Artist like no other: Thelma Cardwell-Cale

Charles Cale and Thelma Cardwell-Cale were married for 17 years. They first met after high school graduation, dated a while and then reunited over 50 years later.

Charles Cale and Thelma Cardwell-Cale were married for 17 years. They first met after high school graduation, dated a while and then reunited over 50 years later.

Like the works of art she created with such passion, Thelma Cardwell-Cale brought color and smiles to so many that she encountered.

The Pleasanton Express columnist, artist and teacher often shared her knowledge, enthusiasm and optimism, both in real life and through her writing. Throughout her life, she extended a hand to the community and was actively involved with many local organizations and causes dear to her.

She began writing for the Pleasanton Express in 1974. In her “Pen & Palette” column, Thelma shared many tips with readers on how to improve their artistic skills.

In one of her early columns, “An Exciting Point of View” in 1975, she describes beautifully the skill of capturing art subjects in nature:

“As you sit in a live oak thicket, the quiet is shattered by the fluttering wings of birds and the rustling of leaves as your winged visitors settle on the small branches. They pause just long enough for you to record their outline before taking flight again.”



In her column, she encouraged readers and offered art tips on drawing with a pencil, painting, practicing often and more.

In May of 1987 she wrote a column titled, “I didn’t get to say good-bye.” She wrote of the importance of saying goodbye to others when there is any parting for any period of time, among families, classmates, roommates, friends and co-workers.

She wrote about the beautiful details in life we often take for granted, tying together art and life. She highlighted the beauty of feeding hummingbirds and having an engaging conversation with a stranger.

She sometimes wrote about growing up in the Great Depression, living in Corpus Christi during World War II, sharing memories of her mother’s compassion for neighbors, friends and total strangers— a trait, no doubt, passed on to Thelma.

Thelma, we miss you.


Thelma and Charles Cale

Thelma and Charles Cale

On Thursday, June 11, 2020, Thelma Delores Cardwell-Cale, loving wife and mother of three children, passed away in San Antonio, Texas, at the age of 87.

Thelma is survived by her husband of 17 years, Charles Cale of Santa Clara, Texas; daughter, Dawn Rose Cardwell Murray (Charles), sons David Loy Cardwell (Sheryl) and Eric Rankin Cardwell (Dana); grandchildren David Charles Murray and Summer Dawn Rose Murray Daigle (Desmond), Emily LeeAnne Cardwell, Camille Leigh Cardwell, Chase Lenz, Travis Lenz; great-grandson Jace Cole Daigle; sisters Katherine Johns Napper (Larry) and Rose Johns Richardson; nephews Clayton Rogers (Cathy) and Jake Freeman (Tara); niece Heather Richardson Thomas; great-nieces and nephews Gareth, Avery, Ethan, and Evan Rogers, DaShae Taylor Edwards and Cody Taylor. Family by choice includes Frances Schneider, Linda Schneider Lapierre, Lolly Schneider Carr and Paul Schneider, family friends in Santa Clara and New Braunfels and the many family members from the Junction Cardwell family.

Thelma Cardwell-Cale’s artwork was featured on a line of shopping tote bags and decor at H-E-B.

Thelma Cardwell-Cale’s artwork was featured on a line of shopping tote bags and decor at H-E-B.

She was preceded in death by her husband Dr. David Rankin Cardwell, her father, Louis Travland, her mother, Margaret Vera Lee McDonald Travland Johns, her brother Louis Travland, and her sister, Aleta Jane Rogers, her nephews Louis Rogers, David Lee Miller, and her niece, Cynthia Taylor.

Thelma Delores Travland was born on October 10, 1932, in Pettus, Texas. She graduated from Corpus Christi High School and attended Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas where she met her husband David Cardwell. He noticed her walking by the tennis courts where he was playing a match. Thelma and David married August 17, 1954, and they moved to College Station where David completed his degree in Veterinary Medicine. Thelma took art classes at A&M and worked in the Commercial Art Department. Daughter Dawn Rose was born in 1956 and son David Loy followed in 1958. Son Eric Rankin came along in 1965.

The family moved to Pleasanton, Texas in the early 1960s where David began his Veterinary practice in a small white house just around the corner from the Pleasanton School and next door to the two-story yellow house belonging to Taylor and Frances Brite.

Thelma Cardwell-Cale and daughter, Dawn Murray

Thelma Cardwell-Cale and daughter, Dawn Murray

On one occasion, Mr. Graves Peeler (an Atascosa rancher) came to the house/clinic door and when Thelma opened the door he said, “Little girl, is your father home?”

“No sir,” she replied, “he’s on a call delivering a calf.”

