Natural History Museum Brings New Spain Art to Bandera
Story by David Norris | Photos by Samantha Gleason
Juan Carlos Infante is a hopeless romantic who loves going all out for the people he believes in. Mary Infante is one of those people. Years ago, when the longtime friend turned love of his life, he knew he had to make their wedding something special.
“I set everything up to get married on top of Mount Meru, overlooking Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa,” said Juan.
He spent a year planning and organizing. It was going to be perfect. It had to be. There were, however, just a couple of problems. Perhaps the biggest problem was that he had yet to propose to Mary.
“He asked me to marry him on the flight over to Africa,” said Mary with a smile.
Fortunately for Juan, she said yes. The second problem wasn’t as big but needed to be addressed. After he gave Mary her ring, he realized he hadn’t bought a ring for himself. When they stopped in Amsterdam, Juan made a quick stop at a small jewelry store and bought the ring he still wears today.
In Africa, high atop Mount Meru, the stage was set. The wedding organizer, who’d spent a good deal of time getting everything ready for the big day, waited anxiously for their arrival and, of course, Mary’s answer.
“The wedding organizer had a bouquet of flowers behind his back, and he asked me if she had said yes,” said Juan.
The rest is history. It was the perfect beginning to a decadeslong romance. Like so many other perfect matches, Juan and Mary were meant to be together. Now 86, Juan still smiles every time Mary walks into the room.
They’ve spent a lifetime sharing a love of life, culture, music and art together. The latter has led them on a lifelong quest of collecting pieces of art from the New Spain period, a passion they both shared. The New Spain period spans roughly 300 years and began with Spain’s conquest of the Western Hemisphere in the 1520s. At that time, much of what would become the U.S. was part of New Spain, including Texas.
During a period of about 45 years, Juan and Mary collected dozens of paintings, sculptures, pottery, wood pieces, carvings, silver and bronze, all stunning and unique pieces of New Spain art. Many people were surprised when the Infantes decided to donate it to the Bandera Natural History Museum.
The museum's director of operations, Dr. Maggie Schumacher, said some people encouraged the Infantes to consider bigger cities with larger museums so the collection could potentially get more exposure. The Infantes, who live in Bandera County, wanted the collection available to people who might not consider driving a long distance.
“The best thing about Bandera is the people,” said Mary. “It’s a wonderful community.”
“This is certainly the most attractive place I’ve visited in my life,” said Juan. “I’ve traveled around the world, and I’ve met so many people, but I have never seen such a friendly community.”
The 150-piece art exhibit is so large, the museum had to build an extra wing just to hold it all. Thanks to some donations from the community and a $25,000 grant from the Lower Colorado River Authority and Bandera Electric Cooperative, the 4,000-square-foot New Spain Wing was built and is now home to the New Spain art exhibit.
“They really wanted to give back to the area because they’ve fallen in love with it, and they’ve made their permanent home here,” said Schumacher. “In addition to the community learning about their heritage, we’re also attracting people from a wider area of the country, and that will help with tourism in Bandera.”
When you walk into the New Spain Wing of the museum, the first thing you’ll notice is an incredibly lifelike model of the trade ship Isabella. The model was commissioned by the museum and provides viewers with a glimpse of what trade was like from the 16th to the 19th centuries. Ships like the Isabella would sail from New Spain to Manila in the Philippines and back again, bringing with it porcelain, silk, ivory, spices and exotic goods, much of which served as inspiration to New Spain artists for years to come.
From there, patrons can move to the main exhibit and view the one-of-a-kind art collection while Spanish Baroque music plays softly in the background. The music was composed expressly for the museum exhibit by musician and composer Adan Herrera Jr.
“Everyone who comes here leaves with a fantastic experience of New Spain,” said Juan. “It’s a great opportunity to show it to people who are not exposed daily to this kind of art.”
The museum also offers a book on New Spain Art Collection with an introduction by Dr. Schumacher and a foreword by Juan. The book provides background information and details many of the art pieces and serves as a companion to the exhibit.
The Infantes said they feel good knowing the art they spent years collecting is serving their community. They hope the collection will continue to educate and inspire people for years to come.
Posted: 11/3/2021 1:50:58 PM