One of the highlights of the fall season is the Sam Houston Memorial Museum’s Annual Photo Contest. After seeing the quality of last year’s photos, we opted against entering any photos this year… But we were excited to see the photos, be back at our favorite museum, and otherwise appreciate the talent on display.
And so it was we ventured into the Walker Education Center to explore, meet old friends, and see who took away awards!
There were four categories: animals, people, architecture, and floral. Hundreds of photos were submitted by Huntsville’s local citizens, then judged by three photographic experts: Kaylin Booker, Paul Olle, and Derrick Birdsall–the latter is also the Museum’s Director.
The animal category is always popular, perhaps because everyone thinks their pet is photogenic, beautiful, and wonderful. Some, as it turns out, are at the very least, more photogenic than others. The winners were…
Animal Category: 1st Place – C. Buzzini 2nd Place – S. White 3rd Place – D. LeNorman
This year’s floral category also included some animals, in as much as animals–much like humans–are drawn to the beauty of nature’s creations and were included in some of the submitted photos in this section.
Floral Category: 1st Place – V. Lorine 2nd Place – E. Day 3rd Place – D. LeNorman
There was, of course, a people category as well.
People Category: 1st Place – D. Lee 2nd Place – C. Buzzini 3rd Place – E. Day
Finally, the architectural category was, in our opinion, the strongest.
Architecture Category: 1st Place – M. Litzmann 2nd Place Tie – S. White & V. Lorine
The judges also picked a best a “Reserve Champion” (A MacLaughlin) and a “Best in Show” (S. Adams).
There were various honorable mentions and curator’s choices that were also worthy.
In addition to all the photographs, we also enjoyed the chance to see old friends, and we want to congratulate them–and the winners–on another successful community photograph contest!
July 26th marks the death anniversary of General Sam Houston, and each year on this date, the Sam Houston Memorial Museum opens the Steamboat House to the public.
As an SHSU student, I want to learn more about Sam Houston, and this desire was reinforced even more by the fact that I am the recipient of a generous scholarship provided by SHMM. So, I attended the Museum’s opening of the Steamboat House as part of their reenactment of Sam Houston’s death and the Victorian customs associated with mourning.
Dr. Rufus Bailey had commissioned this home as a wedding gift for his son and daughter-in-law. Its original name was “Buena Vista,” and while it might have offered a “good view,” Bailey’s son and daughter-in-law, according to oral history, weren’t keen on living in it, and they opted, instead, to look for other views. The home, then, was vacant, enabling General Sam Houston make it his home when he returned to Huntsville, following his removal as Governor of Texas.
As the group of visitors approached the home, we were given black ribbons to commemorate the anniversary of Houston’s death. We entered Sam Houston’s room, a mix of a study and a bedroom. Most of the items were period pieces, but we did see Houston’s bed and boots. Seeing these original artifacts, as well as the fact that the clock on the mantel was stopped to the time of his death: 6:15.
We were then gestured into the next room where “Margaret Lea Houston” would tell us about the three phases of mourning she went through after General Sam Houston’s death. During the first phase: Deep Mourning, women would dress in black, from head to toe, including gloves and veils (and, of course, no adornments such as jewelry). During this time, widows were given space, allowed to mourn alone. Once they were ready to talk, they entered the second phase of mourning: Full Mourning. The transition to this phase was marked by moving from the wearing of all black to wearing black with a white collar, along with cuffs and jewelry. During this period, the widow might receive visitors, discuss her sadness with others, and correspond by mail with others.
In the third phase, Half Mourning, women wore lively colors such as lilac, lavender, and light gray, and more elaborate patterns. This is the briefest stage, and it indicated that the widow was ready to rejoin societal interaction.
Men, on the other hand, were not expected to mourn for as long or as elaborately. The black ribbon I received is similar to what men wore during their mourning period.
We were then guided into the next room, the kitchen, where we could see one way that the kitchen could have been designed and what they would have eaten. Soon after, we walked up the stairs into the parlor where the funeral of General Sam Houston was held, and we heard from his “mother-in-law,” Nancy M. Lea, who discussed her feelings about Texas’s greatest hero and her son-in-law. While she initially opposed the marriage, Ms. Lea overcame her doubts, and she came to embrace her son-in-law.
Now, if you are wondering why one of Texas’ heroes had a small funeral, that would be because (1) mail was slow and (2) General Houston was very unpopular at the time, a function of him refusing to pledge an oath of loyalty to the Confederate States of America.
