The Grace Museum explores “Spanish Texas” in its latest exhibit


"Our Lady of Carmel" by José de Paez, c. 1790. (Photo: Courtesy of San Angelo Museum of Fine Arts)

"Our Lady of Carmel" by José de Paez, c. 1790. (Photo: Courtesy of San Angelo Museum of Fine Arts)

SOURCE: EL PASO TIMES
Janet Van Vleet, Abilene Reporter News
6:04 p.m. MDT September 24, 2016

The Spanish influence in Texas is unmistakable, from the names of geographical landmarks and locations — the Rio Grande, the Brazos River and Amarillo — to the cowboys who ride the range and the missions scattered across the state.

The Grace Museum celebrates that influence and traces the history in the "Spanish Texas: Legend & Legacy" exhibit that opened Saturday.

Similar to the "Home on the Range" exhibit, each of the galleries in The Grace will focus on the "Spanish Texas" theme. The "Home" exhibit was on display for four months and brought in more than 16,000 visitors. The "Spanish Texas" exhibit will hang for six months.

They want it to be something for all of Abilene and especially want the Hispanic community to feel welcome, said Judy Deaton, chief curator for The Grace.

"The Spanish Legacy in Abilene" will be in the third floor History Museum. The Grace has been working in conjunction with the Hispanic Business Council on the exhibit.

On the first floor, a portion of renown Texas artist Tom Lea's "Pass of the North" mural in the Historic Federal Courthouse in El Paso, will be in the atrium area next to the stairs.

In the main gallery, "Conquistadors: Spanish Exploration in Texas" and "Spanish Missions: Faith on the Texas Frontier" will include a mix of art and artifacts, including chain mail, weapons and armor. "Vaqueros: Genesis of the Texas Cowboy" will feature art, along with maps, saddles and other paraphernalia.

This exhibit would not be as comprehensive and extensive without the art lent to The Grace Museum by various museums, art organizations and private collections.

Locally, Lisa and Tom Perini, the Hispanic Business Council, the Hispanic Heritage Committee, Prosperity Bank and Frontier Texas! all contributed to the exhibit.

"We have right around 170 pieces from 15 lenders," said Amanda Dietz, The Grace registrar.

"Mexican Mother" by Jerry Bywaters, 1936. (Photo: Collection of The Grace Museum)

"Mexican Mother" by Jerry Bywaters, 1936. (Photo: Collection of The Grace Museum)

Michael Grauer, associate director of Curatorial Affairs/Art & Western Heritage at the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum, has worked on many exhibits with The Grace, dating back to 1989, when it still was the Museum of Fine Arts, But the last five or six years has seem more collaboration between the two museums and Grauer and Deaton. The PPHM loaned a variety of things for this show.

"I think it runs the gamut," Grauer said about the items PPHM loaned. "Works of fine art — paintings and sculptures, Spanish armor and Spanish weapons and a saddle or two."

He said when many people think of the Spanish influence in Texas, they think about the area around San Antonio and the missions. But the reach of New Spain goes far to the West, right into West Texas, with the introduction of horses, cattle and the vaquero way of life.

Grauer said the lack of missions in West Texas and the end of the reach of New Spain can be directly attributed to the Comanche.

"Out in the West, the Comanche were too much for them," he said. "The Comanche were the most aggressive people we've had in North America."

Besides the PPHM, other lenders include the Amon Carter Museum of American Art in Fort Worth, the Amarillo Museum of Art, the El Paso Museum of Art, the Tom Lea Institute and the San Angelo Museum of Art.

"Front View of the Alamo, Team-Drawn Wagon in Front," by Abraham Lewis, c. 1906. (Photo: Courtesy of the Amon Carter Museum of American Art)

"Front View of the Alamo, Team-Drawn Wagon in Front," by Abraham Lewis, c. 1906. (Photo: Courtesy of the Amon Carter Museum of American Art)

Andrew Gustafson is the curator at The Bryan Museum in Galveston. The Bryan loaned a number of pieces to the "Spanish Texas" exhibit, including maps, art pieces by José Arpa, José Cisneros and Porfirio Salinas and maps of the area, some by the Spanish, others by the French.

