Austin Museum Day provides a good excuse to visit museums and historical locations around town. Admission fees are waived, and there’s a handy map to find everything. It’s always fun to check out new places or to revisit old favorites.
The Umlauf Sculpture Garden and Museum lies just east of Zilker Park and the Barton Springs Pool. In 1985, sculptor Charles Umlauf and his wife Angeline gifted this property and 168 sculptures to the City of Austin. Six years later, a garden and gallery building were built in the lower section. Their house on top of the hill has been restored and is available for private events. Both the house and his studio will be opened to the public in the near future.
The Elizabet Ney Museum is a hidden gem tucked away in Austin’s Hyde Park neighborhood. Sculptor Elizabet Ney built this studio/residence in 1892 and lived there until her death in 1907. The museum reopened earlier this summer after being closed for remodeling. Improvements include a new roof and restoring the grounds to the original natural landscape.
The Old Bakery and Emporium sits on Congress Avenue, just a block south of the Texas State Capitol Grounds. The structure was built in 1876 by Charles Lundberg and used as a bakery until 1936. Some remnants of Lundberg’s business still remain: an original spade (long paddle) hangs on the wall upstairs and a cast-iron oven can be seen at the back of the building.
Tibetan Buddhist monks are creating a sand mandala at The Blanton this week. This intricate work-of-art is being created in conjunction with the art museum’s current exhibit, Into the Sacred City: Tibetan Buddhist Dieties from the Theos Banard Collection. The five-foot mandala was begun after a consecration ceremony on Wednesday evening.
I first stopped by the Byrne-Reed House on Rio Grande Street, headquarters for Humanities Texas. As the state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities, this non-profit “conducts and supports public programs in history, literature, philosophy, and the other humanities disciplines.” Humanities Texas administers a grants program, creates traveling exhibitions and conducts various educational programs.
The current exhibit is Benjamin Franklin: In Search of a Better World. But I must confess that I spent more time admiring the house than reading the exhibit panels. I learned that the Byrne-Reed House was built as a family home in 1907 but was turned into an stucco-covered offering building in 1969. Humanities Texas purchased the building in 2006 and recently completed an award-winning restoration project .
Next on my itinerary was the Texas Medical Association History of Medicine Gallery. I have driven past this corner of Guadalupe and 15th Street many, many times but wasn’t aware of this little museum in the first floor lobby.
The current exhibit, Don’t Spit on the Sidewalk, describes the top 10 public health achievements of the last century, including vaccination, motor vehicle safety, and fluoridation of drinking water. The exhibit’s name comes from sidewalk bricks which were laid to help control infectious diseases. This “museum” wasn’t big but the displays were informative and I was glad that I had stopped by.
Last stop on my downtown museum tour was the German Free School, tucked away on the 10th Street hillside near Red River. I’ve been to concerts next door at The Mohawk, but had absolutely no idea that this beautiful historic building was behind the trees. The folks in the School probably know about their noisy neighbors at The Mohawk though.
Thirty-six area museums participated in Sunday’s Austin Museum Day. I took advantage of this free admission day to visit several museums in East Austin…
The Texas Music Museum “explores and documents all the music that plays a role in the hearts of Texans.” Currently their main exhibit is “Contributions of East Austin African-American Musicians to Texas Music.” This museum is not very big and seems to be more focused on providing research and materials for other organizations. The walls are filled with posters containing photographs and short biographies of famous and not-so-famous musicians from around the state.
Bill and I avoided the crowded Mother’s Day buffets this year and went to two free concerts instead…much more enjoyable with less guilt!
First we saw Elizabeth McQueen up at the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum. This month the Texas Center for Music History is sponsoring a free concert series on Sunday evenings on the museum’s terrace. Last year I had avoided going to outdoor concerts here since it’s all concrete. But while watching The Big Squeeze competition a few weeks ago, I realized that the terrace is shaded by the museum after mid-afternoon so these evening concerts are not unbearably hot.
Elizabeth McQueen performs with the Texas swing band, Asleep at the Wheel, but also does solo work. Our local NPR station KUT has been playing songs from her third and latest album, The Laziest Girl in Town. Elizabeth’s voice is clear and strong and she has a good stage presence.
The museum offers free admission on Sunday evenings during these concerts, so Bill and I looked around inside. Their latest special exhibit, Texas Music Roadtrip, celebrates famous Texas musicians including Janis Joplin, Bob Wills, Selena, Willie Nelson, and many more. I was thrilled to actually see Stevie Ray Vaughn‘s famous guitar, Number One, which has never been on public display before this exhibit. His custom Fender Strat is immortalized in the Stevie Ray statue at Auditorium Shores.
Bill and I then walked a few blocks to the Texas State Capitol to hear a free concert by the Austin Symphonic Band. I know a few musicians who play in this band and have attended their other concerts around town. We arrived late to this concert (I had spent a lot of time looking at Number One) but we enjoyed selections by Henry Mancini and John Phillip Sousa. Both concerts had several hundred people in attendance.
I was very surprised to discover that La Peña is actually an art gallery that also sells some food. Founder Cynthia Perez created this gallery to showcase Latino art in downtown Austin. Usually the word peña means “rocky outcrop or summit” in Spanish, but it can also refer to “a grass-roots community meeting place where popular folklore and other artistic expressions accompanied by food and drink are showcased.” Cynthia and her sister Lidia used to own Las Manitas Avenue Cafe, a popular Mexican restaurant that used to be on Congress Avenue as well. I remember the controversy in 2008 when Las Manitas was closed to make way for a new Marriott hotel. (Construction on the hotel was subsequently delayed and is supposed to begin later this year.)
Now about those breakfast tacos: La Peña contains a small food counter called Congress Avenue Grocery that sells pastries, coffee, soft drinks, and breakfast tacos. The tacos actually come from Elsi’s Restaurant, located north of downtown on Burnet Road. My egg-and-potato taco was quite delicious, maybe not the very best in Austin since it’s not made-to-order, but I will certainly return for more.
In my continuing quest to visit Austin’s many museums, last week I walked up to the Austin History Center, on the corner of Guadalupe and 8th Streets. I was surprised to learn that the Center is actually the local history division of the Austin Public Library. Built in 1933, this was originally the main library building, but became the Austin History Center in 1983 after the much-larger central library was opened next door.
- Deco and Moderne: Austin Architecture in the 1930s features photographs and drawings of Austin buildings built in that decade, including many public buildings that are sometimes called “WPA Deco” due to their New Deal funding. I’ve admired many of these buildings on my walks downtown, including the Greer State Highway Building (11th Street) which was built in 1933.
- Sounding Together: 100 Years of the Austin Symphony traces the history of the Austin Symphony Orchestra from 1911 to 2011. This exhibit has been on display since last fall. While I was browsing the displays, three women (maybe from the Women’s Symphony League?) were discussing what to do with the photos and artifacts when the exhibit ends next month. Their conversation was almost as interesting as the exhibit itself.