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This huipil in the Institute of Texan Cultures collection is a type of tunic found in Latin America. Most huipils come from Mexico or Guatemala, and are made by Mayan peoples. Before the Spanish arrived, Mayan textiles were made for religious purposes, trade, and clothing; much like today. However, the types and shapes of clothing worn were different from what was worn in Europe at the same time.
Mayan textiles were traditionally made of hand woven brown cotton also known as ixcaco with colorful brocade geometric designs. The Maya used many types of natural dyes to achieve rich colors for their huipils. Shades of blue and green were created from the plant family of Indigofera to produce indigo. Squeezing the ocean mollusk purpura patula produced a lavender and purple dye. Red was created by grinding the insect known as the cochineal. The Mayans use of colors had meaning and significance. Yellow represented the maize or corn that they harvested or for the sun. Life and energy was symbolized by the color red. Design was also important to the Mayans. They used geometric patterns, stripes and nature designs like flowers and animals. The colors, patterns and type of weaving used in making huipil are often specific to certain tribes or regions.
Mayans are taught at a young age how to weave. Sitting on the ground, one end of the loom is attached to a tree and the bottom of the loom is belted around their waist to keep the warp tight. There are many types of weaves. The most commonly seen in Latin American huipil are the basket weave, and the weft-faced plain weave. Only rarely is the twill weave used. The type of cotton used, how the cotton is spun, the weave pattern used and tightness of the weaving all effect how the fabric wears and drapes when made into clothing. The tightness of the weave is created in two ways. The first is by beating the weft down tightly using a “beater” or “beater bar” to pack the weft strings close together. The second depends on how tightly the warp and weft strings are held during the weaving process, often referred to as tension.
Today most Mayans do not wear huipils anymore as it is a symbol of old traditions. Though those who still want to show a connection of their past continue to do so. Women will wear the huipil daily as traditional dress. The men wear theirs mainly for ceremonial purposes or for official business matters. [Marisol Martinez, edited by Kathryn McCloud]
North or Central America
The Cross of Lorraine in the Institute of Texan Cultures collections is a beautiful bronze cross, believed to be from the Spanish Colonial era. This type of cross has many names besides Cross of Loraine, but in Spain it is called Cruz de Lorena. The name Lorraine comes from the name of the German king, Lothaire Lorraine. This style of cross is also known as the Anjou Cross, Free French Cross, or the de Gaulle Cross or Gaullist Cross. It has also become a symbol of respiratory disease and was used as a medical cross in WWI. It has two horizontal arms with the figure of Christ of one side and the Virgin Mary on the other side. It is unusual for this type of cross to show the Virgin Mary.
The Cross of Lorraine design, which is believed to have originated in Syria was an ideogram of a shepherd’s hook, has been adapted by many people, groups and events throughout history. The two-tiered cross, signifying higher authority, was granted to the religious order of the Knights Templar and they could wear the symbol on their flags and shields. The Knights Templar was a Catholic military order created in 1139 by the Pope Innocent II. They led the crusades and were known as the “warriors of god,” they vowed to carry out their acts in the name of the church. The cross was adopted by the Godfrey of Boullon, Duke of Lorraine and first King of Jerusalem during the First Crusades.
In the 12th century the Hungarians had coins with this cross on them. It is also in their coat of arms and is displayed on their flag. The Cross of Lorraine is also associated with Joan of Arc, a 1400s French peasant girl from Lorraine that went on to become a renowned military and religious leader. She heard voices and saw visions, which she believed to be that of Archangel Michael, Saint Margaret, and Saint Catherine of Alexandria. This lead her to fight the English in the name of King Charles of France. To keep from burning at the stake when she was captured by the English, she renounced that she heard voices and saw visions and was imprisoned instead. She later was tried for wearing men’s clothes and was then burned at the stake. She was canonized in 1920 by Pope Benedict the XV. In the 14th and 15th centuries it was used to represent the second House of Anjou which is situated in Lorraine, France. In 1902 in an effort to spread the word about the disease of tuberculosis the symbol of the Cross of Lorraine was used.
