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Local Museum Director Showcases Holy Collection

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BROWNSVILLE – Crowds have been steady at the Historic Brownsville Museum. They have gone to see the collection of Eugene Fernandez, who is also the museum’s director.

“Religious iconography, iconography is the science of the art of religious expression and how they paint the various saints,” explained Fernandez.

Ninety percent of the collection is his, plus some of contributors. He guided us through his display.

“Christianity, Judaism. Then you got the Hindu and Buddhist over there. Then you’ve got idolatry and then you got mythology,” he said.

He showed us one of the oldest items he possesses with an image that represented the Virgin Mary, “This is by far the oldest. This is the retablo from Mexico and it’s from the 1700s. It’s called ‘Ex-Voto,’ which means prayer.”

Some may wonder, where does he find all of the pieces? Some of them are hundreds of years old.

“That was a salvage yard, right there. That was meant to be melted down. The Christ right here was a flea market. This collection of medals here was a flea market in Mexico City.” Fernandez said while pointing at certain items.

He was able to spot items that spark his interest from almost anywhere: flea markets, estate sales and sometimes by just walking down an alley.

On loan from Temple Bethel in Brownsville, Fernandez described the symbolism of a white shroud with golden Hebrew typography stitching on display, “The next module here is in Judaism. A high ceremonial shroud, that came to us from them, to cover the Torah. The Torah is the sacred book of the Jewish faith.”

Fernandez led us to the Hindu/Buddhist showcase, he focused on a statue of a man fighting off a demon figure, “You see the little demon right here? Well, he’s the one that keeps those demons out of your house.”

He took us over to a display of idolatry pieces that looked like tribal masks. Pieces that western Europeans saw when they came to the new world.

“They thought that was like devil worship. And they wanted to replace it with Christianity, which is what they did,” said the museum director.

Fernandez walked us over to a display case with familiar looking items, “Now we’re going to get into the sector that is dedicated to Dr. Peter Gawenda. This is his works. These are legitimate icons of the style and painted in the Byzantine tradition. And he did them. He lives right here in Brownsville.”

The exhibit will be up through the middle of October. 

“Many things in our lives get started by accident. And in my life art has always held a special place,” said Fernandez.

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