David and Thelma became good friends with Mr. Graves as David treated his longhorns and several dogs.

Dr. Ben Parker, one of the co-founders of the Pleasanton Cowboy Homecoming asked local artists to submit an emblem that would promote the Homecoming. Inspired by David’s words, “Why not use the longhorn, replacing the proverbial stork, and have the baby hanging from the longhorn’s mouth in a diaper,” Thelma’s drawing was chosen by the Pleasanton Chamber in 1968. It has shown up on many items throughout the years to honor Pleasanton as “The Birthplace of the Cowboy.”

Thelma and her first husband, Dr. David Cardwell.

Thelma and her first husband, Dr. David Cardwell.

The family was very active in the First United Methodist Church. Thelma was also very involved in the community. She was Dr. David’s bookkeeper, Mother, Artist, Troop leader and so much more.

She started a Pleasanton Campfire Girl Troop; helped with Boy Scouts that son David attended. She put her passion for artistic expression and education into action by teaching art and was instrumental in starting the Pleasanton Art Club. She invited many prominent Texas artists to give live demonstrations; club members shared their talents and inspirations within the club group. The Art Club began to sponsor the “Artist of the Month” in the Pleasanton Express. These artists’ works were showcased in the First National Bank, in the beginning. The “Artist of the Month” showcased local artists for many years.

Thelma and David taught their children to love animals and people and to do their best to follow the Golden Rule. She taught them the love of colors, nature and how to seek the beauty in any surrounding. He taught them many rules of life as they went on many veterinary runs. All together they played many a round of dominoes while she made her famous fudge and many a communication game while riding in the car.

Thelma Cardwell- Cale in her youth.

Thelma Cardwell- Cale in her youth.

School was emphasized as a place to learn and do your best. She saw all three of her children work hard and achieve higher education. Dawn earned a Masters in Education. Dr. David, a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine. Dr. Eric, a PhD in Clinical Psychology.

Thelma co-wrote a column with her husband David for the Pleasanton Express called “Pen & Palette.” For over 45 years, their column explored art in its varied forms … using words, poetry, colors in nature, on canvases, abstracts, oils, watercolors and as many others as the mind can imagine. They focused on seeing and sharing the “Beautiful Side of Everyday Life,” as well as the love that helps us all through the troubles of life. She continued writing the column after her husband’s death in 1988.

Thelma and Charles Cale

Thelma and Charles Cale

The Atascosa Fair Book was enriched when Thelma included historical information from many Atascosa residents to showcase their family histories. She researched, interviewed families, and gathered family photos and historical data about the County. She designed and drew the artwork for the covers of the Fair Book and included artwork by local artists, poetry, recipes and more. This was accomplished by working with Leon Zabava. Together they turned out many books worthy of keeping on coffee tables, with its excellent artwork, stories and interesting recipes.

Understanding the need of the young people in the Atascosa Alternative School in Jourdanton to have an outlet for artistic expression, Thelma volunteered weekly to teach an art class for those students. Year after year, she mentored many a student in citizenship and communication skills, all while teaching them to draw and paint.

Pleasanton’s “Birthplace of the Cowboy” logo was designed by Thelma Cardwell-Cale.

Pleasanton’s “Birthplace of the Cowboy” logo was designed by Thelma Cardwell-Cale.

She substituted in many different classes in PISD. No matter the subject, she always brightened the class with a quick drawing on the board or an artistic viewpoint to encourage the students to do their best.

Thelma participated in the Yesteryear Festival at Pleasanton’s Longhorn Museum for over 24 years. She happily showed guests how to make handkerchief dolls and told of the Civil War history behind them. She also created “Twins in a Cradle” on the spot to give to fascinated children and adults alike, who left with the twins and the memory of Thelma’s voice and smiles.

She was a member of the Pleasanton Woman’s Club for many years and served her community through their many projects and won awards for her Art. She also worked with PISD Language Arts teachers to get their students to write and enter their poetry in yearly writing competitions. Many students placed in the local and state meets.

Thelma donated her own art and gathered donations from other local artists to hang their art in the Atascosa Health Center in Pleasanton. She also drew their logo which showcases a windmill and oak trees. She was awarded a plaque that thanked her for all her hard work in bringing beauty to the walls of the clinic through paintings, photography, and fabric art and quilts.

Thelma first met Charles Cale as they passed each other on the stairs at the phone company where they both worked after graduating high school. After they dated a while, he had to leave to become a soldier and she went off to college. Meeting each other over 50 years later, they found their love blossomed anew. They were married in Charles’ greenhouses where he grew many varieties of flowers, but was most well known for the thousands of beautifully varied poinsettias that graced The River Walk and many San Antonio churches during Christmas seasons.