During WWI it was also used by the United States 79th infantry who were situated in Lorraine. Known as the liberty division. The cross symbolized victory and freedom. During WWII a military force represented by Charles de Gaulle known as the Free French Forces adopted the cross to its flag. It was a red cross in front of a blue background. The flag became the symbol of Free France during 1941. It was also used as the Patriarchal Cross, an emblem of an archbishop. To this day the American Lung Association and other organizations like currently use the cross as a symbol. [Marisol Martinez, edited by Kathryn McCloud]
Materials: Paper, ink
In 1917, Gus Louis “Max” Levine opened up a small general store in Sealy, Texas. He was later joined by his brothers Abe and Maurice after WWI. They sold the usual items at their general store, things such as cloth, sacks of flour, kerosene and other household items. They kept an inventory of their merchandise and what was bought and sold was all recorded in a ledger. The ledger that was donated to the Institute of Texan Cultures has a list of items on each page that describes the goods or items that were sold at their store in December 1923. Some goods listed in the ledger are seeds, hats, hosiery, wheat, dress goods and of course groceries. In 1928 they added a partition that enabled customers to go into a separate area for dry goods. There you could purchase clothing for the family, fabric, sheets, towels some kitchen furniture and Samsonite luggage. The also sold farming equipment and supplies.
According to Max’s son, Melvyn, most of their customers were sharecroppers. In the early 1900s sharecropping was wide spread in the Sealy area and about 95% of the population were African American. The Levine family prided themselves on not being prejudice about who they did business with. According to Mr. Levine, “business was business” and one’s word and a handshake were a legal agreement.
The Levine Brothers were one of the first, if not the first, to offer coupon books to make purchases. However, unlike today’s coupons the coupons in the books were used more like credit cards than to get a discount on an item. This was also carefully documented in ledgers to keep track of lines of credit that were collected at the end of the month. The coupon books let people buy items on credit. The amount spent was removed from the coupon books and attached to the ledger. A tally of the months purchases was kept along with what was owed at the end of the month. The money was due when the harvest was sold at the end of the growing season.
In 1948, Max Levine died in a train crossing accident and after his death the brothers maintained the store. Max’s son, Melvyn and his mother moved to Houston, but during the summers he would return to Sealy to help out his uncles in the store. The Levine Brother General Store was very successful, after being in business for seventy-seven years the store closed its doors in 1994. [Marisol Martinez, edited by Kathryn McCloud]
Jinkins, John Edward, James M. McGrann, Stephen H. Amosson, Raymond C. Battalio, and Lawrence A. Lippke. The Impact of Share Leasing on the Financial Condition of Farm Operations in the Texas Panhandle. 1989.
Materials: Wood, coconut shell, horse hair
The Chinese violin on display in the Music Room area of the Institute of Texan Cultures is a huqin or “Hu-Chin” which is a general term given to any spiked fiddle. One type of huqin, called the “erhu,” is identified by its distinctive hexagonal sound box. Hugin are two-stringed instruments often made of rosewood, with gut strings and a horsehair bow. The strings on the violin can also be made of silk in stead of gut. The two pegs at the top of the violin adjust the tension of the strings and can be used to tune the instrument. The sound box of this hugin is made of a coconut shell and covered with a thin piece of wood to help produce the sound, other hugin may use an animal or snake skin to cover the sound box.
When played it sounds melodic and ancient, which you would expect when looking at the violin. It has a long fret board but, unlike a traditional Western style violin, it is not played with the musician’s fingers pressing the strings against the board. Instead the musician uses their fingers to tighten the strings without pressing them against the fret board. The instrument is played vertically, while sitting on the lap of the violinist with the bow passing between the strings of the violin.
This instrument is not easy to master and takes many years and discipline to learn. Guiding the bow through the strings and using the other hand to control vibrato and pitch is not easy. Because the strings float on top of the board; intonation is not easy to achieve. With lots of practice, the erhu can produce sounds that imitate birds chirping, horses neighing, and other calmer sounds. It is a very expressive instrument.
Made from mostly natural materials it does require upkeep in order to maintain the instrument. If the sound box is covered in skin, every few years the membrane must be replaced because it will stretch out and lose its tension over the box. The horsehair on the bow must also be restrung because over time the hair will break or become loose. More modern types of bows have a screw to adjust the tension of the horsehair, so it can be left loose when the bow is not in use. This practice makes the hair of the bow last longer, so it doesn’t have to be replaced as often.
