Embroidering the Old Spanish Trail Exhibit

by Laurel Gibson

Exhibition Dates: October 14, 2016 – January 28, 2017

Embroidering the Old Spanish Trail” (“Embroidering”) is an original multidisciplinary installation by fiber artist Laurel Gibson at Bihl Haus Arts. It features original drawings and hand-embroidered imagery executed on century-old, 20-foot-long paper player piano rolls, to our knowledge the first time this historic musical medium has been employed as a ground for visual imagery.

This exhibition is part of the multi-state centennial celebration of the construction of the Old Spanish Trail Auto Highway (OST), a section of which runs along Fredericksburg Road where the century-old BHA building is sited. OST served as an early 20th-century highway, a magnet for American automobile tourism. Built along an old railroad-and-ferry freight route, it ran from St. Augustine, Florida, though Texas (San Antonio was its headquarters and official mid-point) to San Diego, California. The OST was the sole continuous route through southern/southwestern states until construction of I-10 in 1956-90. OST planning began in Dec. 1915 at a meeting held in Mobile, Alabama, which was commemorated at the OST conference in Mobile in Dec. 2015, that laurel attended to promote her project and network with OST specialists.

Over the past three years, Laurel traveled the OST. Along the way the artist has sketched OST landscapes and cityscape, people and events like a music festival near El Paso, on paper and piano rolls, collected research materials, conducted interviews with elders to recover OST memories, and studied 1920s American jazz.

These collected resources serve as inspiration for Gibson’s final drawings and embroidered images executed on player piano rolls. (This early recording technology popularized mass-produced home pianos from the 1880s. Player piano sales peaked in 1924 then declined with the invention of phonograph records.) In “Embroidering,” drawn images and embroidered threads that pass through the musical note holes in the rolls literally make visual music encoded on them.

The mission of Bihl Haus Arts is “Creating Community through the Arts” that the arts can drive personal and cultural growth. The nonprofit works with seniors in residential and service centers, established/emerging artists, neighbors in surrounding areas, and other cultural and social service groups to: create awareness of artistic excellence; nurture and present diverse visual and cultural arts; foster multicultural understanding through social interactions; and build collaborations to maximize collective resources. Bihl Haus Arts is sponsored in part by an award from the City of San Antonio Department for Culture and Creative Development.