Things to Do

California Dreaming in the Texas Hill Country

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Texas Hill Country Art

“This is just like Sonoma County,” I sighed. “Except … we don’t actually have to go to California.”

It was a perfect Spring afternoon. My husband, his sister, and I were sitting under the oak trees at William Chris Winery. A bluegrass band was playing. We had just taken our first bite of a hot, delicious artisan pizza, and taken our first sip of a clean, refreshing white wine. Where were we again? Oh right . . . Texas.

Sorry, Californians. Everyone it seems, it taking cheap shots at you these days. The truth is, we love Sonoma County. Many times over the years, we have wished that we could stay with you forever. Your dramatic scenery, mild weather, world-class wineries, and respect for farm-to-table products cooking are all a balm to our pale, chafed, Northern skins.

Texas Hill Country Sculpture

That’s why we came to the Texas Hill Country. Just over a year ago we escaped ruthlessly-cold Chicago, where we have lived for the past decade, at the invitation of a Wimberley friend who had been urging us to visit. “You’re going to love it,” she warned us. “You are not going to want to leave.”

Well, we didn’t. And not just because our return flight was cancelled by severe storms for several days, but because we fell in love. Not just with the Hill Country and its people, but with a ranch. Namely, The Sculpture Ranch and Galleries, formerly the Benini Sculpture Ranch and Gallery, just outside of Johnson City. The eminent Italian artist Benini and his wife Lorraine bought this place in the 1990s and turned into one of the country’s premiere outdoor sculpture gardens and art galleries. They were ready to move on, and we were ready to move in.

Back in Chicago in February 2014, we cracked a bottle of (probably California) wine and asked ourselves if we were crazy. We had been looking for a place to realize our dream of building an arts-and-culture institute somewhere: Martha’s Vineyard? Italy? Croatia? Greece? It was a project we thought would take us ten more years to achieve. And besides, we didn’t know a thing about managing a ranch. Could we really be thinking seriously about this? Was it the wine talking? Or something more compelling?

Texas Hill Country Gallery

All through that long Winter, we said, “If we are still talking about this in the Spring, we’ll call the Beninis and explore the possibilities.” Abetting our fantasy was a table-top-sized kinetic sculpture by the artist LaPaso. It was supposed to be a reminder of our Hill Country holiday. But it became an inspiration. By Summer, we were All In.

The first thing you will see when you visit The Sculpture Ranch is our 11,000-square-foot art gallery, housed in a former aircraft hangar. It was built for President Lyndon B. Johnson when he used this place as his “Deer Ranch” in the late 1960’s. Russ Whitlock, Superintendent of the Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park, has pointed that we can see the beacon at the “Texas White House” in Stonewall from our West Porch.

We have transformed the Hangar’s former reception hall into the new Blue Gallery, where for the next several months you can discover the work of local artist Peter Mangan. Other artists, like San Diego-based sculptor Pete Deise, will be presenting one-man shows in the Fall and throughout the coming year. The Hangar continues to display an exclusive collection of Benini’s work, as well as work by the likes of Johann Eyfells, Betty Hamblen-Turner, George Smith, Rusty Yates and Pat Musick. Then, you can walk or drive two miles of trails, which showcase over 100 large-scale outdoor sculptures by internationally-renowned artists. We marvel at how each of the sculptures interacts with the natural environment, and how a simple stroll at different times of day or season reveals these treasures in a new light.

Texas Hill Country Ranch

Serious art collectors need apply. But in keeping with the Benini tradition, we are open to the public the first full weekend of every month and by appointment. All you need to do is contact us at and we will be happy to show you around. We want to share the dream that has come true for us since we assumed the stewardship of this remarkable Hill Country art and wildlife sanctuary.

Plus, there’s wine. As the first stop past Johnson City on the Texas Wine Country Trail, we have featured Hill Country vintners Texas Hills Winery and William Chris at our artists’ receptions and public events. We will continue to build on our relationships with our neighbors, so that every season our visitors will find something new to delight the eye, the palate and the mind.

And we will continue to make improvements to the land and facilities, so we can eventually offer public events such as music, theater, poetry readings and performance art. Our goal is to build a world-class art, culture and wine experience to match anything you will find in Sonoma County or anywhere else in the world.

So, again: sorry, California! We love your state and will definitely be back to visit. But we now proudly call Johnson City, Gateway to the Texas Wine Country, home. We look forward to welcoming you.

Texas Hill Country Things to Do

HOURS OF OPERATION: The Sculpture Ranch and Galleries will be open to the public the first Friday, Saturday and Sunday of each month from ten to six. And our schedules allow for extended visitations during April, May and June so feel free to call ahead any day during the next three months and see if we can accommodate your visits.

NEWS: A special selection of sculptures, both largescale outdoor works and indoor pieces in the galleries, by Peter Mangan will be featured at the Sculpture Ranch and Galleries beginning April 3rd.

We are once again accepting submissions for the exhibition of largescale outdoor sculptures. Send images with size and medium to [email protected]

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Article by Tracy Poe
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