For these reasons, only a select few attended his funeral on July 27th at 4:00 pm. The funeral was indeed held less than 24 hours from his death because back then, their only way to store bodies was to ice them, and in Texas heat, it made it challenging to keep the body in a presentable condition.
Despite him not being as popular and not many people attending his funeral, on August 5, 1863, the Dallas Herald printed an obituary mentioning the great man General Sam Houston was, and encouraging people to put aside their objections to his “failure” to support the confederacy: “Let us not shed tears to his memory due to one who has filled so much of our affections. Let the whole people bury with him whatever of unkindness they had for him.”
With those positive vibes, I allowed myself a very unVictorian-like smile and reflected what a good choice I made attending SHSU.
Postscript: The Steamboat House was originally located a block or so from the Oakwood Cemetery–where Sam Houston is buried! Following Sam Houston’s death, the home deteriorated, and it wasn’t until 1937 that the Museum was moved to its present location and refurbished. If you have not had the opportunity to visit the Steamboat Home on the Sam Houston Memorial Museum Grounds, make plans to do so on July 26th, 2023!
As I entered the Sam Houston Memorial Museum Walker Education Center, I was greeted by warm and friendly smiles from the staff and both the former director Mac Woodward, his wife Leanne Woodward, and current director Derek Birdsall. This was no ordinary day over at the Walker Education Center, for artist, Lee Jamison, was exhibiting a select paintings in the gallery, reflecting his work on East Texas.
Lee Jamison, of course, was also there greeting and thanking EVERYONE individually for coming. He was featuring paintings from Huntsville, one of Sam Houston’s Woodland Home itself, and others from across the region.
The room was matched the title of the exhibit, as all the paintings expertly captured the essence of East Texas. Jamison even commented how he had brought more paintings than the room could fit!
The three paintings that stood out the most to me were (1) Roots of Texas (2) His first painting (3) Old Main.
The Roots of Texas is a painting of a tree, its roots, and the trench near it. It was significant since it told the story behind how our beautiful state got its name. It originated from the word Tejas which Caddo Indians used to describe friends. I thought it was amazing that he included his very first painting in this exhibit but also that it was placed next to the Roots of Texas one.
I believe it to be because they are both origin stories, one of how Texas got its name and the other of how Jamison’s art career began. There is nothing better to show that than his very first painting, which is different than the rest of his works. It definitely stands out.
This other art piece just takes your breath away and leaves you admiring its beauty. It is a perfectly beautiful painting of Sam Houston State University’s famous Old Main Building. You can really see and adore the architecture and how majestic Old Main was. This was one painting that everyone stopped to look at and engage in conversation with those around them exchanging their stories and memories of this building. Even that of the night that broke everyone’s spirit as they saw this building burst into flames.
When the clock struck 6:30 p.m., the crowd went over to the next room and took their seats, and waited to hear from Jamison. The opening speech was the quickest history lessons I had ever heard about Mexico and Texas. It was given by none other than Caroline Crimm.
I learned that back then, one of the conditions needed to become a Mexican Citizen was to convert to Catholicism. This was particularly interesting since the LEAP Center is volunteering for a U.S. Citizenship Prep Course.
Crimm’s history lesson led very well into what Jamison would discuss since in her crash course she discussed what happened in East Texas over the course of centuries. Hence, Jamison’s book title and the exhibit’s name Ode to East Texas.
He went in depth about the evolution and stories behind a couple of his paintings, some of which were exhibited, while others were not.
The stories behind each of his paintings really resonated with me since there was a meaningful significance behind all of them, which I found inspiring. When discussing origin stories, for example, he discussed his time at Lon Morris College, where he not only learned to refine his artistic skills, but also met his wife, Melinda!
After his speech, many people re-entered the gallery room to see the exhibit one last time before the museum closed. Jamison even stayed longer to sign copies of his book “Ode to East Texas,” which was on sale at the museum store.
The Jamison exhibit will be displayed at the Walker Education Center until May 28, 2022. Be sure to check it out if you have not already!
The Sam Houston Memorial Museum has always been a special place, and that is one reason why the LEAP Ambassadors enjoy volunteering there. Not only does it help educate citizens on the life and times of Texas’s greatest hero, but it also offers wonderful hands-on demonstrations, intriguing art exhibits, and beautiful grounds, highlighted by the ever-popular duck pond. But now it has even more to offer: today marked the official opening of the Sam Houston Memorial Museum as an the official Sam Houston Republic of Texas Presidential Library.
