Photo courtesy San Antonio Museum of Art

San Antonio’s museums explore the Battle of the Alamo, Native Americans, Buddhism and Whales

This article appeared in the July 2017 issue of RIO Magazine, the official magazine of the Paseo del Rio Association.

When I asked Santa Anna if it was his silk underwear that gave him away after the Battle of San Jacinto, he said it was actually his soldiers saluting him that did him in.

Yes, I know that Generalissimo Antonio López de Santa Anna was defeated on April 21, 1836, and died in Mexico in 1867, but thanks to Battle for Texas: The Experience, you may speak to Santa Anna, Jim Bowie and Davy Crockett–or rather the actors who portray these men–to get the inside scoop on the Alamo’s 13-day siege.

Battle for Texas: The Experience

Photo courtesy Battle for Texas
Photo courtesy Battle for Texas

The Battle for Texas, located on the basement level of The Shops at Rivercenter below H&M, is a 22,000-square foot interactive museum that brings the Battle of the Alamo to life. The actors are avowed Alamo junkies who know the history of this world-renowned conflict backwards and forwards, and the museum displays cases of authentic items from this era, like Sam Houston’s boots and spurs, Davy Crockett’s long knife, Santa Anna’s presidential sword and scabbard, Juan Seguin’s holster and an actual set of doors from the Alamo.

The actors love sharing the culture and perspective of the Alamo defenders and making their guests feel as though they were present at the battle. The smell of gunpowder only adds to the experience, as do the sounds of Texas, created by composer and San Antonio native, David Kneupper.

Battle for Texas is appropriate for all ages. Tickets cost $19.50 for adults; $17.50 for seniors, military ID and college ID; $14.50 for kids ages 6-12; and free admission for children five and under.

Briscoe Western Art Museum: George Catlin’s North American Indian Portfolio

Photo courtesy Briscoe Western Art Museum

Around the same time period–from 1832 to 1837–American artist and ethnographer George Catlin lived with the Plains Indians during the summer months and sketched some of the 19th century’s most important and prolific images depicting their way of life. The Briscoe Western Art Museum will have Catlin’s impressive North American Indian Portfolio on display through Sept. 4, 2017.

Catlin documented more than 140 tribes–painting nearly 600 highly detailed and powerful portraits of Indians, carefully recording their dress, culture, and way of life–thereby rescuing this time period from oblivion. According to the Smithsonian’s American Art website on Catlin, his artwork was displayed at the Louvre thanks to a request by King Louis-Philippe.

The Briscoe’s Women of the West Film series continues on Tuesday, July 18, with “Meek’s Cutoff,” a 2010 film starring Michelle Williams that’s about the hardships of settlers traveling through the Oregon desert in 1845. The movie begins at 6:30 p.m. with free beer and popcorn and an on-site food truck. The museum remains open late every Tuesday, with free admission from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m., so be sure to peruse the Briscoe’s collection both before and after the screening.

San Antonio Museum of Art: Heaven and Hell

Photo courtesy San Antonio Museum of Art
Photo courtesy San Antonio Museum of Art

This summer, when it can at times feel hotter than you-know-what, the San Antonio Museum of Art will explore “Heaven and Hell” in a special exhibition that brings Pure Land Buddhism, the most widely practiced form of Buddhism in East Asia, to life.

Curated by Emily Sano, Ph.D., the Coates-Cowden-Brown senior advisor for Asian Art, “Heaven and Hell” is drawn from 20 private collections and institutions from across the country. Almost 70 paintings, sculptures and decorative objects will contrast Pure Land Buddhism’s distinct visions of heaven and hell.

Buddhism holds that individuals liberated from ignorance and self-attachment will find peace. Amitabha, the Buddha of the Western Paradise, promised that anyone who called his name would reach nirvana, a place of perfect peace, like heaven. This was a lower bar than the one previously set by Theravada Buddhism, which required devout study and meditation to reach nirvana, the Pure Land. The SAMA exhibition will include works from India, Southeast Asia, China, Tibet, Korea and Japan.

On Sunday, July 16, at 2 p.m., Sherry Fowler, professor of Japanese Art at The University of Kansas and specialist in Japanese Buddhist Art, and D. Max Moerman, chair and professor in the Department of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies at Columbia University, will lecture on the different aspects of the Pure Land faith.

Witte Museum: Whales, Giants of the Deep

Photo courtesy the Witte Museum
Photo courtesy Witte Museum

Last but not least, the Witte Museum brings “Whales: Giants of the Deep” to San Antonio this summer. The exhibition was originally developed by the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, the land of whale riders.

The Gulf of Mexico has 25 of the more than 80 whale species found on Earth in its waters, and the Witte will provide the scoop you need to understand whales’ evolution and biology in their interactive galleries.

The exhibit will contain a life-sized replica of a Blue Whale heart, which is the size of a small car. No wonder. The Blue Whale, the largest animal on the planet, can measure up to 90 feet long and weigh 330,000 pounds, the equivalent of 24 elephants, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s website.

Full skeletons of both male and female Sperm Whales will be on display. Some whales live for up to 200 years. Whales are warm-blooded mammals who breathe air and nurse their young. The Witte’s Sound Chamber will broadcast the voices of eight different whale species for you to hear. Whales use their voices to communicate with each other and to call their mates.

This summer, the Witte will also feature Wild Weather through September 4, revealing how scientists are working to better forecast these weather events and help reduce the weather’s impact on communities, infrastructure and lives.

Patrons will experience extreme weather patterns from the safety of the exhibition hall and discover climate change’s impact around the globe. Learn how to weather the storm!

Denise Barkis Richter, Ph.D., author of “100 Things To Do in San Antonio Before You Die,” has been blogging about San Antonio at sanantoniotourist.net since June of 2010. Her love affair with the Alamo City began at HemisFair in 1968. Denise was born and raised in Liberty, Texas, just 32 miles from the San Jacinto Battleground.

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