This object is an Italian travel trunk that was owned by Pompeo Luigi Coppini, a renowned Italian sculptor. Travel trunks were originally used as luggage for long trips by steamship, train, or stagecoach.
Pompeo Coppini was born in Mantua, Italy in 1870. By the time he was 10 years old, his family had moved to Florence, where Pompeo got a job making ceramic horse-shaped whistles. After that, he worked for a sculptor who made knock-offs of famous artworks for tourists. When he was 16 years old, Coppini studied at the Accademia dell’Arte del Disegno, a world-renowned art and design academy in Florence.
In 1896, Coppini immigrated to the United States with only his trunk of clothes and $40. Almost immediately, he got a job in New York, sculpting figures for a wax museum. Happy with the work, but frustrated with the lack of fame and recognition, Coppini moved to Texas in 1901 to work as an apprentice under the German-born sculptor Frank Teich. Civil War memorial statues had become a popular request, and Teich needed help filling orders. Coppini was commissioned to create a statue of Jefferson Davis and other confederate soldiers, which now stand at the state capitol. Those sculptures were so well recieved that Coppini decided he could make it on his own, rather than working under Teich for seventy-five cents an hour.
Coppini lived and worked in San Antonio for the next fifteen years. By 1910, he had recruited his own apprentice and “foster daughter”- Waldine Tauch– who he worked with for the rest of his life. Around 1919, Coppini moved to New York, where he oversaw the casting of the Littlefield Fountain Memorial, a centerpiece of the University of Texas campus in Austin.
In 1937, Coppini won the bid to commission the Alamo Cenotaph, also known as the “Spirit of Sacrifice,” a memorial to the heroes of the Alamo. He won out over other well-known sculptors, including Gutzon Borglum, who went on to carve the faces of Mt. Rushmore. To complete the Alamo cenotaph project, Coppini opened a studio in San Antonio, which later became the Coppini Academy of Fine Arts, which is still in operation today. Believing that art training should be a branch of learning at universities, he also became the head of the art department at Trinity University in San Antonio from 1943-1945.
Pompeo Coppini’s work spans multiple countries, but the vast majority of his sculptures can be seen in Texas. His work consists of thirty-six public monuments, sixteen portrait statues, and seventy-five portrait busts. Though his sculptures have elicited some criticism through the years, they stand as a three-dimensional history of our state, and the country. [Carrie Klein, edited by Kathryn S. McCloud]
Malakoff Head (reproductions)
These objects are three cast plaster replicas of stone carvings found in Malakoff, Texas in the Depression Era. Each object was found in a deep gravel pit by quarry workers and had human-like features carved into them. After the first head was found, geologist Elias H. Sellards was called in to take a look and he determined it to not only be authentic, but also dated it at 50,000-100,000 years old. This made the find extremely important as the oldest known Native American artifacts at the time only went back 12,000 years. The find, if authentic, would push Native American history in the Americas back thousands of years.
Further investigation of the site produced a second “head” in 1935 at which time archaeologist Glenn Evans was called in to do an excavation. He found a third head by 1939 but failed to discover anymore artifacts. More recent study of the heads has called their authenticity into question. The first head is believed to have been carved by modern, metal tools which means it is likely a hoax. The second head wasn’t studied further, though it too is believed to have been made like the first one. The final head is believed to be a naturally eroded rock and could have no connection to the other two at all. Further research on the on the site itself also revealed it to not be as old as Sellards had said; instead it was dated to the Pleistocene era which is when Paleo-Indians were known to have been in the Americas. No other artifacts were found at the site, though other “heads” have been reported throughout Texas and northern Mexico.
The Paleo-Indians were various native groups living in North America roughly between 15,000-9,000 years ago, which is known as the Pleistocene period. The dates are difficult to say with certainty, but evidence of Native American peoples living across the Americas have been found and verified during this time period. They are thought to be the earliest humans in the Americas and arrived here by crossing the once exposed land bridge under the Bering Strait. The earliest inhabitants of Texas are collectively called Clovis. The Clovis culture and people are connected by their use of a stone tool called the Clovis Point. In Texas, Clovis Points have been found that date back 13,500 years. The Clovis culture was made up of many Native American groups, many who are still around today and are related to these very early Paleo-Indians that lived across North and South America.