Also from The Bryan are photos commissioned some 25 years ago by J.P. Bryan, founder of the museum, of the Texas missions.

"These are unique to our collection — they are nice, architectural photographs," Gustafson said. "The staircase is one of my favorites."

Bryan is a descendant of Stephen F. Austin's sister and has collected a very eclectic, very large private collection, Gustafson said. The museum opened in June 2015.

Mary Burke is the director of the Sid Richardson Museum in Fort Worth, which specializes in fine art paintings of the American West, as well as some historic objects.

Frank Tenney Johnson, Contrabandista a la Frontera, 1925, oil on canvas, Courtesy Sid Richardson Museum, Fort Worth, Texas.

Frank Tenney Johnson, Contrabandista a la Frontera, 1925, oil on canvas, Courtesy Sid Richardson Museum, Fort Worth, Texas.

The Grace asked to borrow "Contrabandista a la Frontera" for the exhibit.

"It's a very painterly painting," Burke said about the 1925 piece that measures 3 feet by 4 feet. "It's a very commanding painting."

She said the "Spanish Legacy" exhibit will showcase the heritage of the Spanish influence in Texas that is still manifesting itself now.

"This painting represents a border smuggler," she said. "That is still a topic today."

Some of the art representing the era of the missions include santos — wooden sculptures of saints, and retablos — devotional art that often includes 3-D aspects.

The maps on display will have magnifying glasses nearby for a close-up look. A video on the second floor, also named "Vaquero: Genesis of the American Cowboy," features Tom Perini, Grauer and Rex Koontz, director of the School of Art at the University of Houston.

Programming for the event includes an all-Spanish language program of short films at the October "Grace After Dark" event, screenings of the PBS documentary series "Latino Americans" and a Día de los Muertos Family Night, among others.

The Grace is also working with Abilene Christian and Hardin-Simmons universities language departments to translate the text and help with programming, said Rebecca Bridges, who oversees programming and interpretation at The Grace.

"We're discussing ways to better serve the community," she said.

"Spanish Texas: Legend & Legacy" offers a multilevel, multimedia, sweeping look at early historical influences on the Lone Star State, something that's never been done here in Abilene.

"I think Judy Deaton should be applauded for weaving something together that is so vast and complicated — she's a master weaver," Grauer said. "She had a big vision and it's all come to fruition."

Plan a trip

What: The Grace Museum presents “Spanish Texas: Legend & Legacy”

When: Main exhibit open through March 11; “Vaqueros: Genesis of the Texas Cowboy” open through Feb. 11 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, 5-8 p.m. Thursday.

Where: The Grace Museum, 102 Cypress St, Abilene, TX 79601

Admission: $6 adults, $3 seniors/students/nonactive duty military, free admission for children ages 3 and younger; always free for active-duty military and families; free admission from 5-8 p.m. Thursday

Upcoming events

Sept. 29 — 6:30 p.m. “Latino Americans: Foreigners in Their Own Land” documentary

Oct. 6 — 6:30 p.m. “Latino Americans: Empire of Dreams” documentary

Oct. 13 — 8 p.m. “Grace After Dark will feature all Spanish-language films

Oct. 13 — “Spanish Poetry Night” presented by Abilene Christian University Sigma Delta Pi (still in development)

Oct. 20 — 7 p.m. “Talk: The Life and Legacy of Tom Lea,” Adair Margo, president of the Tom Lea Institute, speaks about the renown Texas artist

Oct. 27 — 6:30 p.m. “Latino Americans: War & Peace” documentary

Nov. 3 — Día de los Muertos Family Night

Nov. 3 — 6:30 p.m. “Latino Americans: The New Latinos” documentary

More events are in the works for the end of the year and into the spring. “Spanish Texas: Legend & Legacy” will be on display through March 11.