Published: July 30, 2007
Ima Hogg, daughter of former Texas governor James Hogg, is well-known in collecting circles as the creator of Bayou Bend, the historic house museum in Houston containing one of the premier assemblages of American antebellum decorative arts.
Hogg gave her home and collection to the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, in 1957. To celebrate Bayou Bend’s 50th anniversary, the museum is publishing a new book, due out in September, that explores Bayou Bend’s past with an eye toward the future.
Certain to engage casual readers and experts alike with its behind-the-scenes account, America’s Treasures at Bayou Bend: Celebrating Fifty Years offers a warmly personal introduction to Hogg and her circle while limning the museum’s evolution since its founder’s death in 1975.
Written by Bayou Bend’s longtime curator Michael K. Brown, America’s Treasures at Bayou Bend features an introduction by decorative arts scholar Jonathan Fairbanks, who trained Bayou Bend’s first class of docents. Bayou Bend’s small but outstanding collection of Eighteenth Century portraiture is detailed in entries by MFA Houston curator Emily Ballew Neff.
Beautiful color photography by Miguel Flores-Vianna helps make this highly readable new book a fine companion to American Decorative Arts and Paintings in The Bayou Bend Collection, published in 1998. A thorough catalog of the collection, the latter capped the career of David B. Warren, who arrived at Bayou Bend from Winterthur in 1965 as the museum’s first curator and retired as director in 2003.
Warren also wrote Bayou Bend Gardens: A Southern Oasis. Published last year, it illuminates the design and collections of the historic landscape, a magnet for lovers of rare plants and classical sculpture.
Surrounded by 14 acres of formal gardens and woodlands in River Oaks, a posh residential neighborhood developed by the Hoggs in the 1920s, Bayou Bend is five miles from the Museum of Fine Art, Houston’s main campus, which houses the 1924 William Ward Watkin building and two Ludwig Mies van der Rohe additions, completed in 1958 and 1974.
Architect John F. Staub designed Bayou Bend in 1927 for Hogg and her brothers. Of pale pink stucco with black ornamental iron porches and balconies, the mansion, which opened to the public in 1966, vaguely recalls the great residences of Charleston and New Orleans.
Increasing Bayou Bend’s visibility and ability to attract new audiences has been Bonnie Campbell’s mission since succeeding Warren as director in October 2004. Says Campbell, “Even in Houston, people consider Bayou Bend a hidden treasure. Physical location has a lot to do with it. We are literally hidden from view, a problem that we plan to correct with a new visitors and education center.”
Campbell continues, “We want to build on our strengths by adding new circumferences to what is already here at Bayou Bend. It is important to identify different types of activities and programs of interest to a variety of visitors and audiences. Because of the physical limitations of the house, we will never be able to bring a lot of people through at one time. However, our beautiful garden setting and huge, flat lawn can accommodate 700 people on blankets and garden chairs for, for instance, an evening of jazz.”
Other audience-building initiatives include twilight tours, audio tours on weekends, focused tours for specific groups, family days and joint ventures with other organizations. Bayou Bend hopes to break ground on the visitors center, which will house a publicly accessible library and provide space for lectures, receptions and special events, next year.
Meant to show one of Houston’s great cultural resources in its best light, America’s Treasures at Bayou Bend presents 100 highlights from a collection containing more than 5,000 examples of Seventeenth, Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century furniture by John Townsend, John and Thomas Seymour, John Henry Belter and others; paintings by Charles Willson Peale, John Singleton Copley, Gilbert Stuart and Thomas Sully; silver by John Coney, Paul Revere and Samuel Kirk; prints by John James Audubon and Nathaniel Currier; and ceramics, glass and textiles.
Bayou Bend’s collections are displayed in more than 20 room settings, themselves of historic interest. The most familiar of these rooms †among them, the 1620‱730 Murphy Room, the 1690‱760 Pine Room, the 1760‹0 Drawing Room and the 1840‶0 Texas Room †are illustrated in the new book.
