600 in 1977, and the very famous 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System – NES for short – in 1985. My little neighbors had the Atari 2600 in the late 1970s and I would be as anxious as can be waiting for them to invite me over to play! That is until Christmas 1982 when Santa Claus brought us the pièce de résistance of home video game consoles (at the time): the ColecoVision!

The mighty ColecoVision! (I still have mine.)

Then it became OUR turn to host little friends for video game playtime! Released in 1982 by Coleco Industries, Inc., ColecoVision was far superior to the Atari 2600 because the graphics looked like what they were supposed to be! Donkey Kong actually looked like an ape (if you’re familiar with the Atari, you know what I’m talking about). In addition to this home console, Coleco also put out miniature table-top versions of arcade cabinets beginning in 1982. Over a couple of Christmases, Santa brought us table-top cabinets of Zaxxon, Frogger, and Donkey Kong.

From my personal collection (with scissors as a size reference). I still own these gifts from “Santa.”

If you love classic video games, do check out the National Video Game Museum in Frisco, Texas where you can travel back to play in an arcade of the 1980s called “Pixel Dreams.” Click here for more information on the NVM.

While I can’t say for sure any of the toys mentioned in this post were ever under Walter Mathis’ Christmas tree, it certainly is fun to imagine these – or others – were. Can you imagine Villa Finale’s rooms filled with the laughter of children ripping presents open and pieces of wrapping paper scattered everywhere? It would be kinda neat, don’t you think?

[Villa Finale’s virtual “Music for Your Eyes – Holiday” will be transmitted via Facebook Live on Thursday, December 17th at 6:00pm CST. Join in to share your own remembrances during the tour via the Facebook Live chat! Click here for the Facebook event page.]

Introducing “Collecting History”: Stories Inspired by Villa Finale’s Most Weird & Wonderful Curiosities

When we buy an item from an antique store, we are getting more than whatever object is on our receipts. We are acquiring stories, some of which we not even be aware of.

Paperweight housed in Villa Finale’s Green Sitting Room.

Take this cranberry glass paperweight purchased at the Texas State Fair in 1906. How far did it originally travel? What child did “Mama” gift this to? If it could talk, what sort of wonderful stories could this object tell us?

The Post at Mittenwald, ca. 1900.

What about this charming little painting called ‘The Post in Mittenwald, Bavaria,” by German artist, Georg Hemmrich (1874 – 1939). This painting is nearly lost among the dozens of other Continental paintings hanging on the Walls of Villa Finale’s Pewter Room. Why did Hemmrich choose this subject for his painting? Did this place have a significant meaning to him? If we explore the artist’s other works, we find many of his other paintings capture many of the same type of scenes. Why?

Any object can lead us to ask many questions, and what we can discover if we take the time to dig deeper, is truly fascinating! Our new video and blog series, “Collecting History”: Stories Inspired by Villa Finale’s Most Weird & Wonderful Curiosities, will highlight objects in the collection that aren’t always highlighted during our regular tours, but have more stories to tell than the eye can behold. The series will have a short video – viewable on our social media platforms and website – where we take a closer look at an object accompanied by a blog post that can be found here where we go into further detail.

Be on the lookout for this fun series. We’re looking forward to bringing it to you as well as all the fun and entertaining stories that come from it!

“Spiritual Weekend” Featuring Three Historic Properties in October

If you have been following Villa Finale’s events and programs, then you are probably aware that we will be hosting our second seance in 2018. But this year it’s more than just one night, it’s an entire weekend for those who are interested in spiritualism and the mystery behind historic homes. Our “spiritual weekend” – Friday, October 12 and Saturday, October 13 – will feature two seances and a pendulum workshop at three different historic homes in the King William neighborhood, each with its own stories of loss and sadness.

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“Hello From the Other Side” seance at Villa Finale, 2017.

The weekend begins on Friday, October 12th at Villa Finale with night one of “Hello From the Other Side: 75 Years of Spiritualism and a Live Seance.” Seance-goers will be treated to light refreshments and bar drinks themed to the evening’s occasion before being led into the house for the main event being presented by the duo of Austin Seance. Built in 1876 and remodeled at least four different times, Villa Finale has seen its share of people come and go throughout its 142-year history. Those of us who were in the house during last year’s seance “heard” footsteps in the rooms directly above us and on the main staircase. Could these sounds have been figments of our imagination? Or maybe it was the Polk family who lost the house through foreclosure in 1895 and have never really left? Could it have been Billy Keilman who owned the home and ran a brothel and speakeasy here in the mid 1920s, and was murdered off-site during his tenure? Perhaps it was one of Keilman’s disgruntled customers? We may never find out!

Otto

Otto Meusebach, ca. 1890s.

