As told to Jan Jarboe Russell by Linda Pace , 57, who founded ArtPace—a nonprofit foundation for contemporary art in San Antonio—in 1993.
IN 1987 I DECIDED TO DIVORCE Kit Goldsbury, my husband of twenty years, the father of my two children, and the man who made my family’s business, Pace Picante Sauce, tremendously successful. I am part of that stoic, silent generation of Texas women who came of age in the fifties. Leaving my marriage was a radical, unconventional act that shook me to the bones.
At the time I decided to strike out on my own, some part of me still believed that marriage and family were the twin poles that anchored a woman’s life. But somewhere deep inside, I also knew there was a hidden center pole—my identity—and that I had lost sight of it by conforming to the expectations of my era.
To live my own life, I had to make a break from my family’s script. Until 1987 I had followed my mother’s example. I supported Kit in the family business, just as she had supported my father, and I put aside my artistic ambitions to serve my husband and children. It was as though the script had existed even before I was born; the players changed, but the template remained the same.
My mother, Margaret Bosshardt, is descended from a strong German-Swiss family that at one time owned the Pearl Brewery, in San Antonio. When my father, David Pace, started Pace Foods, in 1947, he did it with financial backing from my grandmother, Hedwig Bosshardt. My mother majored in art at Sophie Newcomb, in New Orleans. Later, as a young bride in San Antonio, she worked with famed San Antonio architect O’Neil Ford and a small number of artists to restore La Villita, the historic settlement on the banks of the San Antonio River. But after my brother, Paul, and I were born, my mother put her interest in art behind her duties to the family.
Like my mother, I majored in art as well. In 1966 I suffered a real blow to my confidence at the University of Texas. I took a painting class that fall from a professor whose work was very ethereal. My style was hard-edged and more abstract. At the end of the semester, he offered a vigorous critique of one of my paintings, which said in part, “I’ll give you a C if you promise never to paint again.”
I was devastated and telephoned my mother in San Antonio. She encouraged me to come home. I took her advice and dropped out of college my senior year. I wonder what would have happened if I had stuck it out and become an artist at that time. Instead, I felt foolish about even thinking of myself as an artist and took the prescribed path: marriage. By then Kit had graduated from Trinity University with a degree in political science. I had known him since the eighth grade—we first met at a teen dance at the San Antonio Country Club—and we dated on and off for years. On Christmas Day in 1966, Kit asked me to marry him and gave me an engagement ring. We were married on June 16, 1967. Six months later I was pregnant with our daughter, Mardie, and Kit was selling insurance at his father’s company. My interest in art seemed remote. I remember sitting in our small apartment after Kit had gone to work, wondering, “Is this all there is?”
In 1969 Kit began working at Pace Foods. My father insisted that he start on the production line, making the hot sauce. At first Kit was miserable, because he has terrible allergies, and the smell of the peppers and onions aggravated them. My father never let up on him, and he stayed on the line for six months. After that, Kit moved to sales. He was a natural salesman, and he loved the product. That same year, the company finally began to make a profit.
By then I had enrolled in Trinity University and was pursuing my degree in art. Our son, Chris, was born in 1972. I raised the children and tried to fit my art classes around their schedule. Consequently, I did not graduate from Trinity until 1980. Like my mother, I tried to keep making art on the side. I taught art classes for Mardie, Chris, and their friends in our family garage. I organized art exhibitions for the San Antonio Junior League. But none of these activities were serious art-making, and I desperately wanted more.
In 1977 Kit became president of the business. By then my parents had divorced, and my mother had bought out my father’s share of the business. Kit, in effect, was working for my mother. We had recreated the same triangle that my parents faced in their early marriage, but instead of my grandmother, mother, and father, the Pace Foods triangle now consisted of my mother, my husband, and me. The tension associated with running the business took its toll on the marriage. Sometimes Kit and my mother disagreed, and I felt caught in the middle.
Eventually, Kit and I sought psychological counseling for the whole family. As a result of what I learned in the counseling sessions, I began to slowly deviate from the family script. In the mid-eighties I contacted Robert “Papa Bear” Edwards—a heterosexual man who owned a gay bar in San Antonio and who had emerged as an activist on behalf of AIDS victims—and asked what I could do to help. We didn’t know much about AIDS at the time, but I was alarmed by the toll that it was taking in San Antonio, especially on the local arts community, and wanted to do something tangible to alleviate the suffering. Papa Bear challenged me to become a “care partner” for someone who had AIDS. I did small things for him; mostly I just tried to listen. These were the kinds of things that Kit