Many people still argue whether the Malakoff heads are authentic or an archaeological hoax. Archaeological and historical hoaxes are not new, in fact a few years before the Malakoff heads were discovered a similar mystery was brewing in the state of New York. In 1869 a large stone man was discovered while men were digging a well on the farm of William Newell. The stone man was believed to be the petrified remains of a giant, like those mentioned in the Bible, but others believed it was either a statue built by missionaries to impress Native Americans or an ancient Native American sculpture. The stone man, nicknamed the Cardiff Giant, ended up being a hoax made up by a man named George Hull. Hull thought of the idea after he got into an argument with a priest. To spite the priest and make some money along the way, Hull came up with the idea and brought several people, including Newell into the plot. Once the giant was discovered, Hull’s plan to make money went into effect as people flocked to see the giant. Even when charging 50 cents per person the crowds could not be turned away and kept going to see the giant. Even when the stone giant was declared a hoax people still traveled and paid to see it. Today the giant can be seen in Cooperstown, New York at the Farmer’s Museum. Although we have new technology to help accurately date artifacts, as well as identify how they were made, many hoaxes and myths still live on. [Briana Miano edited by Joscelynn Garcia]
Northern Mexico or southern Texas
Materials: Wood, Paint
This object is a wooden statue of Saint Anthony, or possibly Saint Francis. Spanish statues like this were called bultos or santos and they were depictions of saints or other religious figures in Catholicism. This work of art was probably made in southern Texas or northern Mexico. A figurine like this would have been used in a home shrine, rather than in a church. Santos have a long history dating back to the Spanish Colonial period, after the Spanish had explored and conquered the New World.
Originally, santos were made by the missionaries living in the New World. These religious men would use them as props to help teach Native Americans about Christianity, and were often given to the converts to display in their homes. However, not all santos were placed in the home, many of them were treasured items and churches proudly displayed them during religious celebrations.
This santo is depicting either Saint Anthony or Saint Francis. Saint Anthony is the patron saint of finding lost things or people. He was a part of the Franciscan order and was known for his gifted preaching which had the ability to reach people of various backgrounds. This gift was celebrated so much that he was given the title of Doctor of the Church by Pope Pius XII in 1946. He is usually depicted holding a book, or with Jesus as a baby.
Saint Francis is the patron saint of merchants, ecologists, and animals. He was known for abandoning his family wealth to live a simpler life of poverty. He is one of the most respected religious figures in history. The Franciscan order was also founded by him and the members of the church would later become widespread in the New World in their attempt to convert native populations. He is usually depicted with animals such as birds.
Santos are carved out of wood and then painted into the likeness of whichever saint they were supposed to represent. Today, people called santeros make the santos and other religious images. Like all art, the materials they are made from and their style reveal where they come from. Many santos are attributed to New Mexico where the tradition of making and keeping santos is still practiced. However, not many examples of early colonial santos survived to today. [Briana Miano, edited by Joscelynn Garcia]
Wooden gun model
Italian American Texas 1901-1957
This wooden gun was used by the Italian sculptor Pompeo Luigi Coppini as a model for one of his sculptures. Although Coppini would later become one of the most revered sculptors in Texas, it took him a while to make his way here. Born in 1870 in Moglia, Mantua, Italy, Coppini spent the majority of his time in Florence, Italy. While in Florence he studied under Augusto Rivalta at the Academia di Belle Arti until he graduated with honors in 1889. He would stay under the guidance of Rivalta until 1896 when he immigrated to the US where he met his wife, Elizabeth Di Barbieri .
In 1901 Coppini moved to Texas to help the German sculptor Frank Teich fulfill a new order for Confederate memorials. While working under Teich, Coppini was put in charge of making a monument to Jefferson Davis with four Confederate soldiers on the Texas capitol grounds. His work was so impressive that he was able to generate his own commissions, often competing with his former boss Teich. The commissions kept rolling in, in 1903 alone he was commissioned to work on the statue of Rufus C. Burleson at the University of Baylor in Waco, TX, as well as busts of the Confederate Generals Johnston , Lee, Jackson and Confederate President Jefferson Davis for a monument in Paris, TX. On top of all of those commissions, he also worked on a group of statues called the “Victims of the Galveston Flood” for the University of Texas. His work didn’t stop there, in 1905-1907 he worked on an equestrian monument of Terry’s Texas Rangers (the Eighth Texas Confederate Cavalry), which is also located on the Texas Capitol grounds. In 1910 he completed the bas relief for Sam Houston’s tombstone in Huntsville, TX, as well as finishing the Texas Revolutionary Monument in Gonzales, TX.