On Saturday, October 13 at 2:00pm, the weekend’s activities continue with “Pendulums: A Workshop for the Mind and Spirit” being held at Villa Finale’s Meusebach House, located across the street at 414 King William Street. Participants will learn about the history of pendulums and how to make and use them. Pendulums are simple devices that have long been used to communicate with spirits, and folks will get a chance to do just that at this historic house. Built in 1886 by Smith and Josie Ellis, the couple sold the house to Otto Carl and Martha Meusebach in 1889. Otto and his brother, Max who lived in the house briefly in the 1890s, were sons of German pioneer John O. Meusebach, founder of Fredericksburg. Both Otto and Max were known for participating in raucous saloon brawls throughout town. On November 4, 1900, the Meusebach’s fourteen-year-old daughter, Anita, died in the house after days of being ill with peritonitis. As was the custom at the time, Anita’s funeral was held in the Meusebach home. Does the spirit of Anita remain in her family’s home? Or do the rough and tough souls of Otto and Max refuse to rest? Participants at the pendulum workshop may find out!

Johanna Steves undated

Johanna Steves, undated. Courtesy of the San Antonio Conservation Society.

The last of the weekend’s activities happens later on Saturday evening with seance number two being held at the Edward Steves Homestead located one block from Villa Finale and the Meusebach house. Edward and Johanna Steves built their home in 1876 following the success of their lumber company. Just like Villa Finale and the Meusebach house, the Steves home has also seen its share of sorrow. Following Edward’s death in 1890, family members talk about Johanna sleeping in the hallway outside of the master bedroom during her period of mourning. But Johanna was a tough German woman who, despite being under 5-feet tall, was master of her home and lived there for forty years following her husband’s death. Although she baked cookies for the neighborhood kids and allowed them to swim in her pool, Johanna expected her pool cleared for her own private swim as soon as she rang a bell from her back porch.

 

Johanna died in 1930 within two weeks of her beloved son Ernest’s death. Ernest, who was the youngest, had been admitted to the hospital to get his appendix removed but, as was not too uncommon at the time, didn’t survive the procedure. Newspapers speculated Johanna died of a “broken heart” but, certainly, being 90 years old also didn’t make coping with the sorrow any easier. Like Anita Meusebach, Johanna’s casket lay in state in her home, right in front of the formal parlor’s bay window. During night two of the seance, will Johanna announce her private swim by ringing her bell? Will laughter from neighborhood children of bygone days be heard again? Join us and find out!

You can purchase each of the three events of Villa Finale’s “spiritual weekend” separately: “Hello From the Other Side” seance night one at Villa Finale ($55.00 per person), “Pendulums: A Workshop for the Mind and Spirit” at the Meusebach House ($10.00 per person), or the “Hello From the Other Side” seance night two at the Steves Homestead ($55.00 per person). If choosing just one is difficult, you can participate in all three with the “spiritual weekend bundle”: $100.00 for a chance to see “who” says “hello” from the spirit world in each of these fascinating historic homes! Come experience it for yourself.

Seance nights include light refreshments and alcoholic beverages. Seances are for audiences 18 and older only. Space is limited for all three. Click on the links below to purchase admissions or call (210) 223-9800 during business hours for tickets or more information.

Seance nights one and two and “spiritual bundle”

Workshop only – “Pendulums:  A Workshop for the Mind and Spirit”

The Story of the Holy Child of Atocha

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

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Retablos in Villa Finale’s upstairs hallway.

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

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!

San Antonio and the Rise of Chili

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

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

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

chili tables

Chili market, San Antonio, ca. 1890s.

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

 

william g tobin

William G. Tobin

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

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

Tobin chili labels

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

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

lyman davis

Lyman Davis

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Under construction!

Under construction!

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

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

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

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

First volunteer class, 2009.

First volunteer class, 2009.

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

Volunteers at our opening celebration, September 2010.

Volunteers at our opening celebration, September 2010.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Villa Finale Retreats to Forth Worth – Part 1

How many other work places take you on a retreat to visit places of interest?  Villa Finale’s staff has that unique opportunity. The past two years the staff visited Galveston but this year we went north to Fort Worth!  The trip began in the early morning hours of Tuesday, January 27th as the staff gathered – coffee cups in hand – on the grounds of Villa Finale ready to board our big white rental van (christened “the iceberg” during the trip) for the 4.5 hour drive north.  After a brief stop for breakfast goodies, our Fort Worth exploration began with a guided tour of the Japanese Garden.  Built in 1973 inside the Fort Worth Botanic Garden, the 7-acre site was once a gravel quarry and dumping place for manure produced by the military’s equine.  Years of manure droppings made it an ideal location for the growth of lush green plants.  Many of the plants were donated by businesses and individuals, not only from Fort Worth but throughout the United States.  The result is a lush paradise of fine greenery accessible by winding paths which whisk you away to another place.  The bridges, rolling hills and decks provide a tranquil place of reflection and serenity.  If you ever visit, make sure you feed the Koi – they are eager to make your acquaintance!

