The Tragic Rule of Maximilian and Carlota in Mexico

Empress Carlota and Emperor Maximilian of Mexico, circa 1864, from the Lusher Collection and included in exhibit at the Witte Museum February 1 through March 30
Empress Carlota and Emperor Maximilian of Mexico, circa 1864, from the Lusher Collection and included in exhibit at the Witte Museum February 1 through March 30

City of Mexico, Thursday, Jan. 10, 3 p.m., 1867 – Yesterday morning Col. Paulino Gomez Lanadrid, commanding 700 reinforcements of Imperial troops sent to succor the besieged garrison at Cuernavaca, was killed near that place during an attack by a body of Liberals, who were lying in ambuscade….

More than 500 families, mostly Mochos and French, will leave here on the 20th with 4,000 French troops….

Maximilian is waiting for the last French soldier to leave. The shadow of the last of the expeditionary corps will not be lost sight of by the Archduke, who is now residing in a humble house between here and the Castle of Chapultepec.

The New York Times

And so, Maximilian, the falling emperor of Mexico, awaited his fate.

"Execution of Emperor Maximilian of Mexico" by Edouard Manet, 1868
“Execution of Emperor Maximilian of Mexico” by Edouard Manet, 1868 (not part of exhibit at the Witte)

The French installation of the Archduke Maximilian and his Belgian-born wife Charlotte to reign over the politically unstable Mexico of 1864 was bound not to end well. But the story is a rich one of international intrigue on both sides of the Atlantic.

m-and-c-galley-coverAs Trinity University Press prepares to release Maximilian and Carlota: Europe’s Last Empire in Mexico by Mary Margaret McAllen, the Witte Museum is opening a companion exhibit, “Maximilian and Carlota: Last Empire in Mexico,” focusing on the fascinating lives of the ill-fated royal couple. The exhibit of portraits, photographs and artifacts opens on February 1, while the author will read from her book and be available to sign copies during a reception from 4 to 6 p.m. on Saturday, February 8, at The Twig Book Shop.

Fell in love a few year’s ago with C.M. Mayo’s masterful novel, The Last Prince of the Mexico Empire, focusing on a child caught up in the political turmoil – Principe Agustin de Iturbide y Green. A Library Journal review in 2009 perhaps summarizes the complexities involved most succinctly:

Once upon a time, there was a little half-American boy who briefly became heir to the Mexican throne—until his distraught parents sued the doomed Emperor Maximilian for his return.

I highly recommend Mayo’s book, and am looking forward to reading McAllen’s. And if these and the exhibit leave you thirsting for even more glimpses into the lives of Maximilian and Carlota, Mayo maintains an ongoing blog Maximilian ~ Carlota, described as “resources for researchers of the tumultuous period of Mexican history known as the Second Empire, or ‘French Intervention.'”

I’m hoping one of the two authors will suddenly contact me with a sliver of information (a very unlikely record to stumble upon, so am certainly not holding my breath) about a San Antonio connection to the royal rulers. Among the Austro-Hungarians enlisted to serve in support of their reign in Mexico was Baron George Ritter von Tomasini (1818-1912). As the Second Empire of Mexico collapsed, Tomasini and his wife made their way to New Orleans and to San Antonio by 1872. Here, they joined the community of dairy farmers at the Coker Settlement, about which I am writing a book for the Coker Cemetery Association. Geographically, the heart of the Tomasini farm was located where the cluster of shops and restaurants known as The Alley on Bitters are found today.

Eva and George Tomasini, photo from
Eva and George Tomasini, photo from

February 3, 2014, Update: Read Steve Bennett’s review of McAllen’s book in the San Antonio Express-News

March 19, 2014, Update: David Martin Davies will moderate a discussion with McAllen from 10 to 10:45 a.m. in the Story Room on the 3rd floor of the Central Library during the San Antonio Book Festival on Saturday, April 5.

January 5, 2016, Update: C.M. Mayo has posted a podcast of a conversation with McAllen recorded in The Twig in October 2015.

The Birth of Three-Ton Tally

Emerging from the creative founders of RAT (Rock Carvers, Artists and Themebuilders), Thom Hunt and Mark Whitten, Tally began to hatch in the backyard of San Antonian Kirby Whitehead more than a week ago. Volunteers showed up to work on her every day beginning about 5 a.m., according to logistical coordinator Wes Vollmer.