These are just a few early examples of Coppini’s works, it would not be until the late 1920s-1930s that Coppini would produce two of his most influential and iconic pieces; The Littlefield Fountain Memorial on the grounds of the UT campus (1920-1928) and the “Spirit of Sacrifice: the Cenotaph to the Heroes of the Alamo” (1937-1939). The Littlefield fountain was one of the few sculptures that Coppini worked on outside of Texas. Moving from his studio in San Antonio in 1916 in order to cast the bronze for the Littlefield fountain. He would first move to Chicago for short period of time, then three years later to New York to oversee the casting of the fountain; its purpose was to symbolize the reunion of the North and South. He would later move back to San Antonio in 1937 to reopen his studio on 115 Melrose Place, to work on the “Spirit of Sacrifice.” The cenotaph is one of Coppini’s largest works, the base alone is 12 feet by 40 feet. The cenotaph is 60 feet tall and is covered in Coppini’s extraordinarily detailed bas relief figures; some of the figures, like William B. Travis, stand at least 25 feet tall.
In 1931, his home country of Italy awarded him the title of Commendatore of the crown of Italy for his works in America. In 1934, Centennial Commissions awarded him a commemorative half-dollar for the bronze statues in the Hall of States. In 1941 the University of Baylor gave Coppini an honorary doctorate degree in fine art. He would also be art director at Trinity University for a few years. He went on to found the Coppini Academy of Fine Arts in San Antonio, in 1945. Located in his old studio, Coppini would teach and sculpt here until his death in 1957. The school is still open today, and when it’s not hosting fine art classes, it serves as a museum of Coppini’s life and works. [Tanner Norwood, edited by Joscelynn Garcia]
Kowal, Dennis., and Dona Z. Meilach. 1972. Sculpture Casting: Mold Techniques and Materials, Metals, Plastics, Concrete. Crown’s arts and crafts series; Crown’s arts and crafts series. New York: Crown Publishers.
The object above is a relief designed by Frank Maurer. A relief is any sculpted design that is raised or lowered from a flat background. This relief shows an armadillo, longhorn and a Celtic symbol in the lower left-hand corner with the date 1998-2010. Frank Maurer designed this piece using only a mallet and chisel. The relief was to celebrate April 6th, National Tartan Day. National Tartan Day recognizes the anniversary of the Scottish Declaration of Arbroath, signed in 1320.
National Tartan Day was first observed in the United States in 1997 and declared a National Holiday by George W. Bush during his presidency in 2008. When first hearing the word Tartan some may find it odd, this might be because they do not know what a tartan is. A tartan is a unique woven pattern often found on plaid cloth. Tartans are designed for many uses such as traditional kilts, scarves, and ties. Each tartan is unique and often is named after a Scottish clan. However, associating tartans with clans didn’t start until the 17th century. Recognizing tartans as clan specific was a tactic to distinguish the woven designs for sales purposes, rather than using the original numbering system they had in place. The Scottish Tartans Museum has a collection of books cataloging some of the tartans and the clans they represent. In 1989 Texas recognized its first official tartan, the Texas Bluebonnet Tartan, inspired by the bluebonnets of Texas. More information on the Texas Bluebonnet Tartan can be found here. Tartans are often worn at organized Highland Games and festivals such as Tartan Day.
Canada recognized National Tartan Day years before the United States. Celebrating National Tartan Day is important to Texas because of the influence the Scottish people had on Texas. Many of the counties in Texas have names with Scottish origin and were populated by many early Scottish-Americans. The most famous founding fathers of Texas, Davey Crockett and Sam Houston, were Scottish Americans as well as the 36th president of the United States, Lyndon B Johnson.