You can see people playing this instrument at Asian Festivals or in the Chinese orchestra where the erhu is usually a solo instrument. A higher-pitched version of the Huqin or “Hu-Chin,” with a smaller resonator surface and shorter post is called the gaohu, or nanhu. A larger, lower-pitched version of the erhu is called zhonghu. All three sizes are valuable members of the orchestra. [Marisol Martinez, edited by Kathryn McCloud]
M. J. Breitenbach Co.
Materials: Glass, metal, paper
Before there were pharmacies, people would go to their neighborhood chemist and into their neighborhood apothecary. Inside this shop you could find liniments, ointments and other medicinals to help aid in healing. Apothecaries used plants and other substances to make remedies and were the place to go for medical treatment and information when doctors weren’t available.
Recipes for medicine have been found dating back to 1890-1100 BC in ancient Egypt, Babylonia and Greece. Chinese apothecaries wrote encyclopedias listing almost every herbal remedy available. Many people still use herbal remedies today. People who take natural herbal remedies do so because they trust that the traditional plant-based remedies that have been around for hundreds of years do have benefits. Though apothecary chemists did not always have formal medical training, they were aware of the medicinal effects of certain plants and substances and relied on that to concoct a remedy. Plants like garlic, opium poppies, willow, and chamomile have all been known for their medical properties for many years. Apothecaries were generally careful about their methods and instructions of how to use their medicines. Many of the techniques developed by apothecaries on how to properly store, organize and measure medicinal ingredients led to the creation of today’s medical laboratories.
Before there were dentists and surgeons, apothecaries would take care of things like amputations of limbs, dental needs, birthing deliveries and training new students in the medical arts. If you would walk into an apothecary shop you would see bottles of medicine, containers of liquids, creams and herbs needed to help with ailments.
The hexagonal shaped bottle in the Institute of Texan Cultures collection is filled with a remedy for anemia called Gude’s Pepto- Mangan and manufactured by the M.J Brietenbach Co. of New York. Anemia is a medical condition that effects the blood. Patients with anemia do not have enough red blood cells in their blood to properly distribute oxygen throughout the body. Pepto-Mangan was a compound of magnesium and iron peptonate which was intended to reduce stomach problems and acid reflux, and was thought to enrich the blood with iron. It was noted that once patients had taken Gude’s Pepto-Mangan their symptoms decreased, and after a few days they were back to their regular selves. Pepto- Mangan was a dark clear colored liquid but, was said to have had a light taste and not a harsh medicinal one. This is a surprising description, because it contained 16% alcohol. The recommended dosage for adults was four tablespoons a day, children over the age of 5 could have up to a teaspoon three times a day. [Marisol Martinez, edited by Kathryn McCloud]
San Antonio, TX
Materials: Wood, paper, ink
This cigar box in the Institute of Texan Cultures collections was for a private blend of cigars, made especially for the exclusive Travis Club in San Antonio. They were produced by the Finck Cigar Company in San Antonio, Texas.
In an interview conducted by ITC, the grandson of Mr. Henry Finck, Bill Finck speaks of the history of his family and the formation of the cigar company. Mr. Ryan Finck, the great-great grandfather of Bill Finck came to San Antonio from Germany where he published a newspaper both in English and German. Following an outbreak of cholera, Ryan Finck and his family (including Henry) moved to New Orleans in 1856. However, when they landed there was an outbreak of yellow fever running through the city. The family stayed in New Orleans until Henry made his way back to San Antonio in 1893.
While living in New Orleans, Henry learned about tobacco and the many diverse cultures in the region. When he returned to San Antonio in 1893 it wasn’t for business purposes but because he was diagnosed with tuberculosis and was told that the dry air and gulf breezes in Texas would be good for him. However, he eventually discovered that he had been falsely diagnosed with tuberculosis and he recovered from whatever illness he was suffering from in New Orleans.
With a loan of $1000 he started his own cigar business with a shipment of tobacco sent from one of his former employers in New Orleans. Back then the cigar business was booming in San Antonio and he was just one of several cigar manufacturers starting up in the city. As his business grew he obtained his tobacco from Connecticut, Cuba and South America. The Travis Club blend was made exclusively for the local men’s club and contained a mixture of several types of tobacco from different locations. The club building is featured on the cigar box both on the lid and on the inside. The club was started in 1909 and was the old Elks Club but was transitioned into the Travis Club. The club was located on the corner of Pecan and Navarro St. across from the St. Anthony Hotel.
