Victoria boutique owner has ties to Mount Rushmore sculptor | Reserved for subscribers

Soft rock music from decades ago greets customers as they walk through the door of Charlene Mitchell’s gift shop on the corner of Church and South William streets.

A historic preservation plaque designating the house as the Herman Fischer House, built in 1901, rests just above the doorbell. A note invites visitors to ring. Moments later, the door opens and they are greeted by an explosion of color, sweet smells and friendliness – as if Mitchell had happily prepared for their visit.

“Oh my God,” she said breathlessly with a pretty smile, “How are you?”

She steps back to let visitors in and self-deprecatingly notices the crowded state of her store, Charlene’s giftsand the irregularity of his day.

Various items for sale are scattered around the room on May 13 inside Charlene’s Gifts at 401 S. William St.

“I wanted to fix it up a bit,” she said, grabbing a few items and quickly putting them away.

Then, as if she had known her client for years, she said, “You should have told me you were coming, I would have made lunch.”

If they pay attention to their surroundings inside its colorful and chaotic shop, visitors can sense a bit of history. And if they ask, Mitchell will share the story.

Mitchell’s story stems from the waterways of the Alaskan Gold Rush to a time when, as a small child in Beeville, she made clay models with Lincoln Borglumthe Mount Rushmore finisher, with his son, “little Jimmy Borglum”.

While operating her business from this historic home in Victoria’s Original Townsite, Mitchell is herself an interesting figure in South Texas history.

Charlene's gifts

Items for sale displayed May 13 inside Charlene’s Gifts at 401 S. William St.

To trace Mitchell’s story, one must return to the wilderness of interior Alaska during the gold rush in the early 1900s. His grandfather, Earl Bruce Hunt, was panning for gold in the Iditarod with his brother Franklin Hunt.

The two traveled to Alaska from their home in Upper Sandusky, Ohio, and got rich. Hunt struck gold in Alaska and he found a wife, Lucille, the daughter of one of the Iditarod’s most illustrious early settlers, Charles E. Taylor.

Franklin Hunt moved to Beeville from Alaska before his brother and opened the first Ford dealership there, The Hunt Auto Group.

After convincing Lucille to leave her home in Alaska, Earl Bruce Hunt followed her brother to Texas and bought him this Ford dealership.

He soon sold the 20 millionth Ford in the United States.

Charlene's gifts

A photo of Charlene Mitchell’s father, Charles Hunt, kneeling in front of a Ford commemorating the 20th millionth Ford sold in the United States.

He and Lucille soon welcomed a son, Charles, Mitchell’s father.

When Charles graduated from high school in Beeville, he joined the Marine Corps and ended up in Southern California, where he met Mitchell’s mother, Jeane Mulholland. They married in 1953.

Mulholland was a jack-of-all-trades at the time, working as a newspaper reporter in San Francisco and at one point part-owner of a radio station, Mitchell said.

But, after their marriage, the couple returned to Beeville and Mulholland found his place as a mosaicist. She quickly befriended and collaborated with Lincoln Borglum, perhaps Beeville’s most famous resident.

Borglum’s father, sculptor Gutzon Borglum, designed the four presidential faces of Mount Rushmore. When the senior Borglum died before the carvings were complete, Lincoln Borglum finished the job and rose to fame in the process.

But, before Borglum traveled to South Dakota to complete the mountain, he produced artwork with Mitchell’s mother, Mitchell said.

The two collaborated on a mosaic with a sculpture of Saint David for St. David’s Episcopal Church in San Antonio. A little-known jeweler working in his garage workshop named James Avery made a bronze cross, which Saint David held in his sculpted hand, Mitchell said.

Seven years ago, when St. David’s Episcopal Church remodeled its church, the sculpture and mosaic were destroyed because they could not be saved, a church official said.

Charlene's gifts

A picture of the St. David sculpture hangs May 13 inside Charlene’s Gifts at 401 S. William St. Charlene Mitchell’s mother did the mosaic while Lincoln Borglum did the St. David sculpture.

Mitchell benefited from his mother’s friendship with Borglum.

“Lincoln and my mother would put me, my brother and little Jimmy Borglum, his son, down and make us sculpt from clay,” Mitchell said, as if sculpting with the Borglums wasn’t as amazing as, say, , painting with Pablo Picasso.

Now Mitchell’s hypothetical client may grow skeptical of his yarn, so they’re led into other rooms where photos and paintings provide remarkable and beautiful evidence of his story.

Charlene's gifts

Items for sale May 13 inside Charlene’s Gifts at 401 S. William St.

“Oh yes,” adds Mitchell, “When Lincoln died, his personal effects were sent to my mother. My daughter still has many, including a Washington Steuben Glass head made from one of the clay models. of Mount Rushmore.

Mitchell jokes about how her friends will call her whenever a Mount Rushmore history show airs on TV, saying, “Charlene you really have to watch this, it’s about Mount Rushmore .”

She laughs and says, “I never find the program. I don’t even know how to operate these smart TVs. »

Charlene's gifts

A dress for sale hangs inside Charlene’s Gifts at 401 S. William St. on May 13.

It’s good to have flaws and little flaws, says Mitchell. However, at this point, the client wonders what his might be.

“When all else fails,” she says, “show mercy. To forgive. God gives us credit, so we must give credit to others. My job is to be a shining light. The best way to give is to have this gift shop. I always do the right thing for each client.

Laura J. Boyer