This relief is a great example of the unity of Scottish Heritage and Texan culture. The classic longhorns and armadillo are common images representing Texas. The stone itself is natural limestone from the state. The Celtic symbol in the lower left hand corner is still commonly used by the Scottish and Irish. The Celtic knot symbol is called the triquetra, and consists of three interlocking rings that over centuries have been thought to represent different unities: Body-Mind-Soul, Earth-Sea-Sky and more commonly today the Holy Trinity, Father-Son-Holy Ghost. The artist Frank Maurer is known for traveling the United States creating a series of these wonderful reliefs for states to commemorate National Tartan Day. [Trisha Taylor, edited by Joscelynn Garcia]
Unknown, likely Texan
Late 20th Century
This object is a birdcage made of bamboo and designed to resemble a cathedral. The structure is held together with small pins of bamboo and a small amount of adhesive in some of the more delicate areas. The joints are created by taking the two pieces to be joined and drilling holes into them, then placing a smaller piece of bamboo into the holes to hold the two larger pieces together.
Bamboo is a plant that can grow almost anywhere with little effort. At one time it was found on every continent except Antarctica and Europe. The plant is most commonly associated with Southeast Asia, but there are many different types of bamboo grown around the globe. It is one of the fastest growing plants in the world and some varieties of bamboo can live for more than 120 years. There are anywhere from 1,200 to 1,500 different species in the world. Bamboo is a major food source for many different animals, such as the giant panda, red panda and Madagascar‘s bamboo lemur.
Bamboo releases more oxygen into the air and absorbs more carbon dioxide than other plants, which can be very helpful from an environmental perspective. It grows back quickly, allowing it to be cut down as needed without to the worry of the years it would take a normal tree to grow back. Bamboo reaches maturity within 3-5 years unlike many other plants. Many countries count on this renewable resource. Bamboo is also used to prevent soil erosion in places that are having excessive deforestation.
Bamboo is as strong as steel, allowing it to be used as construction material for walls, floors, furniture and art. Many of the objects that we use every day could be made of bamboo. For instance, wooden spatulas or spoons, cutting boards, patio furniture, baskets, or even cabinets. Here in Texas there are several different types of bamboo that can be grown safely and successfully. [Abby Goode, edited by Jennifer McPhail]
Bal, Lalit Mohan, Lalit Mohan Bal, Lalit Mohan Bal, and P. Sudhakar. 2012. “Bamboo shoot: a potential source of food security”. Mediterranean Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism. 5 (1): 1-10.
The exhibits team at the Institute of Texan Cultures has almost finished the installation of a exhibition called Folklife in the Piney Woods of Texas. The exhibit officially opens on June 7th and features folk arts, crafts, and traditions from the Piney Woods region. Below are a few sneak peek images from the exhibit installation, come join us at Texas FolkLife Festival to see this great new exhibit in person!
Unknown, likely Mexico
Materials: Paper Mache
This object is a Tree of Life candelabra made from paper mache for the Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) celebration. It is decorated with flowers, small figures of people, and small figures of skeletons. The candelabra is decorated in bright colors such as pinks, purples, blues, yellows, and oranges. Since the candelabra is made using the style of the Tree of Life and with the theme of Dia de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) it is likely that the object was made in Mexico.
The Tree of Life is a theme that is seen from several cultures all over the world and is also referred to as the World Tree. This tree is used to explain creation and how the world and cosmos function together. Depending on the culture, the tree is either an actual tree that exists in the world or is a metaphor. In Mesoamerica the Tree of Life is a typically thought of as part of the Axis Mundi; the branches supported the heavens, the trunk of the tree was the earth, and the roots were the underworld. The tree divided the universe into four sections with each section being associated with a different cardinal direction, element, color, season, etc. With the conquest by the Spanish the old gods and beliefs were systematically eliminated and replaced with Christianity. So the idea of the World Tree as the center of the Axis Mundi was transformed into the Tree of Life with stories from the Bible being told instead of the old mythologies of the Mesoamerican cultures.
