Gift of Rare Texas Furniture Boosts Bayou Bend’s Collection

June 5, 2008

Bayou Bend Collection and Gardens has acquired 11 examples of rare 19th-century Texas-made furniture, a gift of Houston collector William James Hill. Most of the pieces had been on loan to Bayou Bend and on view in the Texas Room and Texas Hall, including an armoire attributed to the workshop of Johann Michael Jahn, the New Braunfels cabinetmaker who is celebrated as one of the state’s preeminent furniture makers. The gifts significantly strengthen the interpretation of the Texas Room, one of 20 unique room settings in the mansion given to the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, by philanthropist Miss Ima Hogg (1882-1975). The estate is the museum’s American decorative arts center.

“This is one of the most remarkable gifts of objects Bayou Bend has ever received,” said Bonnie Campbell, director of Bayou Bend. “It elevates the collection and pays tribute to Miss Ima Hogg’s pioneering commitment to the decorative arts of early Texas. We are especially pleased to make this announcement as we recognize an important moment in Texas history with San Jacinto Day on April 21.”

The 11 pieces of furniture join two earlier gifts from Hill: a side chair attributed to Jahn’s workshop and a music stand (1845-1860) that is among the earliest known Texas-made examples of the form.

Also included in Hill’s gift is a rare engraving, Champ d’Asile, which records a brief moment in Texas history as a group of Napoleonic loyalists established a colony along the Trinity River in 1818. It was engraved by Joseph Claude Pomel (1781-1839) after Charles Abraham Chasselat (1782-1843).

Shortly after Bayou Bend was built in 1928, Hogg displayed her collection of Texian Campaigne china, historical glass flasks, and prints depicting the Mexican War in a first-floor space, now called the Murphy Room. In 1959, when that room was converted to a showcase for 17th-century American furniture, pewter, and delftware, Hogg began to consider plans for a new space for her Texas collection.

She found inspiration in a cedar-paneled room in the nearby home of Agnes and Haywood Nelms. The paneling, dating from the 1850s, had been removed from a home in Independence, Texas, and reinstalled at the Nelms house in the 1930s. In 1960, Hogg had the Gothic Revival style design adapted to a second-floor room in Bayou Bend, with the arches recessed to accommodate her Texian Campaigne china.
Little was known about Texas furniture then. Although Hogg acquired two pieces in 1962—a simple table of red cedar and ash (1850-1880) and a black walnut desk on chest (1860-1890)—she thought the scarcity of objects would make it impossible to furnish the entire room with Texas-made examples. The next best option, she reasoned, was to install Southern furniture in the room.

At about the same time, Hill, then a young student at the University of Texas at Austin, had developed an enthusiasm for early Texas furniture. “I attended estate sales and visited antique shops in Austin and the Hill Country, then widened my search into New Braunfels and Fredericksburg, where some of the finest pieces were created by German immigrants, such as Jahn,” said Hill. “I came to know Miss Hogg and other collectors, and eventually broadened my collecting efforts to include paintings, sculpture, ceramics, and silver ranging from 1840 to the present.”

Over the years, Hill’s interest in Bayou Bend deepened. He has served on the Bayou Bend Committee and has contributed a number of works to the collection.

Bayou Bend, the American decorative arts center of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, is located at 1 Westcott Street. Parking is free. The house is set among 14 acres of formal gardens and woodlands. The collection comprises more than 5,000 works, including furniture, paintings, metals, ceramics, glass and textiles.

Docent-guided tours of the house are available Tuesday through Friday, 10–11:30 a.m. and 1–2:45 p.m., and Saturday from 10–11:15 a.m. Reservations are required. Self-guided audio tours are available Saturday and Sunday from 1-5 p.m. (last admission at 4 p.m.). Admission is $10 for adults; $8.50 for senior adults and students with ID; $5 for children 17 and under, free for children 9 and under. Audio and self-guided tours of the gardens are included in the fee or are available separately for $3. For more information, call 713-639-7750.

InstantNewsWestu Staff

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