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 just couldn’t understand.
Over time, I started seeing a psychotherapist who emphasized dream therapy. Night after night, I experienced in dreams the part of me that existed apart from what was expected of me. The dreams were my nightly compass, my way of listening to my inner authority instead of allowing external events to continually shape my life. Kit also didn’t understand why the dream work was meaningful. The distance between us widened.
I decided to leave my marriage for many reasons. I left it because the family script that I had inherited no longer worked for me, nor for Kit, Mardie, or Chris. As I ventured more into the world of contemporary art, I found myself challenging all sorts of assumptions about politics, culture, and family. The kind of art that I am drawn to is progressive, not conventional. It reflects our world in ways that are invigorating to some and threatening to others. This placed me at odds with the kind of practical, businesslike sensibility that I had previously shared with Kit. But mostly I left the marriage because I literally started dreaming about making art and knew that I could not become who I needed to be—an artist, a collector, a patron—unless I grounded my identity in art.
One of the first in a series of art-making dreams was about a multicolored snake. In the dream, I could see the snake slither and move on the floor. I was fascinated by its vibrant colors. The colors were hypnotic; they moved in slow motion. To me the snake was a reminder of all sorts of things that are necessary to an artist’s life—emotion, mainly, but intuition as well, the kinds of sharp instincts that tell you when to be silent, when to hiss, and when to strike. I watched the snake move for what seemed like a long time, until it unexpectedly struck the right side of my head. I had been bitten by what I later came to understand was a lifelong passion for contemporary art. I realized that I would spend the rest of my life fostering my own life as an artist as well as the creativity of others. You could say ArtPace San Antonio was born at that moment.
Kit and I worked out the details of the divorce with a minimal amount of hostility. As a result of the settlement, I gave up my share of Pace Picante Sauce. When Kit sold it to the Campbell Soup Company eight years later, I didn’t have many regrets, even though I didn’t share in the profits of the sale. He made a shrewd deal.
By then I was working regularly in my studio as an artist, building my own collection of contemporary art, and getting to know more than one hundred artists from around the world. I made a good deal myself. The script I am living is finally my own.