After a well-deserved night’s rest everyone was up and ready to go for another day of cultural expansion.  Wednesday morning’s first stop was Thistle Hill, a mansion built in 1904 now owned and operated by Historic Fort Worth, Inc. a local partner of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.  Historic Fort Worth was founded in 1969 to preserve the city’s identity through stewardship, education and leadership. The organization was gifted the property in 2005 but not before it was saved from demolition in 1974 by a group of concerned citizens who raised $240,000 to purchase the property.  That came during a time when many of the city’s oldest and most beautiful homes – located in a once opulent area called Quality Hill – were being razed for parking lots and modern businesses.  Citizens knew a part of the city’s rich history would be lost if some of the homes weren’t saved from the wrecking ball, and, indeed, Thistle Hill is a gorgeous treasure!

The home was built as a wedding gift by Albert Buckman Wharton – who owned Fort Worth’s first auto dealership – for his new bride, Electra, the beautiful daughter of one of the city’s wealthiest cattle barons.  As I listened to this I thought, wow, what a great wedding gift!  Some of us would get luck to get a crock pot!  And Albert spared no expense – he paid $46,000 (that’s well over $1 million dollars today) for the 11,000 square foot abode that, although grand in every way, is incredibly practical and comfortable.  I was most particularly impressed with the wall decor in what used to be the billiards room; the walls have several inspirational quotes and sayings. The Whartons didn’t live in the house very long before they sold it to Elizabeth and Winfield Scott in 1911.  The Scotts immediately began remodeling the home from its original Colonial design to a Georgian Revival style.  Unfortunately, Mr. Scott died a few months after the property was purchased and never lived in the house.  Mrs. Scott and her son Winfield, Jr. moved into the house in 1912 after all remodeling projects were completed.  Thistle Hill would be her home for the next twenty-six years during which time she hosted a variety of social events.

After Elizabeth’s death in 1936, Winfield, Jr. sold the home to the Girls Service League as a safe and positive place for young women to live while they completed their education.  However, as women became more independent and it was “acceptable” for young ladies to be out on their own, the need for Thistle Hill as a rooming house became irrelevant and the organization abandoned the building.  The house was left empty for a number of years until it was purchased in 1974.

Historic Fort Worth also owns the Ball-Eddleman-McFarland House only a few blocks away; this was our next stop.  Now the headquarters of Historic Fort Worth, the first floor can be rented out for small private events and weddings.  Although smaller than Thistle Hill, the Victorian charm of this home can be seen inside and out.  The Queen Anne style Victorian house was constructed in 1899, also in Quality Hill, by Sarah Ball, the widow of George Ball, a wealthy banker in Galveston.  Sarah, who paid roughly $38,000 to have the house built, chose this site not only because it sat atop a bluff above the Trinity River – thus providing great views – but also because it was right next door to her physician, Dr. Joseph Pollock.  Ball died in 1904, merely five years after the home was constructed, and that same year it was purchased by William H. Eddleman, a cattleman and founder of Western National Bank.  Eddleman and his wife had one daughter, Carrie, who was the light of their life.  When Carrie met and fell in love with Frank H. McFarland, the Eddlemans gave their blessing as long as McFarland didn’t take their daughter too far away after marriage.  So what did the couple do?  They moved in with Carrie’s parents: now there’s a gentleman for you!  The Eddlemans remodeled an upstairs bedroom as a suite for the young couple, and the four lived under the same roof until the death of Carrie’s parents.  Frank McFarland died in 1948 and Carrie lived in the home until her death in 1978 – that is a total of 75 years in one home!

The McFarland house is very beautiful and charming.  The exterior features turrets, gables, carved sandstone, marble and copper.  The interior is rich with colorful stained glass, splendid woodwork including coffered ceilings and parquet floors throughout and so much more!  I could go on and on about the features of this home, but it really is something you have to see for yourself.  It’s wonderful that the Junior League of Fort Worth purchased the home in 1979 thus saving it from eventual demolition before it was purchased by Historic Fort Worth.  Both Thistle Hill and the McFarland House are available for guided tours.

So much to tell about places we visited during our trip to Fort Worth!  I will be blogging about the rest of our trip over the next few days.  Villa Finale’s staff would like to thank our wonderful docents at the Japanese Garden, Mr. and Mrs. Winn; Diann at Thistle Hill, Jimmy at McFarland House, as well as Historic Forth Worth, for their generous hospitality!