The Tree of Life candelabras are generally made from clay and are meant to hold incense burners or candles, though if they are for purely decorative purposes they are sometimes made from paper mache. These decorative versions still have the holders for incense or candles, but they are not meant to be burned. These incense/candelabras started being commissioned by the Spanish friars with the theme being the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve, and The Fall. After years the themes that were used for the Tree of Life candelabras started to change and incorporate other ideas based on the artists preferences. Biblical stories, the histories of Mesoamerica and their cultures, Dia de los Muertos themes, and even some whimsical themes were starting to be used. Most of these types of candelabras are made in three areas in Mexico: Metepec in the state of Mexico, Izucar de Matamoros in the state of Puebla, and Acatlan de Osorio also in the state of Puebla. These three towns are well known for their pottery styles and their local artists.
This particular Tree of Life candelabra is designed with the theme of Dia de los Muertos in mind. Dia de los Muertos means Day of the Dead in Spanish. This is a celebration that takes place from midnight on October 31 through November 2. November 1 is believed to be the day when the souls of deceased children are allowed to return from heaven and on November 2 the souls of the adults are allowed to return. During this celebration altars built in private homes, and the cemeteries are cleaned and decorated for the arrival of the spirits. There are special foods prepared and several different decorations are used, such as sugar skulls, papel picados, and calacas/cavaleras. This type of celebration took place throughout Mesoamerica before the Spanish arrived with Catholicism. Each culture had their own name for it and their own traditions; it was a celebration of death and the ancestors. When the Spanish arrived they were eager to convert the indigenous people to Christianity. The indigenous people of Mexico would often attach some of their old customs to the newly introduced Christian holidays, particularly when the celebrations fell around the same time of year. In the case of the Day of the Dead, it fell around the same time as All Souls Day and All Saints Day on the Christian Calendar, and so evolved into what it is today through the melding of these two traditions. [Jennifer McPhail]
Eliade, Mircea. 1991. Images and symbols: studies in religious symbolism. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.
Eliade, Mircea, and Diane Apostolos-Cappadona. 1992. Symbolism, the sacred, and the arts. New York: Continuum.
Marchi, Regina M. 2009. Day of the Dead in the USA the migration and transformation of a cultural phenomenon. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press. http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&scope=site&db=nlebk&db=nlabk&AN=311994.
Date unknown, likely 20th century
This miniature black ceramic cathedral is a home altarpiece used for personal prayer in a family’s home. Typical altarpieces are found in Mexican homes, handcrafted by an elder woman of a family. Altars are handcrafted in order for the family to have a family altar to pray or give offerings to as part of their Catholic faith. Younger women in Mexican families can also make them as they learn the art from their mothers and grandmothers. This object was purchased in Puebla, Mexico and may be loosely modeled after the Puebla cathedral. Altarpieces are usually dedicated to animage of the Virgin Mary or a particular saint; altarpieces such as these are placed in the center of the home altar, which can include photographs of family members, images of other saints, and other gifts. Altarpieces are used by family members to present votive offerings.
The city of Puebla, Mexico was founded in 1531 during Spanish Colonial rule of Mexico. It was founded at the foot of the Popocatepetl volcano, with the city and volcano located in the Valley of Cuetlaxcoapan. The city was a strategic point for commercial and cultural trade as it was the mid-way point for the trade route between the Port of Veracruz and Mexico City. This trade route brought goods in from Europe to the mainland of Mexico. In the city, the Puebla cathedral is one of the main religious buildings in the Historic Center, with construction of the cathedral starting in 1535, several years after the initial founding of the city. Construction of the cathedral officially ended in 1768, taking a little over 200 years to complete the cathedral. Some of the reasons the construction took so long are due to the amount of labor available, and inconsistent funding.
As the Puebla cathedral is dedicated to the Catholic doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, this altarpiece may have served the same function. This doctrine states that Mary was conceived without the “stain” of original sin. Original sin is a religious concept that states that all human-beings are born with an innate desire to disobey the will of God (behave sinfully) and therefore all people must be saved from this sin by God. As part of the Immaculate Conception, through the influence of God, Mary is believed to have been created without original sin. The altar piece having a possible connection to Mary would be beneficial to have in the home for personal worship because many Catholics believe she can influence the grace of God. [Caitlin VanWie, edited by Kathryn S. McCloud]