As a vehicle for displaying art, the period room has recently come into question. Jonathan Fairbanks, who first visited Bayou Bend in 1961, says, “The microeconomic restructuring of an imagined past with genuine period objects is not for the faint of heart or for those without deep pockets. Probably for these reasons, period room displays have fallen into some disfavor with efficiency-prone modern museums. Despite this, the period room still holds great popular appeal among the visiting public.”
In his introductory essay, Michael Brown sets the scene with a thoughtful profile of Ima Hogg, who he regrets never having known. A likeable woman of many interests and talents, who remained broad-minded and inquisitive throughout her long life (1882‱975), Hogg studied piano, architecture and landscape design. Encouraged by her brother Will, she bought her first antique in 1920, a New England banister back armchair, from Collings & Collings in New York City.
Hogg’s interest in antiques flagged after Will’s death in 1930, but she resumed buying in the 1940s.
Selecting 100 objects †50 acquired during Ima Hogg’s lifetime, 50 accessioned after her death †was no easy task, says Brown, who sought a representative assortment.
Hogg did her best buying in the 1950s and 1960s, when masterworks were on the market at prices she could afford. A rare Boston japanned high chest of drawers once owned by Bert Little came from John Walton in 1955. In 1959, Hogg acquired a late Eighteenth Century Philadelphia slab table from Israel Sack, Inc, and later in the year purchased a Massachusetts wing chair with its original needlepoint cover. In 1961, she acquired a pair of side chairs made for Elias Hasket Derby of Salem, Mass. A third chair from the set is at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Her two most valuable acquisitions were a Newport block and shell carved desk and bookcase, one of only 12 known, and Charles Willson Peale’s arresting self-portrait with his daughter and wife.
Brown writes, “In her later years, Hogg drafted lists of objects she sought for the collection. In 1952, as she began to ask Vincent Andrus for assistance, she drafted just such a list for him…A year before her death, she worked with David Warren to update the document. For both committee members and staff, this instrument has provided an ongoing guide for acquisitions.”
Hogg, notes Warren, “was trusting and generous. She wanted the collection to go forward, not to be a monument to herself, frozen in time.” Since Hogg’s death, hundreds of objects †beginning with Ralph Earl’s “Portrait of Dr Mason Fitch Cogswell,” acquired by Bayou Bend in Hogg’s memory in 1976 †have been added to a trove that has been thoroughly vetted and refined over the years by experts.
Long on Hogg’s list, an early Seventeenth Century Essex County wainscot chair was accessioned in 1994; a great chair, the earliest known example of South Carolina furniture, entered the museum in 1998. Southern furniture, textiles and prints, not well represented in the original collection, have been areas of special interest for the curators.
America’s Treasures at Bayou Bend brings readers closer to the museum’s many supporters, beginning with its docents. The annual Theta Charity Antiques Show in Houston has long been a leading source of funds for acquisitions. Trustees have also enhanced Bayou Bend’s collections, most notably when Houston collector James Britton Jr and his wife, Marian, donated a block and shell carved Newport bureau table, added in 1992.
In acquiring 14 pieces of early Texas pottery in 2001, Bayou Bend went slightly beyond the parameters set by Hogg, says Brown. The pieces had been shown at the MFA Houston as part of “The Wilson Potteries: An African American Enterprise in Nineteenth Century Texas.”
“I would still like to have more definition of later Greek Revival design at Bayou Bend,” says Brown, who is collaborating with colleagues on a Duncan Phyfe exhibition, set to open at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2009 before traveling to Houston. Bayou Bend leaves modern and contemporary decorative arts, as well as most European decorative arts, to other MFA Houston departments.
In conjunction with Bayou Bend’s 50th anniversary, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, is presenting “Building Foundations: Ima Hogg and Bayou Bend In The 1920s,” on view through August 12. The exhibition features items from the MFA, Houston Hirsch library and archives, including drawings and photographs from the 1920s.
Bayou Bend Collection and Gardens is at 1 Westcott Street at Memorial Drive. For information, 713-639-7750 or www.mfah.org/bayoubend .
5 Church Hill Road / Newtown, CT 06470
Mon - Fri / 8:00 am - 5:01 pm