Charles and Thelma shared a love of the written word and photography. He was a great listener and sounding board as she worked on “Pen and Palette” columns and made good suggestions as well. She taught him the art of photography as she began to take pictures everywhere they traveled. He soon began to be her spotter and would turn off the road to show her a place just waiting to become a picture. They had been married 17 years at the time of Thelma’s passing.

Living in two communities, Pleasanton and Santa Clara, allowed Thelma to broaden her art horizons as she joined the New Braunfels Art League and learned to paint with watercolors. She took lessons from Angie Brown and was excited to branch out into a new world of delicate colors and strokes.

She was a big believer in organ donation. When she began to lose her sight, she was gifted with two corneas which allowed her to continue writing for the Pleasanton Express, using her photography skills for many projects and, of course, painting. She learned new painting skills and taught art classes even into May of this year.

Thelma’s art has graced and still graces many homes in a wide variety of places throughout the United States and overseas: family, friends, President LBJ’s country home, Governor’s homes, Pleasanton Civic Center, Jourdanton Court House, Main Methodist

Hospital in San Antonio, Art Shows, H-E-B, many San Antonio and New Braunfels doctors and surgeons. She also gifted Limited Edition prints to many people she met in her travels.

Dawn remembers how tickled she was when her mother was the first “Fine Arts” artist in Texas to have their work chosen by H-E-B to put on their grocery bags. She excitedly held up the first bag as she ran through the hallway of PISD’s PIC campus where she was teaching, shouting, “My Mom’s a BAG lady. My Mom’s a BAG Lady!” The bags very quickly sold out and the next time they chose one of Thelma’s paintings, they chose two: a longhorn with its calf and a Texas front porch scene. In addition to the bags they printed her art on mugs, cutting boards and serving trays.

In lieu of pay for the use of her art in the H-E-B bags, Thelma requested that they print her coloring books for South Texas school children. There were two different books which included drawings of hers and her grandchildren; over 10,000 were printed. She handed them out to several South Texas elementary schools and gave the teachers permission to print copies of the pages so that the child would have the books to use again in the future.

All of Thelma’s life was rooted in a deep love of God. She shared that love through the Golden Rule. Her beautiful alto voice sang in the church choir. She taught by example. Her principles were demonstrated through her words and works. In addition to raising their own three children, Thelma and David opened their home to 14 children over the years. They helped them through difficult times and even to graduate from high school and go to college.

Always looking for inspiration for her next “Pen & Palette,” she would stop conversations and say, “Wait! That’s wonderful! Let me get a pencil and write that down. It will make a great ‘Pen & Palette.’”

Thelma Cardwell-Cale’s life, talent, compassion and generosity cannot be summed up in these few words. Her words of wisdom, of art, of love and life and beauty continue to spread through the lives of all who have met her in person and those who will meet her only through her art. She spoke love and encouragement and warmed hearts. That will continue to bless us all.

If you would like to honor Thelma, instead of flowers, please consider:

  • •A donation for school supplies to the Larry Brown Alternative School in Jourdanton. Contact Jourdanton ISD and tell them the donation is for art supplies for the Larry Brown Alternative School. As Thelma volunteered and taught Art to hundreds of students over many years, she brought the beauty of everyday life to them. She brought them encouragement and caring to let them know they were not “throw-away kids.”

•Donate to a charity dear to your heart.

•Consider becoming an organ donor. Thelma continued to touch so many people for many years when she received the gift of sight due to two corneal transplants.

Due to the many difficulties caused by COVID-19, there will not be a formal funeral for celebrating the life of Thelma. The family would like to have a Celebration of Life service in the near future, but are concerned about keeping everyone safe and healthy … just like Thelma would want.

Dawn Cardwell Murray will be creating a Facebook page to honor Thelma. Please search for: Thelma Cardwell Cale: A Celebration. Drop a note to tell how Thelma touched and enriched your life. Thanks, in advance, for sharing with us all.

NOTE FROM Dawn Cardwell Murray: “I would like to thank the staff of the Pleasanton Express, beginning with Mr. & Mrs. Wilkerson and continuing up to the present time (Noel Wilkerson Holmes, Sue Brown, Lisa Luna and Leon Zabava) for their time and support of Mother throughout the years. I know her “Pen & Palette,” Artists of the Month and other articles enriched our community because of the many comments received personally and those spoken to others. Mother’s mission to spread “The Beautiful Side” was made possible by the Pleasanton Express. Thank you muchly for all that you did for Mother and for all that you do for our community.”

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