Most people have never been to Abilene, Texas. I, myself, had probably been there, or through there, in my childhood, but who remembers? It is familiar to most people because of the song, Abilene, Abilene, recorded over the years by country greats since the 1960s by everyone from Buck Owens to Bobby Bare to George Hamilton IV. “Abilene, Abilene, prettiest town I’ve ever seen …” Chet Atkins did a wonderful instrumental version of it at one point, and Willie Nelson and Sheryl Crow recorded a duet of a song called Abilene written by Crow in 2002; she said it was meant to be interpreted “not only as a place, but as a person or a state of mind.”
I don’t know if Abilene is the “prettiest town I’ve ever seen,” but it certainly became a welcome state of mind to me a couple weeks ago when I attended the opening reception of the art quilt show, “Today’s Quilts: Art in Stitch,” at the Center for Contemporary Arts downtown. My piece, “Art Glass Quilted,” was included in this show (see above). The exhibition proudly displayed 33 pieces by 23 artists; 13 of us were present at the opening reception, which is quite remarkable, considering that Abilene is somewhat “out-of the-way,” even for people who live in Texas. But this exhibit was a juried show, and other exhibitors like me were pleased to be a part of it, and willing to drive long distances for the privilege. It was nice to meet other artist members of the Studio Art Quilt Associates, and to feel honored and celebrated as individuals for our work. (In case you’re in the neighborhood, the show runs through November 11, and then it travels to Texas Tech University Museum in Lubbock through February 18, 2018.)
The Center for Contemporary Arts is a beautiful two-story museum space downtown on Cypress Street; it has been there now for 27 years and is one of the major cultural scenes in Abilene, along with the Grace Museum (of Texas art) and the landmark Paramount Theatre (1930), one of America’s grand, historic theatres hosting live performances, concerts, and classic films. The Cypress Street Station Restaurant down the street is something of a beacon in itself, at least for the foodies among us. A railroad divides Abilene right down the center of town, and that downtown area is typical old West Texas, with long, low brick buildings flanking streets with angled, front-end parking. No skyscrapers here, though this is a city of about 110,000 people.
Those who know Texas history know Abilene as an early stock shipping point, established by cattlemen on the Texas and Pacific Railway in 1881 and named after Abilene, Kansas, the endpoint of the Chisholm Trail. Today it has become the commercial, retail, medical and transportation hub of a 19 county area known as “The Big Country” or the “Texas Midwest.” The people here have, in fact, something of that flat, mid-western nasal accent (think Matthew McConaughey — all rite …all rite) and that calm, unassuming demeanor so characteristic of the hospitality and modesty of those in the central United States.
Regardless of how it is described, to the people of West Texas, residents and visitors alike, “Abilene has it going on!” Certainly, my stay there, however brief, provided a much-needed respite from these long and difficult weeks I continue to endure here in South Texas post Harvey, and a gentle reminder that I, too, have to keep “it going on.”
Postscript: No, I have not been hired by the Chamber of Commerce for Abilene, Texas, to promote their city.