Our job was to greet and direct people, and it’s a role we greatly enjoyed. We saw County Commissioners, former Mayors, former Regents, the University President (and a former President), SHSU Deans and Vice Presidents, members of the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe, descendants of Sam Houston, and many other community and University leaders.
Volunteering is as educational as it is fulfilling.
Emcee of today’s event was the Museum’s former director, Mac Woodward.
Throughout the event, he highlighted important information, described the timeline for the evolution of the Museum as a Republic of Texas Presidential Library, and introduced key speakers, of which there were many!
First up was President White who, as Woodward noted, was probably the only person who has been the President of two Universities named for Tennessee Governors (Austin Peay in Tennessee and, of course, SHSU). President White’s comments were short, sweet, and eloquent, reminding us Sam Houston’s example to today’s leaders and today’s students.
James Haley, author of the definitive work on Sam Houston, also spoke and delivered lively and entertaining comments about the Texas leader.
Most important, he spoke to why Sam Houston is historically important and relevant to today’s world and, in fact, the future.
Haley was humorous and insightful, offering a glimpse into why his books are also intriguing and educational.
Curator of Education, Mikey Sproat, discussed the various manners in which the Library would highlight these collections, noting that a large emphasis would be on digital availability, providing world-wide access to the Library’s holdings.
Closing out the speaking portion of the event was Derrick Birdsall, newly appointed as the Museum’s Director.
Birdsall was brief, highlighting Houston’s status as a hero–not as a perfect man, but a hero nonetheless–and encouraging all guests and visitors to enjoy the Museum and its multi-faceted offerings.
Just before Spring Break, a couple ambassadors were able to hear Fox Host Brian Kilmeade speak about his book, Sam Houston & The Alamo Avengers.
Put on by the Sam Houston Memorial Museum, and hosted at the Walker County Education Center, Miranda and I enjoyed Mr. Kilmeade’s energetic and humorous presentation. As he put it himself, he was quite enthusiastic about Texas history for a New Yorker. He was introduced by Mac Woodward, the former mayor of Huntsville and the SHMM Director.
Mr. Kilmeade then began by sharing how he got started in writing historical accounts such as the book in discussion. We learned that he had a passion for history, especially that which very few people were aware of. He told us about another of his novels, George Washington’s Secret Six: The Spy Ring That Saved the American Revolution, and explained that what drew him in was the relatively unknown fact that these six people did more for the American Revolution than anyone else.
According to Kilmeade, intelligence agencies like the CIA still keep records of and analyze the tactics of these spies, as they were groundbreaking for gathering intel.
He then spoke a great deal about Sam Houston, and his relationship with Andrew Jackson. Houston served in the War of 1812 under Jackson, who was a general at the time. Apparently, Jackson became Houston’s mentor, and was grooming him throughout their friendship to become president one day. He supported Houston’s endeavors, and helped prepare him to lead settlers to Texas. Kilmeade said before this, Houston had tried his hand at being a farmer, being a clerk, and even spent time living with a Cherokee tribe.
Mr. Kilmeade spoke about how the fight for Texas was largely demonstrative of the American spirit; it was fought for by pioneers, many of whom risked everything to start a life in Texas. He mentioned that courage is great, but it needs to be calculated.
After the Battle of San Jacinto, Kilmeade said that, although Sam Houston may have wanted to avenge the lives lost at the Alamo, he instead honored their memories by maintaining his composure while negotiating with General Santa Ana, and succeeded in gaining Texas from Mexico.
Kilmeade then wrapped up his talk with a few questions, talking about his writing, his career, and the political climate. He consistently praised American values, and deemed Sam Houston as an all-around American man.
After the lecture, we were able to take a picture with Mayor Woodward…
and exchange a few words with him and his wife, Leanne. We enjoyed hearing about our university’s namesake, and having the chance to hear someone speak so passionately about his life and contributions to Texas.
Although the SHMM’s 10th annual Photography Contest conflicted with our meeting time, we made some arrangements so we could once again see what the community had to offer, photographically speaking.
The photo contest, created by Curator of Exhibits Casey Roon, gives non-professional photographers an opening to showcase their work. Each photo submitted was placed accordingly in five different categories—Abstract, Pets, Architecture, Face/Figures, and Nature. Winners were also given the opportunity to receive cash for their amazing work!
