We filled up on breakfast at the Holiday Inn and after loading up the car, made our way to the Grace Museum on the outskirts of downtown. Located at the corner of Cypress and North First Streets, it was built in 1909 by Col. W. L. Beckham of Greenville, Texas. Constructed in the Prairie Style, it was initially a three-story structure, with a fourth story added in 1924. After a name change to the Drake Hotel in 1946, it ceased operation in 1973 after passenger railroad traffic and downtown Abilene declined throughout the 1960s.
By the 1980s, the building was in disrepair and inhabited by rats and vagrants. The Abilene Preservation League and the Abilene Fine Arts Museum banded together in the late 1980s to save the neglected structure and provide a new and improved home for the Abilene Fine Arts Museum. Following a major restoration in the early 1990s, the structure was placed on the National Register of Historic Places and opened to the public as the Museums of Abilene in 1992.
Now accredited by the American Alliance of Museums, the Grace Museum houses five art galleries featuring rotating art exhibitions and artwork from the permanent collection; a history gallery with permanent and rotating exhibits featuring Abilene, Taylor County, and West Texas artifacts; an art library; an education center and an interactive gallery for children and families.
We started with the rotating gallery which featured Kate Breakey, known for drawing from several bodies of work made over several decades of image making. It was a fascinating exhibit, as she has always altered her photographic images over her 40-year career. What I found most interesting was her treatment of dead animals, which was not nearly as macabre as it sounds.
We finished with the history galleries on the third floor that feature permanent exhibits of recreations of 1906, 1926, and 1946 Abilene parlors and kitchens, a 1920 Grace Hotel guest room, and a historic boot makers shop. The temporary exhibit on display during our visit featured wedding dresses from the 1870’S to the 1950’S.
We finished up at this nicely curated museum, one well worth visiting and hit the road for Portales, New Mexico. Why a stop here? Our friend Kemet, who we last saw when visiting Eugene, is now the Director of Alumni Affairs at Eastern New Mexico University there and it gave us yet another excuse to visit somewhere we’d never been to. We arrived mid-afternoon and checked into the Best Western Plus Portales Inn, where we received a pleasant surprise at check-in by being upgraded to a large room on a upper floor.
Soon thereafter we drove the short distance to campus to drop in on Kemet at his office in the main administrative building. As it was close to the end of the workday, he suggested we walk to the west side of campus to check out the sunset, sometimes spectacular depending on weather conditions.
Sunset done and feeling parched, we drove to Roosevelt Brewing Company & Public House, Portales lone entry in this category where we encountered one of the oddest serving experiences to date.
We were seated in a booth, and it took some time to order a round of beers as they had few options on draft and none of the ones they brew in-house. And then the fun began as it took a full 20-minutes for all three beers to finally appear, as they showed up one at a time for no discernable reason as it wasn’t that busy, there were two servers and a bartender and instead of pouring beer they seemed to be more interested in doing anything but that.
And so, we decided not to stay and eat and moved on, hungry by now, and landed at Juanito’s for decent Southwest style Mexican food. Not serving margarita’s (always our first choice) we opted for Modelo’s to accompany our meals, Hatch Chile Relleno’s Veracruz for Joanna, and Green Chili Verde con Carne for me. This was good generic chow from this category, large portions providing too much for the normal human to consume. We’d take a bunch of it back to the hotel to eat later thus leaving room for the crowning New Mexico touch to any dinner, warm Sopapilla’s with liberally applied amounts of honey.
The next day we met Kemet again on campus for a short walking tour, with one stop being the student union where its operations manager gave us a nice tour.
The union serves a campus population of around 6,000 and at this federally designated Hispanic-serving institution that is a member of the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities. And for a smallish campus, this student union had all that they would need to make students’ lives a richer experience.
Our next stop would be in the town of Clovis, about twenty miles away, at the Norman and Vi Petty Rock and Roll Museum. Dedicated to preserving Clovis’ musical history, the Museum pays homage to the Petty’s as well as the artists who recorded at their 7th Street Studio.
It is designed to educate visitors about the process of recording by displaying an operational recording studio from the 1950s and contains original equipment that came from the 7th St. Studios where artists such as Buddy Holly and the Crickets, Roy Orbison, Buddy Knox, Waylon Jennings, Sonny West, Jimmy Gilmer and the Fireballs, Charlie Phillips, Jimmy Bowen, Johnny Duncan, Carolyn Hester, Chita Rivera, and many others recorded.
While we were examining the various photographs, musical instruments, extensive radio collection and other memorabilia, we noticed an older gentleman had entered the room and after a bit of time, we approached him and he volunteered that he was Charlie Hager, a local sign painter who in the 1980’s had decided to pursue a musical career in addition to sign painting and so dropped by the studio, recorded a song, and convinced a local radio station to play it. In eight months, three of his songs made the country music charts, and these included I Overlooked an Orchid, Men with Broken Hearts, and Candy Kisses.
One of the joys of travel can be these random encounters, the minor celebrity, the unforeseen festival (the Palio in Siena in 1984), the private tours in Cognac at Remy Martin and Courvoisier in 2014. No matter how carefully you plan, you’re either missing out on something that happened the week before, or you are gifted with a Charlie Hager at a museum that few, if any, people know about.
We finished up at the Museum and drove a couple of blocks to Bandolero Brewery where our experience would be vastly different than the day before, that is service would be fast and efficient. Seated at a table, we started with a New Mexico IPA for Joanna and a Marzen Oktoberfest for me along with an order of Spicy Cheese Curds (fried cheese curds with a spicy breading. Served with ranch) for the table.
From there Joanna and I split a delicious order of Frito Pie (Frito chips, topped with red chile, queso, lettuce, tomato & onion) that most than enough for the both of us. It took us back to afternoons at Drake’s Dealership in Oakland with Jessica and Kris, the warm sun shining on us in their patio, consuming that less than healthy but oh so good treat before they removed it from the menu.
We polished of our pie with a Dark Horse, a 9.8% Oak bourbon-barrel stout with rich vanilla flavor that was almost the perfect finish to the meal, except, we went for a slice of cheesecake as well and that pretty much put us over the top.
And with that, we finished up our time in Portales except for a brief stop at Good Time Donuts the next morning at what Kemet referred to as the best such purveyor of that treat in town and you know, he was absolutely correct.
And so we checked off yet another seemingly random town on our list of places to visit, glad we had made time to do so.
The Grace Museum: https://www.thegracemuseum.org/
Best Western Plus Portales Inn: https://www.bestwestern.com/en_US/book/hotel-rooms.32115.html?iata=00171880&ssob=BLBWI0004G&cid=BLBWI0004G:google:gmb:32115
Eastern New Mexico University: https://www.enmu.edu/
Roosevelt Brewing: http://rooseveltbrewing.com/
Norman and Vi Petty: https://www.clovisnm.org/norman-vi-petty-rock-roll-museum/
Bandolero Brewery: https://www.bandolerobrewery.com/
Admin attribution: By Ammodramus – Own work