Dee Dee (Williams) Brown

Though I never knew my maternal grandfather, Peter Mansbendel, I strongly felt his presence as I was growing up. His art work and his sense of humor were obvious in my home and, to an even greater extent, throughout his home next door.

Granddaddy's work in our home included a lovely Ave Maria plaque set into the wall over the living room mantel, a four foot floral swag above the dining room china cupboard, two large chests, a dining room suite he had made my parents for a wedding gift, and a "piecrust" table, to name a few pieces. Decorating the front of the house were carved limestone portraits of my parents.

The artwork in the Mansbendel home was mind-boggling; but what I really noticed and enjoyed were the winking characters smiling down from the ceiling beams and the snail crawling slowly up the staircase as a frog hopped quickly down...each atop a newel post. A figure of a kneeling baby was on the bottom newel post; and an owl was on the top one. When I spent the night with Grandmother, bathing was more like swimming in an aquarium. "Embossed" on the walls of the bath were three dimensional fish, sea plants, and lobsters. Granddaddy had said it made you feel like you were going to the beach without all the trouble of doing so! Occasionally Grandmother would open a treasure trove in the form of a six foot black walnut chest. Back then I was focused on the old dolls inside, but later realized the real treasure was the chest itself, in my opinion, Peter Mansbendel's most ornate and beautiful work.

Granddaddy obviously enjoyed his adopted home as historic Texas figures and scenes were abundant. To me the most memorable were a huge likeness of Sam Houston with hat and cane and Stephen F. Austin. On the table below Sam Houston sat a pentagonal humidor, each of the sides depicting one of the San Antonio missions. On the lid of the humidor was carved the five-pointed Texas star. I loved that old humidor for its scenes, but also for the unusual, handmade masks stashed inside. This piece was later given to Lady Bird Johnson.

Sunday dinners (at noon) were always at Grandmother's. The dining room wasn't particularly large, but it was beautiful with architectural details including carved flower panel wall insets, carved "shell" corner cupboards in two corners, and carved chandelier. I must say that my grandmother, Clo, was an artist, too....especially in the kitchen!

Peter Mansbendel wasn't just a woodcarver. Other fun creative touches in his home included colored wine glasses set into the living room window ledges and a huge green glass wine cask perched on one of the living room beams in which hung a celluloid (plastic) gold fish. Grandmother had the bottle removed for fear the sonic booms would cause it to vibrate off the beam. There were faux iron beam braces (made of apple box, but you’d never guess it!) that "held“ them together, carriage and ships lanterns, as well as a beautiful porcelain Chinese goddess for which he traded a piece of his work. Hanging from the center of the two story cathedral ceiling was a huge, four-sided, closed-bottom red and bronze light fixture that was the target of paper airplanes flown by my brother from a balcony. I remember one being in that light for a very long time!

So, yes, even though I didn't know my grandfather personally, I feel I know his personality pretty well. I wonder how many times my grandmother said to me "Oh, how I wish your grandfather were here; he'd have taught you how to carve."

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