In front of an audience of about 75, Roon discussed the contest and announced the winners. The Best in Show winner was Victoria Pieczynski in the ‘Nature’ category, while the Reserve winner was John Rogers in the ‘Architecture’ category. A list of all winners is below:
Faces/Figures: (1) Sarah Wolsky, (2) Jerome Hunter, and (3) Kyra Aftosmes Pets: (1) Lynette Dobbins, (2) Lynette Dobbins, and (3) Seth McAdow Abstract: (1) Gary Readore, (2) Beth Gray, (3) Wanda Smith Nature: (1) Victoria Pieczynski, (2) Sam Beard, (3) Gary Readore
Architecture: (1) John Rogers, (2) Kya Aftosmes, (3) Robert Mendoza Best in Show: (1) VIctoria Pieczynski and (2) John Rogers Curator’s Choice Winners: (1) Casey Mathis, (2) John Seitz, (3) Tonya Seitz, (4) Darelene Lee, (5) Sami Soukup, (6) Kyra Aftosmes, (7) Wanda Smith, (8) Veronica Lorine, (9) Lynette Dobbins, (10) Katherine Hubbard, (11) Jessie Smith, (12) Rhonda Jensen, (13) Barbara Lutzmann, (14) Sam Beard, (15) Judy Volper, (16) Morgen Clements, (17) Bianca Catungal, (18) Veronica Lovine, and (19) Sam Beard.
We enjoyed looking over the photos and comparing them to photos we take. By reviewing the winning photos (and other, interesting photos that didn’t win), we were able to get some tips on how to improve our own work.
We spent some time with our favorite photos…
..and more importantly spent time talking to our friends, Mac and Leanne Woodward, Derek Birdsall, Megan Buro, and Casey Roon, before heading to our meeting.
When the Sam Houston Memorial Museum offers a program, the LEAP Ambassadors do their best to attend. So when we saw that Derek Birdsall was offering a photography workshop, we made sure we were there.
Birdsall is the Museum’s Education Curator, and he is an accomplished photographer. While the original workshop was designed with an outdoor component, the weather did not cooperate, so we settled in for a slide show in the Museum’s theater.
We had a chance to see some of Birdsall’s photographs, and we were able to learn how he took the photograph and developed it. One we were particularly impressed with was his shot of a battleship.
We also learned a lot about photography principles. While some, such as the exposure triangle, was mostly review, we learned a lot about composition, particularly the “rule of thirds, which is illustrated below, from the website: www.fixthephotocom.
The idea is that if you think of your frame is nine equally sized squares (or four intersecting lines), the points of strongest interest are where the lines intersect. We have probably subconsciously evaluated our compositions in this manner, but we didn’t know the “rule,” nor the fact that most DSLRs provide a mode for a grid to be overlaid on your viewfinder, to help guide you.
We also had a chance to speak with Birdsall after the event…
…and that proved enlightening as well.
Many thanks to Birdsall and the SHMM for their always-quality programs!
American photographer Mark Burns is no stranger to National Parks. From 2011-2016, he traveled to all 59 Parks in the country (there are now 61) and photographed them as part of his “National Parks Photography Project.” At the end of that project, he decided to embark upon a second project: capturing the diversity, beauty and wonder of the Grand Canyon in photographs for its 100th Anniversary as a National Park.
This event was particularly special for the LEAP Ambassadors, who have worked with Burns for the past three years. Worked “with” might be overdoing it a bit. We’ve been privileged to accompany him on several trips to National Parks, while also documenting some of his projects. So it was particularly nice to take part in this opening exhibit, which we helped sponsor.
With opening remarks from Casey Roon, the Exhibit Curator….
…and from the man of the hour, Mark Burns….
…who discussed the stories behind some of the photographs; the challenges associated with the weather, the crowds, and the travel….
…and then he encouraged guests to explore the gallery-including the Adams’ photos–and find their favorite.
As it turned out, there were almost as many favorites as there were guests in attendance….
Many guests were able to interact with Mark Burns and ask him about his work.
Speaking of guests, part of the evening’s fun was interacting with those on hand. It’s always great to spend time with Mac Woodward, the Museum Director; and we also had a chance to spend time with the Jim and Nancy Gaertner; Curtis and Lydia Montgomery; Scott and Mary McCarley; Derek Birdsall; Megan Buro; Ryan Brim; Megan Arnold; Anne Jamarik; Rosa Alvarez; Maggie Denena–even Maggie’s parents were there! Also, it was Victoria’s first official event as a LEAP Alum.
It’s always fun to spend time with friends, especially when surrounded by beautiful art. We encourage others to bring their friends and see the beautiful photographs before the exhibit moves to the Pearl Fincher Art Museum on September 5.