By Myra Lee Adams Goff
Common denominators sometime bring people together who don’t expect to be. The common denominator in this tale is Sophie’s Shop at the Sophienburg. The people are Jane Felts Mauldin, Maurice Schmidt, and me.
Here’s how it happened: I was in Sophie’s Shop when NB artist Jane Mauldin walked in with some of her prints of wildflowers and old local buildings. She sells them at the shop. She wanted to know if I had read Maurice Schmidt’s book called “A Life in Art”. It’s for sale in the shop.
I had not but I definitely remembered Maurice Schmidt and the whole Schmidt family from long ago. For that matter, about six years ago I had visited with his brother Barry (Baruch) on a trip to Jerusalem where he lives.
Jane’s connection with Schmidt was that she was an art student of his when she was working on her Masters degree at A&I in Kingsville (later A&M Kingsville). That was 36 years ago. Recently she had made contact with him when she read a review of his book.
My interest was piqued and I took his book home to read. What I read was not only his philosophy of art, but his remembrances of growing up in New Braunfels. His memories became mine as I realized how much we had in common. We were both raised in NB, graduated from NBHS, were on the Unicorn annual staff, and had an interest in art. As a matter of fact, we both took private painting lessons from Werner Demuth, a local talented artist who died just as his art career was soaring.
After college, Maurice became art professor at A&I in 1965 and ultimately received many awards, wrote numerous books and is credited with more than 30 exhibits.
Maurice was from the Schmidt family that owned the big department store (Jacob Schmidt & Son) on the corner of San Antonio and Castell streets. Maurice’s father Max was the “& Son”. This site originally housed the Phoenix Saloon. Jacob Schmidt’s first business was next door until 1928 when he bought the corner building.
Max and Serene Schmidt were Maurice’s parents and he was the youngest child. Herman was the oldest and then Baruch (Barry). Jacob’s sons, Max and Jeremiah (Jimmy), were well known in NB. Jimmy was an architect who designed many local commercial buildings. Max eventually took over the store. The clerks were courteous and the goods in the store, clothes, linens, shoes were of top quality.
As a child, my mother would drive to the side door on Castell Street, let me out and I would go in to pick up whatever she had ordered on the phone. I would go to the desk in the middle of the store where Mrs. Schmidt was sitting by the cash register. She knew me and I just said, “Charge it”. Gone forever! Everything changed. “Es tut mir leid.”(I’m sorry about that).
In his book, Maurice remembers war time (WW II). His oldest brother Herman was on a gunboat in the Pacific and he and Barry were home. About growing up in NB at this time he says, “The war was far away and segregation, though near, was barely seen and not comprehended since it was so integrated in our daily lives”.
About the Schmidt store, he remembers the ice water fountain and the scale. It was sort of an icon of desegregation, as everyone drank from it. Water and weight were free.
The family went to synagogue in San Antonio. He said that Jewish people would gather in the hotel for a special great holy day season. These people still remembered the old country and “between their Yiddish accents and the German accents of the New Braunfels folks, the only talk that sounded strange to us was a Texas drawl”.
Those were the days, my friend.