According to the Finck Cigar Company website, the Dominican blend of the Travis Club exclusive cigar is hand rolled by only the most beautiful of Dominican women. It is considered a privilege to be chosen to roll these fine cigars. Many of the employees have worked for the company for almost 70 years, including Liberata Fernandez who worked with the company for 86 years and Rafaela Sanchez who worked there for 72 years.
It has been said that the cigars may have been the cause of the Travis Club’s closure. In its last years the Travis Club opened its membership to young officers and students. The cigars, at the time only available to members, were so popular with these officers and the students that they pushed to have the cigars available outside of the club. But, once men no longer had to be a member of the club to get the cigars, club membership rapidly declined. The Travis Club blend cigar is still available today. Now offered in both a light blend and dark blend, they still come in a special box featuring the Travis Club building, long after the closure of the club. [Marisol Martinez, edited by Kathryn S. McCloud]
Materials: Wood, metal, paint
Before the invention of the computer or calculator, merchants used counting boards or an abacus to keep track of inventory and their finances. The abacus replaced other primitive counting devices such as fingers, sea shells and small rocks or sticks. Beginning in 2700 BCE the Sumerian people documented the use of an abacus, made up of small rods and beads using cuneiform figures and one of the first known number system. This helped them to devise all sorts of calculations. In the 19th century, a Greek version of the abacus was found on the Greek Island of Salamis that dates back to 300B.C.E. It was made of a marble slab that had smaller pieces of wood or marble used to count with. This was the design of the abacus used in Western Europe until the French Revolution.
It wasn’t until the 13th century that the Chinese abacus, or suan pan, was first known to be used. Around this time the Japanese also adapted their own version of the abacus called the soroban, which is the same style as the one in the collections here at Institute of Texan Cultures. Unlike the Chinese version, the Japanese version has two beads on each rod at the top known as the “heavenly beads” and 5 beads on the lower end of the rod, known as the “earthly beads.” The upper and lower beads are divided by a reckoning bar. Each bead on the upper rods represent a value of 5. While the beads on the lower end of the rods represent the value of 1. Each rod is a value of a tenths place, more than 9 rods are needed when calculating high number values.
There are several styles of abacus developed in China and Japan, including the 1/4, the 1/5 and the 2/5. Other countries have their own style of abacus. The Russian version, called the schoty, pronounced (SHAW-tee), was invented in the 17th century and each row has ten beads representative of our ten fingers. New versions of the abacus were still being developed as late as the 20th century. In 1958, a manual was published by Lee Kai-chen for a new style of abacus he recently invented. It is made up of two abaci. The top is the ¼ style soroban and the bottom is the 2/5 suan pan. He developed this hybrid version to help perform calculations of square and cubic roots.
Learning how to use an abacus is not a simple task and takes some time to master. There are many instructional videos and articles available online that show you step-by-step how to use an abacus. It is easier if you have one in front of you to fully understand its use. There are schools in the U.S and around the world that implement the abacus in their curriculum when teaching arithmetic. Children can learn simple calculations and keeps their hands busy at the same time, helping them learn how to focus. Even with all of our modern gadgets and easy access to calculators, learning manual calculations can be useful in case of power outages or emergency situations. [Marisol Martinez, edited by Kathryn S. McCloud]
San Antonio, TX
Materials: Paper & ink
The San Antonio and Aransas Pass railway or “SAAP” was a railway system that connected San Antonio to Aransas Bay . It was chartered in August 28, 1884 with its first stop in Floresville. It was one of only two railroad systems that came out of San Antonio. The railway was built to compete with the Galveston Harrisburg & San Antonio Railroad which was part of the Southern Pacific rail system. The “SAAP” also helped to connect San Antonio to Corpus Christi in 1887, the destination port of Aransas Pass was not reached till 1889. Vacationers rode the railway in comfort and style on their way between Corpus Christi and San Antonio. The cattle that used to be driven on this trail were now transported on the railway, which led to a healthier sleeker cow.
