These women share their passions, the paths they’ve taken, and the choices they have made along the way to becoming successful; not only in their line of work but for the people they work for and alongside with, to make their Hill Country communities a great place to be.
Acclaimed artist and Professor Emerita, Susan Kirchman provides artist lovers and novices alike, a different take on Hill Country art with her Johnson City gallery, Kirchman Gallery. Many might be surprised to learn the small town is a tiny hub for contemporary artists, and it is part of what drew her to call it home for her gallery back in 2005. As Susan explained, the “Hill Country called to her and her husband, Warren” and once she retired from Texas A&M University, it inspired them to transform a rundown building in the historic town square to feature different Texas artists. As one of eight, soon to be nine, galleries in the area, Kirchman Gallery is the oldest-running gallery. Kirchman takes great artistic pride in helping to bolster the art community there. She fondly spoke of fellow galleries and their owners, as all have their own focus in the artwork they highlight. In addition, they all work together in participating in the local Art Walk held on the last Saturday of each month.
While talking with Kirchman, you sense her hopes for those who visit her gallery to share in her love for art, the artists she features, and, more importantly, the Hill Country. It is evident in the gallery’s expansive space and the pieces she exhibits. You won’t find your typical Hill Country art of bluebonnets and cattle but rather a present-day twist on the genre. About a year ago, it even sparked her desire to put the focus on her own work again, and when stopping by the gallery, you might be lucky enough to catch her in action as she creates original pieces.
Residents and visitors to Johnson City can view work in her gallery, and it can also be seen at 290 Vinery, a winery and tasting room she opened with Warren in October of 2016. Kirchman explained she is not day-to-day there as she is busy with the gallery, but leaves general manager operations to her daughter, Alison. 290 Vinery came about after Warren caught the wine bug when they began providing wine to gallery visitors, and it has provided a continued outlet for the artwork Kirchman Gallery carries holding some of the artists’ larger pieces. It also allows for the blend and the perfect pairing of fine art and wine—two of the most notable characteristics you will find in the Texas Hill Country.
Provisions a 25:35 Outreach
Sometimes the paths we choose to take are winding and a little bit complex, but eventually we end up exactly where we need to be. That is precisely how Weslea Miller, a San Antonio native, describes her journey to becoming executive director of the Bulverde-based food pantry, Provisions a 25:35 Outreach. Her relationship with Provisions began in 2010 when she first served on its board of directors as a representative of her church and eventually moved into her current role seven years later. She explained her career path was not a linear one without any prior nonprofit experience, but Provisions became a passion for her. Her role on the board wasn’t enough, and she wanted to do more to become a “worker bee”, explaining how she doesn’t like sitting behind her desk but rather out with the clients.
All that Provisions provides, in serving the four zip codes surrounding the Bulverde area, offers Miller plenty of opportunities to be in the thick of things to meet the needs of those families, as well as one other paid staff person, and their roster of 60 volunteers who she refers to as employees of the heart, who help provide food, everyday household items, and clothes. Provisions welcome families whether they live in or outside of the service area. As a Christian-based organization, no one is turned away, and in April alone they saw 287 families. From there, an intake process begins where Miller and her group assess a family’s needs to give a monthly allocation for use at the client-choice food pantry where they can shop for items just as if they were in a grocery store. Miller also implemented a resource center that is available through a technology grant awarded by the McKenna Foundation, where clients can search for jobs or receive help from volunteer staff to fill out online job applications.
Miller’s passion also encouraged her to create The Bulverde Day of Services & Back-to-School Outreach, a once a year event for school-age children of low-income families to come out and receive school supplies, backpacks, or other types of free services such as haircuts or wellness screenings. The event has grown since 2014 with the help of local vendors, churches, nonprofits, and service providers along with the event’s co-sponsor, The City of Bulverde, and primary sponsor, The Spring Branch Bulverde Family Lions Club. Miller also finds time to serve as editor for the City’s monthly newsletter and is grateful for the working relationships she has created through it, along with being able to share community information and the work of Provisions.
Choices & More
Whether we realize it or not, some of the choices we make can leave a lasting impact, affecting us in more ways than one. That is exactly what Brenda Thomas had in mind when she came up with the name for her boutique, Choices & More, while on a girls’ trip. And it was years before her dream became a reality, still believing the choices you make follow you and reflect who you are. The Spring Branch store offers just that—numerous options in apparel, jewelry, and home décor—and has been a reliable staple for both Spring Branch residents and visitors. With the success she has experienced, one would think she holds extensive experience in the retail field, but she admitted working in retail was totally new to her when she decided to open her store after having spent 23 years in administrative work. It was in 2008 when she opened the small boutique with her older sister, Katie Judd, who had always wanted to open a store as well; and who Thomas convinced to move down to Texas from Minnesota to do so. Several years and a location change later, Thomas decided it was time to seize the opportunity to build her own space from the ground up if her business was to continue to grow, and it didn’t hurt that she also loved what she was doing.
In March 2018, Choices & More opened at its new location off of Highway 46 offering 5,900 square feet of space to shop. In all her years of running her boutique, she describes the ribbon cutting celebration as her favorite, recalling the outpouring of community support and how it overwhelmed her. It comes as no surprise with her dedication to customers through her hands-on involvement at the store, along with the five ladies she has on staff to ensure customers are happy and comfortable when they walk through her doors, many of whom have shopped there since the very start. With a good number of local clientele, Thomas is also mindful of the products she carries providing a set number of apparel pieces and unique home décor items, while also making sure they have fun while shopping by hosting a ladies day and night. These events are held every third Wednesday of the month with storewide specials, happy hour, and appetizers.
Fifteen years ago, if you had told Thomas this is where she would be today, she wouldn’t have believed it. She credits her husband, Bill, of 22 years, for his support, and jokes about just being along for the ride. But she has definitely proven she has made all the right choices along the way.
By Jennifer O’Neill
Photography by David Teran