Posts

road report: Harold in San Antonio

I had the pleasure of announcing our new Affiliation with The Witte Museum in San Antonio on October 7, 2014.  By coincidence The Witte was also celebrating its 88th birthday, so it was a double pleasure.  Marise McDermott, President and CEO presided over the announcement ceremony which included San Antonio Mayor Ivy Taylor and City Council member Keith Toney.  Kind words were spread all around; as always I was humbled and honored to represent the Smithsonian.

San Antonio River runs by the Witte Museum, creating a 13 mile trail from Breckenridge Park to downtown.

San Antonio River runs by the Witte Museum, creating a 13 mile trail from Breckenridge Park to downtown.

I met many wonderful people at the Witte and discovered interesting connections between the Witte and the Smithsonian, especially in the field of paleontology and archaeology.  Dinosaurs once ruled south Texas, and Witte Museum Curator of Paleontology and Geology, Thomas Adams, Ph.D., is literally hot on their trail – uncovering dino tracks and other significant fossil remains.  Harry Shafer, Ph.D, Witte Museum Curator of Archeology, Professor Emeritus at Texas A&M University,  has been studying rock art along the lower Pecos River, among the most sophisticated finds in North America.

San Antonio's Chili Queens are alive and well (and widely appreciated) at the Witte Museum.

San Antonio’s Chili Queens are alive and well (and widely appreciated) at the Witte Museum.

The Smithsonian has many long-term interests in San Antonio.  The Smithsonian American Art Museum includes works by artists, Jesse Trevino and Mel Casas; Smithsonian Folkways documents the musical heritage of San Antonio, from legendary corrido singer Lydia Mendoza to Grammy Award winning Los Texmaniacs; and the Smithsonian Magazine recently paid tribute to San Antonio’s fabulous Chili Queens, 19th century food entrepreneurs who helped make the taco the world’s favorite meal.

The new South Texas Heritage Center at the Witte Museum -- a taste of more to come.

The new South Texas Heritage Center at the Witte Museum — a taste of more to come.

There’s a lot going on at the Witte on which to build our partnership and more to come when the museum completes Phase II of its grand expansion project in 2017.

Angelica Docog and Aaron Parks of the UTSA Institute of Texan Cultures, our other Affiliate in San Antonio, joined the festivities and then brought me back to see an amazing exhibit on Texas Quilts on display in their facility in Hemisphere Park.  We talked about several new exhibits they are planning to install including one on Sikh history and culture from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. Angelica filled me in on the success of their Smithsonian Youth Access Grant, Young Historians/Living Histories and how it helped the Institute build bridges to San Antonio’s Korean community.

What would a Texas be without a long-horned steer?  This might be one of the longest long-horns.

What would a Texas be without a long-horned steer? This might be one of the longest long-horns.

One cannot visit San Antonio without feeling a sense of vibrancy – a growing city with a strong economy, a major convention and tourist destination, a proud history and a bright future.  How wonderful to see our Affiliate colleagues leading the charge.

Tomorrow, I get to announce another new Affiliate – Space Center Houston.  It’s a good week for lifting off!

are you wendish?

wendishThis question has been on my mind since visiting the Institute of Texan Cultures to announce our new affiliation on January 28, 2010.  Housed in the formidable Texas Pavilion, a landmark of San Antonio’s HemisFair Park, the Institute celebrates the diverse heritage of early Texans in its core exhibition, Texans One and All. Here one finds thoughtfully interpreted and artifact-filled displays of Mexican, African American, Czech, German, Jewish, and Lebanese Texans, among others, and…. Wends.

A quick survey of friends and Smithsonian savants revealed that I was not alone in my unfamiliarity with this group of Texans.  Wends it turns out are a Slavic people who began migrating into Germany and the Baltic region in the first millennium and have maintained their ethnic identity ever since.  The Wends of Texas, better known as Sorbs or Lusatian Serbs, first arrived in Texas in 1853, settling in German speaking areas, and eventually populating the towns of Serbin and Giddings.

itc

UTSA President Dr. Ricardo Romo; Dr. Harriett Romo Director of UTSA CAPRI/MEXICO CENTER; Harold Closter, Director of Smithsonian Affiliations and Tim Gette, Executive Director, ITC.

The Institute of Texan Cultures, organizer of the Texas Folklife Festival, served as a catalyst for the revitalization of Wendish culture in Texas through its annual call for festival participants, which helped to launch the Texas Wendish Heritage Society.  Today, according to the Institute, “the community at Serbin holds an annual Wendish Fest and extends a welcome, Witajcže K’nam, to visitors. During the affair church services are conducted in German and English, a Czech band may play, and corn-shucking contests are held. Some of the local descendants dress in European Wendish costume.”  The Institute emphasizes colorful Wendish wedding traditions in its display.

This is just one of the many stimulating encounters to be found at the Institute of Texan Cultures.  It is not surprising that a state with so much space and so many natural resources would be a magnet for so many different people.  Whether familiar or not, there is always much to learn about the heritage of our predecessors, and the adaptations and sacrifices made or forced upon them.  At the Texas banquet table, diversity is served in complex and compelling dishes.  There’s room for all at this enormous spread….including the Wendish.

gette_congressman

Tim Gette and Congressman Charles A. Gonzalez (TX-20) at ceremony announcing the affiliation between the Institute of Texan Cultures and the Smithsonian Institution.

Stop by the Institute of Texan Cultures when you are next in San Antonio and offer a hearty Witajcže K’nam.  They’ll know what you’re talking about.