A spinal cord of 6-inch steel spread out into a network of 3-inch and 2-inch steel welded together. Then rebar was shaped and welded to flush out her massive shape even more. A web of SpiderLath fiberglass over this provided the base for the first shot of concrete.

Today, volunteers and workshop participants – Theming in Large Scale – are putting finishing touches on her in the middle of an exhibit hall at the Convention Center as part of the Concrete Decor Show. Whitten was carving Tally’s scales this morning out of a softer outer layer of concrete, while Julia Dworchack was polishing her teeth. The first blush of color has been applied to her cheeks.

With a spiky “sail” running along her spine and weapon-like talons on her front “arms,” the life-size carnivorous Acrocanthosaurus is beginning to look ferocious. And she’s substantial. Measuring almost 30 feet from her snout to the tip of her tail, she now weighs in at about three tons – three tons Vollmer is going to have to move to the south side of the Witte Museum, where she will appear poised to relentlessly pursue some peaceful, vegetable-loving sauropod grazing in Brackenridge Park. 

This large gift the concrete artisans are leaving behind them after their convention is in addition to the sidewalk patterns, faux-crete fountain and 5,000 square feet of concrete cosmetology they have completed at SAY Si (covered in an earlier post).

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Meet here again, and I’d be happy to let you conduct a workshop – Concrete Challenges: Can this floor be saved? – in our loft.

Concrete Artisans Leaving Lasting Imprint in San Antonio

SAY Si, where art is spoken.

Z. Smith ’12

Conventions come and go. San Antonians barely notice their arrivals and departures. But professional artisans are getting a head start to ensure we remember the Concrete Decor Show, February 20-24.

This past week, they have been working with students to transform bare concrete around the entrance of SAY Si into a major display of the artistic side of the craft. A “river” will soon spill out of the building and over the entry ramp:

From the double-glass doors of the entrance, a micro-topping in vivid tones of blues and greens will progress down the sidewalk and descend a vertical wall to terminate in the landscaping. A team of national trainers from Miracote and Butterfield Color, aided by local concrete contractors, will install an earth-toned stampable overlay and add pattern and texture adjacent to the river mural. SAY Si students will add the finishing touches. They will illustrate native flora and fauna along the faux river bank, and permanent inscriptions of words the students find inspiring will punctuate the surrounding areas.

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Concrete cosmetology – 5,000 square feet of it – will continue at SAY Si during the conference itself. According to the show coordinators:

Project teams, pairing industry experts with workshop participants, will create the ultimate makeovers of old, worn and unattractive concrete surfaces. Each area presents a building problem or unique challenge that the team will solve using products donated by leading architectural and decorative concrete manufacturers….

Inside SAY Si, workshop participants will apply a polyaspartic coating in the public gallery where the works of SAY Si students are exhibited. Old concrete floors in several studios where classes are held will be renovated. Two different techniques will be used: grinding and polishing an existing concrete slab and resurfacing another area with an innovative new polishable overlay technology. A special metallic epoxy coating will be applied on the floor in the Black Box theater….

Board member Susan Toomey Frost can barely contain her excitement over this major focus on a sometimes overlooked craft that is part of San Antonio’s heritage. Jon Hinojosa, artistic and executive director of SAY Si, is thrilled over the makeover because:

This project will not only showcase creative concrete master craftsmen, but allow our students to participate and learn a new art form.


SAY Si is a family connected through art.

S. Ramos ’11

Update on February 22, 2012:

In addition to the ongoing workshops dramatically changing the look of SAY Si, Thom Hunt and Mark Whitten are leading a workshop sculpting a realistic-looking Acrocanthosaurus dinosaur at Booth 1309 at the Concrete Décor Show at the Convention Center.

Members of RAT, or Rock Carvers, Artists and Themebuilders, built the basic form in advance of the workshop, during which participants learn how to sculpt the details and add texture. 

After the conference, Mikey, the 10 ½ foot tall dino measuring 29 feet from nose to tail, will be a gift destined to become a landmark on the south side of the Witte Museum adjacent to an entrance to Brackenridge Park.

Update on February 23, 2012:

Click here to see a slideshow of SAY Si’s new waterfall fountain and flooring and the birthing of the dino, actually named Tally, destined for the Witte.