South Texas Heritage Center at the Witte Museum

Storytelling is an art. I grew up around grandparents who were artists. They told their stories and painted pictures for me that I wish I could share with the same enthusiasm and impact with my children. There is just something about understanding history in context that makes it come alive for me. In museums my favorite thing to do is watch a video or hear a narrative of how life was for the people of the time captured in those artifacts. Afterwards, I see each item with different eyes, knowing the story it was part of helps me better understand how all the pieces fit together.

That is why I was so excited when I was invited to preview the South Texas Heritage Center at the White. This 20,000 square-foot, two-story building provides a permanent home to a collection of artifacts that helps visitors experience more than 150 years of change and growth in San Antonio and South Texas. This space brings to life South Texas’ past in the Center’s key exhibits which are interactive to help give voice to historic figures, providing a glimpse into their lives.

Key Exhibit Areas include:

  • Freighters
  • Main Plaza
  • Early years in South Texas (indigenous peoples, the Missions, early settlers)
  • Ranch Life (cattle, horses, sheep, goats)
  • Trail drives (vaqueros, cowboys, Chisholm and Great Western Trails, Texas ranch women)
  • Conflict (jail, law enforcement, roots of San Antonio as a military town)
  • Transforming landscapes (water and irrigation, railroads, roads and vehicles, drilling for oil)
  • Mapping the land (surveying in the 1800s Tobin aerial surveying, mapping the underground, seismography)

There’s also a great classroom space and an outdoor amphitheater as well as sculptures and an art gallery
All these areas include various high-tech components such as a Cinebot (Cinematic robot), touch screen computers, motion-trigger audio personas, and sound and lighting effects. Fourth and seventh grade students studying Texas history will benefit tremendously from not just the information but the delivery method. A large collection to curate, there are treasures in it such as Davy Crockett’s fiddle, a Comanche headdress, Sam Houston’s sash, a register from the Menger hotel, Samuel Maverick’s Cherokee coat, and a Bowie knife from the Battlefield of San Jacinto.

Of course you can’t tell the story of South Texas without including its art. There is a gallery devoted to South Texas art in the Russell Hill Rodgers Texas Art Gallery on the Center’s first floor. Featured artist include Porfirio Salinas, William Samuel, Theodore Gentilz, and Gutzon Borglum among others. Gutzon is the noted American sculptor who created Mount Rushmore. Borglum came to San Antonio to pursue a sculpture commission and stayed here from 1924 – 1939. He first began to work on the Mount Rushmore project while still based here.

My favorite is the work of Porfirio Salinas, who grew up to earn national recognition for his Texas Hill Country landscapes and had his paintings depicting South Texas hung in the White House by President Lyndon Johnson. Immortalized at the Center in a larger-than-life mural measuring 168 feet in length by 15 feet in height created by digital artist Chuck Mauer who took elements from several Salinas paintings to create a mural comprised of Salinas’ original images. Everything in the images is original to Salinas but it was put together in a new way so that it flows around the room.

I could describe the exhibits for hours and still not do the Center justice so you’ll just have to go see it for yourselves and the best part is that admission to the Center is included with your regular museum admission. The Witte has graciously agreed to allow me to give away four passes to the grand opening celebration that will include hands-on demonstrations, living history entertainers, modern-day cowboys and animals, historical theater presentations and more as part of the festivities.

To enter please follow the Raffle Copter instructions at the end of this post. The winner will be selected on Friday, May 25, 2012 at noon and will be notified by email and on my Facebook page as well as on Twitter by @mytotstravel with the hashtag #sthcwitte

Grand Opening Schedule
The new South Texas Heritage Center opens to the public for the first time at 10 a.m. on Saturday, May 26, 2012 and the celebration will continue throughout the Memorial Day weekend, Saturday through Monday. All events are included with museum general admission, with the exception of the Witte Museum Boot Scoot & 5k Run taking place at 8 a.m., Saturday May 26.

Hours are:
Saturday, May 26 from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Sunday, May 27 from Noon – 5 p.m.
Monday, May 28 from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.

The grand opening weekend kicks off with the Witte Museum Boot Scoot & 5K Run, presented by Travis –Martin Financial Services, LLC. This morning fun run through Brackenridge Park takes place on Saturday, May 26 at 8 a.m., followed by a unique Witte twist: everyone is encouraged to change into boots after the run for a boot scoot at 9:15 a.m. along the front of the museum. For more information or to register online go to

Other special events during the grand opening weekend will include Bandera on the Road, a live demonstration with real cowboys and live animals where guests can try activities including roping, games and dressing up like cowboys and cowgirls. To add to the fun, characters from the past will mingle among museum guests as entertainers from the San Antonio Living History Association dramatize the early days of South Texas and demonstrate activities such as making gun flints.

Demonstrations taking place throughout the weekend:

  • Ropes and Brands: Explore the ways cowboys and vaqueros used ropes and the many types of ropes they used. Learn how to use a branding iron and how to change a brand with a running iron.
  • Chuckbox Cuisine: Find out who the “Bean Wrangler” is and what he might carry in a chuckbox in this demonstration.
  • Dressing for the Job: Cowboys and vaqueros had to wear clothing for protection from the South Texas landscape. Try on chaps, boots and hats and find out how these items will protect you from the landscape.

Additionally there will be a series of short dramatic performances in the South Texas Heritage Center’s Live Gallery Theater. Each play features actors bringing to life a different aspect of life in early South Texas, with dialogue, costumes, language and props drawn from historical research. The performances, each approximately 20 minutes long, will take place throughout the weekend on Saturday and Monday at: 11 a.m., 12:30 p.m., 1:30 p.m., 2:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. and on Sunday at: 1:30 p.m., 2:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m.
Other posts about the South Texas Heritage Center (some have giveaways also):
Guts, Guns & Gumption — Apparently South Texas wasn’t for Wimps by The Bloom Diaries
Howdy, partners. There’s a new “Cowboy Museum” in town by Colleen Pence
South Texas Heritage Center at Witte Museum by
South Texas History Has a Home at the Witte Museum by Family Love in My City
12 Words and Phrases Every South Texan Should Know by The Bloom Diaries
Witte Opens So. Texas Heritage Center by The Fund by San Antonio’s United Arts Fund
a Rafflecopter giveaway

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