The SAAP was the dream of Uriah Lott, he was not a wealthy man but had drive and vision. His first rail was the Tex-Mex Railway, it began with only one mile of track and was built with the help of other investors such as the San Antonio Street Car Company and donors like Mifflin Kenedy from Corpus Christi . The “SAAP” railway pass in the collection of ITC belonged to Mr. Edward Kotula, an immigrant from Poland, who became known as the “Wool King of Texas”. He was also one of the first directors of the “SAAP” and was willing to invest to bring enterprise to San Antonio. He had a wholesale grocery store and a wool commission office off of Alamo Plaza and he also sold wool from the depot.
Most of the railway was made from parts of older railways no longer in use. Even the cars used were recycled, but they were needed to get this railway going. The only thing not secondhand was the depot, though not as impressive as the Galveston Depot, it had a steeple that gave the building its signature “look”. It opened in 1886 with the steeple at the front corner it had two floors. The ground floor was used for waiting, offices, lunch counters and had a telegraph service. The railway offices were situated on the top floor. It stopped functioning as a depot in 1925 and was the building was gone by 1935. The site, at the corner of Alamo St. and South Flores, is now home to the Salvation Army Thrift Store. This depot was where Teddy Roosevelt left with his Rough Riders in 1898, on their way to fight in Cuba. Today, if you want to sit in some of the old booths from the train depot you only have to walk to the Little Rhine Steakhouse which is only two blocks from the Alamo.
The San Antonio and Aransas Pass railway went under due to a financial crisis following numerous derailments and a deadly bridge accident. These accidents could have been due to the use of second hand materials or not setting a stable foundation under the tracks. Its last run was made in 1925. Most of the track has been abandoned but, as of 1994 some of it is still in use, running from San Antonio to Houston. [Marisol Martinez, edited by Kathryn S. McCloud]
Materials: Metal, wood
An essential household item in the Victorian era, used on everything from garments to shoes. A button hook was an ideal tool to have on hand when needing to button a difficult button. In the Victorian era clothing, including shoes were worn tighter than clothes today and as close to the body as possible, with many buttons and laces to hold them in place. Shoes and articles of clothing of this style often needed a button hook to help fasten them. Particularly when the buttons were spaced fairly close together. So, a button hook was a good device to have. It was a small tool with a handle that had a long metal hook attached. The hook itself came in different diameters ranging from ¼ inches loops to 3/8 inches loops for larger buttons.
Introduced in 1611 in France, it was used throughout Europe and patented in 1876. It was described in the patent as “an instrument to facilitate the buttoning of shoes, gloves and like purposes.” Men were the first to have a need for this tool when wearing spats, also known as spatter dashers, and gaiters were popular men’s fashions. The gaiter, which was made of cloth or leather went on top of the shoe like a wrap or covering. The buttons on the gaiter helped to keep it in place and the button hook was used to aid in fastening the small buttons. Women’s shoes at that time resembled men’s spats but with a higher heel. They were buttoned up past the ankle, often with more than 6 buttons. Button hooks were an important tool for changing one’s shoes in Victorian times.
Portability of a button hook was essential when traveling. Most shoe manufactures also produced a button hook that was included with the shoe and had the name of the manufacturer printed on them. Some shoes even had a small pocket or loop inside the shoe for keeping a hook, in case of any emergencies.
The button hook currently in the collections here at the Institute of Texan Cultures came with an past. Donated to the museum in 2004 along with several other items, it was donated by a former electrician who worked at the notorious Chicken Ranch Brothel. The Chicken Ranch operated in La Grange, TX from 1905 to 1973, and was the inspiration for the movie “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas,” and the song “La Grange” by ZZ Top. It isn’t entirely clear if the donor got the button hook from the brothel but, it definitely would have been a handy tool for buttoning up corsets and tight-fitting dresses.
Though this little device does not seem to be much, they have become very popular with collectors and there are even conventions held about these handy instruments. Collectors go in search of various types of button hooks made with different materials, such as handles made from mother of pearl, wood or brass. They are also looking for more ornate highly decorated handles, or some just collect to have one from all over the world.
Devices such as these may not be common anymore, but they could be handy for people who have difficulty using their hands. There are more modern types of button hooks available today made for the elderly or people with arthritis. [Marisol Martinez, edited by Kathryn S. McCloud]