Nuestra Historia – Our History: Spain in Bexar County, a new exhibit developed by the Bexar Heritage and Parks Department and the UTSA Institute of Texan Cultures, focuses on 17th and 18th century Spanish exploration, and the diverse exchange of cultures that led to present-day Bexar County.
Nuestra Historia will be housed inside Presidio Gallery, the former Federal Reserve Bank, at 126 E. Nueva St. The exhibit is free and open to the public, and will open on Wednesday, May 4.
Bexar County officials will host a free Tricentennial Symposium with a reception and keynote program on Friday, May 6, from 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Dr. Joseph P. Sánchez, director of Spanish Colonial Research Center at the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque will deliver the keynote speech. The public is also invited the symposium titled Spain’s Encounter with the New World (the Indies) on Saturday, May 7, from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
To learn more about the events, and to register for the symposium, click here.
Nuestra Historia features a selection of artifacts, including authentic Spanish maps, priest’s vestments, classic art, religious relics and letters that provide visitors with the rare opportunity to learn, explore and understand the origins of San Antonio.
“These are things that haven’t been shown in the United States before, and haven’t been seen by the public in 300 years,” said Betty Bueché, director of Bexar Heritage. As San Antonio approaches its Tricentennial date in 2018, it “is important to make sure people understand this history, and why it deserves to be celebrated.”
Nearly 10 exhibit pieces were borrowed from the General Archive of the Indies in Seville, Spain, which once served as the center for Spain’s exploration and expansion plans. Other exhibit pieces are on loan from partners such as the San Antonio Museum of Art, the Marianists, the San Antonio Archdiocese, and the National Park Service.
“There were various expeditions along the Camino Real and other avenues, and these expeditions always had a cartographer,”said Sarah Gould, lead curatorial researcher at the institute and curator for Nuestra Historia. “We have beautifully drawn maps and presidio plans, including four drawings from the 1721 Aguayo expedition of La Bahia and East Texas.”
Among the artifacts displayed is the “Rebolledo Letter” of 1717, written by Juan Manuel de Olivan Rebolledo, a member of the Spanish government. Rebolledo argued that a settlement near the present-day San Antonio River would bolster Spanish expansion and rival the French expansion taking place in Louisiana, while allowing for development. The viceroy agreed, and the settlement soon grew to be unlike any other place in Spanish empire – with five missions, a presidio and a civil settlement.
“It’s just amazing to see what (Bexar County) was once like, to see what the missions looked like,” said Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff during a private tour Tuesday afternoon.
Visitors can view indigenous tools and art that were created before the Spanish arrived, as well as works that were developed after their arrival, including pottery, metal work, and a De La Garza coin, the only coin Spain ever minted in San Antonio, Texas.
The exhibit also offers engaging learning experiences for children in the Children’s Room. Younger visitors will have an opportunity to learn about the area’s history through various coloring activities, create their own symbols and signatures using authentic calligraphy methods and real ink, take photographs inside a replica of the Rose Window at Mission San José, and learn more about everyday life long ago. (Note: This is real calligraphy ink, so prepare for stained hands and fingers.)
Visitors can also access the digital versions of these classic Spanish documents in the special research room that provides historical context and links to various research archives that were included in the exhibit. One of these maps shows the Spanish Crown’s plans to establish an international school that would teach individuals from across the globe how to become Spanish-speaking citizens that were loyal to the crown. Clearly, several of these plans did not materialize, but a strong Spanish influence remains in San Antonio’s culture today.
“This shows who were were at one time, but it also shows who we are today and where we are going,” Bueché said. “There are so many intangibles in both the Native customs and the Spanish customs – languages, food, rituals, religious observances – that still exist, and reflect our culture and history.”
Nuestra Historia will run from May 4-Sept. 4, 2016, and will be open to visitors Tuesday through Sunday, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. To learn more about the exhibit or coming activities and events, call 210-335-0955 or click here.
*Top Image: Betty Bueché, director of Bexar Heritage looks at several colorful paintings of the Missions, as they appeared in the 1920s. Photo by Lea Thompson