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Speaking of Texas: Institute of Texan Cultures

See related: Speaking of Texas: Revisiting a Texas Treasure

Giving Voice to History

“We’ve been collecting oral histories since 1970,” says Rhett Rushing, who heads the Institute’s oral history program, “and today we have more than 600 on file. We recently created a podcast of three oral histories from local military aviators to supplement one of the current exhibits, A Salute to Military Flight. The first history is from Colonel Carl J. Crane (1900-1982), who witnessed the birth of aviation in Texas. As you view the Web component of the exhibit, you hear Crane’s voice:
“Well, it seems almost that I fell in love with flying as soon as I was able to identify myself as a human being, because Orville Wright and Wilbur Wright made their first flights in 1903 … . By the time I was four or five years old, you can imagine that a lot of people were aware of, and interested in, the antics of the Wright brothers. And my dad, particularly, was interested in everything he could read on aviation … .
I grew up on East Commerce Street in San Antonio just a few blocks from Fort Sam Houston, and there I was ready, at the age of 10, to witness the first flight of an Army airplane by the late General Foulois, at that time Lieutenant Foulois, who made his first solo flight at Fort Sam Houston in 1910. Of course, I could see this airplane flying from my front porch  …  and that is when I really got interested in aviation.”
While oral histories add to visitors’ enjoyment of exhibits, Rushing says, “Our primary goal is to get the entire collection online and searchable so that it’s available to every classroom, library, and home computer in Texas and beyond.” To hear podcasts and read transcripts of a sampling of the museum’s oral histories, go to www.texancultures.com/library/histories.html.                                         

A Day of Discovery

One of the state’s largest museums, the Institute of Texan Cultures has 65,000 square feet of exhibit space, not including the outdoor living-history area known as the Back 40, which offers a log cabin, a one-room schoolhouse, and other 19th-Century structures typical in early Texas. Even if you decide to visit on a day without any special events, you’ll have your work cut out for you, just seeing the displays.
Start with the Institute’s best-known exhibit, Texans One and All, which focuses on more than 20 of the original cultural groups that settled the state, from African Americans to Wends. The English, Irish, and Scottish sections have recently been updated and include new photos and artifacts, as well as interactive kiosks that provide supplementary material. Be sure to take in one of the multimedia presentations in the 26-screen, 360º Dome Show Theater.
The traveling exhibit RACE: Are We So Different? runs through May 16. Another temporary exhibit Small Town Texas, a photo exhibition by UTSA President Ricardo Romo, which “documents the cultural and social features of a fading way of life,” runs through May 23.  A Salute to Military Flight, which honors the centennial of military flight in San Antonio runs through July 4.
On May 30, the Institute presents Memorial Memories, a free, two-and-a-half-hour concert that features music of the Big Band era and pays homage to each branch of the military. The museum’s annual Texas Folklife Festival takes place June 11-13. This well-loved event includes a rich spectrum of ethnic food and entertainment, from crawfish étouffée to fortune cookies, from Lebanese folkdancers to mariachi groups. Texas Trails and Tales, June 21-July 31, offers visitors a chance to learn about pioneer life through hands-on experiences at the Back 40—washing clothes with homemade lye soap, making cornhusk dolls, attending school in a one-room schoolhouse.
In addition, most exhibits include a Family Day with related programs, crafts, and stories for children. The museum’s Bluebonnet Puppet Theater also offers family-friendly presentations on Texas history. For details about the museum and events held at other times of the year, call 210/458-2300; www.texancultures.com.                                                                     

                                                       —N.M.

From the April 2010 issue.

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