Things to Do

The San Antonio Museum Scene is Picture Perfect

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Cool off from the hot Texas Hill Country summer days with a trip to one of San Antonio’s museums. What? What was that noise? It’s summer?! Yep, summer is just around the corner. What happens in the summer in The Texas Hill Country? Heat…and a whole lot of it! So why not get out of the heat and enjoy a little art and culture? The art mecca of The Hill Country is San Antonio. The three museums highlighted below are different but all equally wonderful in their own right. It is a guaranteed good time for everyone young and old.

1. The Marion Koogler McNay Art Museum

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The McNay Art Museum was the first museum of modern art in Texas. It was originally the private residence of Ohio-born Marion Koogler. Marion came to Texas when she married Don McNay in 1917. The McNays resided in Laredo until Don took ill with influenza while serving overseas and died that same year. In 1926, Marion married Donald Atkinson. They hired San Antonio architects Atlee and Robert Ayres to build the Spanish Colonial style home. Striking iron work, stenciled ceilings and ceramic tile embellishments make this former residence a work of art in and of itself. Unfortunately, Marion’s marriage to Donald ended in 1936 at which point she reclaimed the McNay name.

The art collection all started with the purchase of Diego Rivera’s Delfina Flores. In the many years that followed, until her death in 1950, she amassed an impressive collection of paintings from Europe and New Mexico. Marion willed her art collection, house and sprawling acreage to establish the first museum of modern art in Texas. The McNay Art Museum proudly opened in 1954.

Today the McNay’s collection includes over 20,000 works of art. The collection has expanded its scope to include:

  • European Art
  • American Art
  • Modern and Contemporary Art
  • Theatre Arts
  • Prints and Drawings
  • French Art Glass
  • Medieval and Renaissance Art
  • Southwestern Art

2. Witte

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The museum was the brainchild of Ellen Schultz. Schultz was a high school teacher. She believed the city of San Antonio needed a museum, but funding it on a teacher’s salary was impossible. In 1923, Schultz and a group of like-minded citizens formed the San Antonio Museum Association. Being the resourceful educator she was, Schulz and her schoolchildren raised the funds by selling bluebonnets, cakes and tickets to performances. Through their endeavors the funds were raised and they acquired the H.P. Attwater Natural History Collection. The installed the collection at the Main Avenue High School.

Two years later, San Antonio businessman Alfred Witte died leaving enough money to fund a museum in Brackenridge Park. The San Antonio Museum Association hired architect Robert Ayres to design and build Witte Museum. The Witte Museum opened on October 8, 1926.

In the 1930s and ’40s, the museum supported archaeological research in the Lower Pecos area adding these treasures to their collections. There was also a reptile garden featuring a herpetologist milking rattlesnakes. The museum acquired three significant historic structures: the home of San Antonio John Twohig, San Antonio’s first public schoolhouse and a limestone house of a Spanish Alcade in 1790. The ’60s and ’70s were a time of expansion. A new entry was built. The square footage of the museum grew by over fifty percent.  Major exhibits were added including: Texas Wild and Ancient Texans. As the ’80s drew to an end, the San Antonio Museum of Art (part of the San Antonio Museum Association) left and became its own museum focusing on modern art.

Currently, the Witte is continuing to adapt and adjust to its grand plan. They have added the South Texas Heritage Center and the H-E-B Body Adventure. This year the Witte will unveil the Mays Family Center for Exhibitions and Special Events and the Zachry Family Aceguia Garden. Though parts of the museum are under construction there is still plenty for the entire family to see and do!

3. San Antonio Museum of Art

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The San Antonio Museum of Art is located in the renovated historic Lone Star Brewery. The extensive renovation had a price tag of over $7 million. The museum’s art consists of:

  • Pre-Columbian, Spanish and Latin folk art
  • 18th, 19th, 20th century American and European paintings
  • Egyptian, Greek, and Roman art
  • Chinese ceramics

The Cowden Gallery hosts changing exhibitions. The San Antonio Museum of is proud to have an extensive Asia art collection. The museum includes access to the River Walk, shaded pavilion, esplanade and terrace. SAMU even has a pop-up restaurant aptly named Sketch. Stop in for a quick bite.

Before heading out:

  • Check the museum websites for dates of special programs, exhibitions, and family events.
  • Don’t miss the shopping experience. Museum gift shops are full of one-of-a-kind gifts.
  • Remember to look for discounts for seniors, students and educators.