A long line of female patrons have worked to establish the arts and culture scene in Texas, from Ima Hogg, whose influence was widely felt in the Houston art community, to Velma Fuller Kimbell, who endowed a remarkable portion of her fortune to building Fort Worth’s Kimbell Art Museum. Six women, all part of the giving program Texas Women for the Arts, continue the tradition. They have shared their early arts inspirations and the museums, collections and venues travelers should not miss .
Leslie D. Blanton
It’s no surprise that Leslie D. Blanton’s current passion is the Blanton Museum of Art in Austin: the museum was named for her father-in-law and she now serves on its council. But she first became involved in the field when she moved to Houston in 1975. Some friends introduced Blanton to the city’s Museum of Fine Arts, specifically Hogg’s former home, Bayou Bend, where she fell in love with the mansion’s early American pieces. “It’s spectacular, tactile work,” she said. “I wanted to reach out and touch it, but curators, please note: I never did.” On View Now: Museum of Fine Arts, Houston’s roster of exhibits includes “English Taste: The Art of Dining in the Eighteenth Century.”
Nothing, except maybe a team win, gets Gene Jones, wife of the Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, as excited as Cowboys Stadium, and for good reason: the stadium houses a collection of 38 pieces of contemporary art, many of which are giant, site-specific installations over entryways and food courts by living artists like Olafur Eliasson, Gary Simmons and Franz Ackermann. What makes Jones especially proud is the art’s accessibility. “Many people didn’t grow up going to museums, and now opening a gallery door seems intimidating,” she said. “This collection is for everyone, not just art lovers.”
Donna Axum Whitworth
It’s hard to speak to any Texas Women for the Arts member without hearing praise for Donna Axum Whitworth, the 1964 Miss America winner, who was a founding member of the organization when it was created in 2006. Ms. Whitworth and her husband retired to Fort Worth, where she’s currently on the board of the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra. She’s a frequent fixture at Bass Performance Hall, the orchestra’s primary venue, whether she is seated in her favorite seats (middle of the lower orchestra level) at a Van Cliburn piano competition or listening to Asleep at the Wheel during the summer’s Concerts in the Garden. “Fort Worth’s diverse culture is expressed through this music,” she said. This Month: Welcome 2012 with the Symphony Orchestra show “Swingin’ in the New Year,” on Dec. 31.
The philanthropist Gayle Hunt, a lifelong El Paso resident, remembers when the city received 59 works of European art from the Samuel H. Kress Foundation. (Kress, who amassed around three thousand works during his lifetime, made his fortune opening five-and-dime stores throughout the United States.) “That was the beginning of the El Paso Museum of Art,” Hunt said. The museum celebrated its fiftieth anniversary this year, and while the Kress Collection is permanently on display, Mexican art is also a major draw. Don’t Miss: A current exhibit, “Our Lady of Refuge of Sinners,” features several of the museum’s beautifully crafted nineteenth-century Mexican retablos, or devotional works.
Though Amy Barbee spent years in Los Angeles, she was glad to return to her hometown of Austin where she works as the executive director of the Texas Cultural Trust, the umbrella organization for Texas Women for the Arts. She can easily zero in on a number of Austin-based cultural spaces that have awed her over the years—the Paramount Theatre among them—but she finds the Renzo Piano-designed Cy Twombly Gallery at the Menil campus in Houston to be “inspirational.” Stop by to See: Fifty-plus Cy Twombly paintings, sculptures and works on paper are on display at the namesake gallery.
The vision of Texas Women for the Arts—“Awaken and Nurture the Artist in Every Texas Child”—resonates with Debbie Montford, a philanthropist and Texas Tech University System regent. She grew up on a farm outside Friona, a few miles from the New Mexico border, so trips to museums were few. Today, she’s a mover and shaker in San Antonio, a city that is experiencing an arts evolution of sorts. Among other projects, Charles C. Butt, the chairman and chief executive of the grocery chain H-E-B, announced that he would donate $20 million toward a new campus for the San Antonio Children’s Museum, and the new Tobin Center for the Performing Arts is expected to open in 2014. “We’re creating a cultural corridor on the River Walk,” Montford said. Coming Soon: The Briscoe Western Art Museum, which was designed by Lake/Flato architects, will partially open next year and will host exhibits on Texas and American West history and art.