By Myra Lee Adams Goff
On May 19th the Sophienburg Museum and Archives will present a Civil War Exhibit about what was happening here in Comal County during the war and the period of Restoration which followed it. One segment of the exhibit, sponsored jointly by the NB German American Society, will feature the art work of Carl Iwonski (1830-1912). Art work can tell us much about the times.
The first time that the Iwonski name appeared in historical literature was in 1847 when Leopold Iwonski, father of Carl, and a group of disgruntled citizens appeared outside the Sophienburg where Adelsverein’s second Commissioner General, John Meusebach, was residing. That night the Iwonskis, along with others they had recruited, demanded that Meusebach come outside and either honor their land contracts in the Llano region or give their money back. The crowd became agitated and insisted that Meusebach be hanged on the spot.
The von Iwonski family hails from the present Polish area of Silisia, originally a province until 1526, when it was overtaken by Austria. Then in 1742 it was overtaken by the Prussian state of Germany and finally returned to Poland in 1945 after WWII. When artist Carl Iwonski was born, it was part of Germany and his ancestral roots are Polish.
Political turmoil seemed to surround Leopold Iwonski. “He was described as an expelled Prussian” and he was no longer welcome in his native land. (Source: “John O. Meusebach”, Irene Marshall King)
Leopold Iwonski, his wife, and two children emigrated to New Braunfels with the Adelsverein in 1845. Carl was 15 at the time. The family moved across the Guadalupe into Hortontown, then in Guadalupe County. Iwonski became the land agent for owner Albert C. Horton, selling 50 acre tracts. He retained 41 acres of land for his farm. Young Carl Iwonski spent his early years clearing the land and helping his father construct the family home. In 1847 the home became a stagecoach inn and saloon, as it was on the Nacogdoches crossing of the Guadalupe. We learn from Carl’s painting what the interior of the tavern looked like.
Carl and his brother, Adolph, involved themselves with New Braunfels activities. They joined the Turnverein. His drawings of amateur theater in 1854 tell us what the stage and scenery looked like. Also his picture of Seele’s Saengerhalle is perhaps the only rendition we have of that building. The Iwonski exhibit features 25 original pencil or ink renditions of actors and actresses on stage at the Saengerhalle. Many of the characters on stage are recognizable, Hermann Seele being one of them.
Eventually, Iwonski and his parents moved to San Antonio where he taught drawing at the German-English school. He became a professional photographer with William DeRyee. DeRyee left San Antonio before the Civil War, but Iwonski kept the studio open.
Carl Iwonski was a Unionist. He was an admirer of fellow Unionist Sam Houston who refused to sign the oath of the Confederacy. In 1857 Ferdinand Lindheimer, editor of the Neu Braunfelser Zeitung, announced that a portrait of Sam Houston by Iwonski would be on display at the Saengerhalle theater.
At a time when many German Unionists of the Hill Country were being arrested or killed, somehow Iwonski managed to avoid conscription. Check out Sophienburg.com, Nov. 3, 2009.
Immediately after the war, the Unionists in San Antonio hoisted the American flag over the Alamo. Both Carl and his father were staunch Unionist Republicans. Carl drew a very controversial cartoon in the newspaper showing the Democrats’ exit from their public offices as a result of their affiliation with the Confederacy. With a Union victory, Iwonski became tax collector of San Antonio, however, when the Democrats swept office in the next election of 1872, Iwonski was out of office and he left for Germany. The next year he returned to SA and completed portraits of many prominent families. After the death of his father in 1872, Carl and his mother returned to Silisia.
Iwonski’s panoramic painting of New Braunfels tells us much about NB’s early days. The recently rediscovered10×10 ft. Prussian Council of War, 1870 oil on canvas will be featured. The rest of the Civil War exhibit, opening May 19th, will be just as interesting.