Arts & Culture
The Briscoe Conjures Western America, Past and Present
Published: November 6, 2013
The Briscoe Western Art Museum, named for the late Texas Governor Dolph Briscoe Jr. and his wife Janey Slaughter Briscoe, opened officially on October 26 along the San Antonio River Walk. Ten years in the making, the museum, housed in the original San Antonio Public Library, includes nine galleries with more than 700 works of art on three levels that connect to the Jack Guenther Pavilion. Lake/Flato Architects injected its modern aesthetic into the Art Deco/Neo-classical structure.
“San Antonio is arguably the most iconic of Western cities,” said the Briscoe’s Executive Director Dr. Steven M. Karr, who previously directed the Autry Southwest Museum of the American Indian in Los Angeles. “It doesn’t matter what part of the West you are from, you are from the West. I embrace that because I am a Native Westerner and it means more to me. The [Briscoe’s] uniqueness is its emphasis at looking at artifacts as art.” However, Karr added, “We are not a history museum. We are an art museum.”
This concept announces itself even before one walks in the front door, with John Coleman’s amazing Visions of Change, a 13-foot-tall bronze statue that reflects the cultural collisions and purposeful ambition that define our concept of “the West.”
The Art Deco restoration was minimal but effective as evidenced by the interior’s hunter green walls and engraved oak trim that lets visitors revel in San Antonio’s Wild West heritage. The spacing is similarly thoughtful, an elusive quality for museums, especially those that focus on artifacts. On the two-dimensional side, whether you are looking for an oil on canvas by German-born Henry Raschen or impressionistic work by Taos-based Russian artist Leon Gaspard, the Briscoe presents a variety of solid works. A few paintings from Dolph Briscoe Jr.’s personal collection are present, including works from former ranch hand turned contemporary Western artist Melvin Warren.
As you make your way up the buffalo-hide stairs toward the second floor you are met with the Ewing Halsell Foundation Lobby overlook where you’ll have a better glimpse of the elegantly designed and arranged Indian Head nickels that line the ceiling. You also get a better view of LA art icon Millard Sheets’ Wild Horses: a set of four oil panels. That contemporary work overlooks a Wells Fargo & Co. nine-passenger stagecoach replica. Rather than seeming disjointed, this comingling of art and artifact serves to highlight the West in both form and function.