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New Visitor Center and Reopened Rooms Give New Life to Legendary Texas Estate
Room in Bayou Bend. Photo: Rick Gardner. Courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.

HOUSTON, TX.- This September, Bayou Bend Collection and Gardens—the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston’s historic house museum for American paintings and decorative arts—will complete significant interior renovations and debut a new building to orient visitors and greatly increase the museum’s programming, outreach and scholarship in American art. The former estate of legendary Houston philanthropist and collector Miss Ima Hogg, Bayou Bend houses one of the most distinguished collections of its kind in the world and encompasses fourteen acres of organic, historically maintained gardens. The new Lora Jean Kilroy Visitor and Education Center at Bayou Bend, which will include meeting rooms for special programming and a publicly accessible research library, will serve as a destination resource dedicated to American art, culture, and history. In addition, the MFAH has renovated and reinstalled several significant rooms within the house itself. These spaces for many years served as museum offices and are now being returned to exhibition space to display both new acquisitions and objects not exhibited before, including extensive and distinguished collections of silver and textiles.

“Bayou Bend has long been a vital resource for scholarship in American decorative arts and a beloved destination for Houstonians,” commented Bonnie Campbell, director of Bayou Bend Collection and Gardens. “The Kilroy Center will enable us to better serve all of our audiences, while enhancing our ability to tell the story of American art, culture and history through the unique lens of Bayou Bend and its collection and gardens.”

“I think of the Kilroy Center as a kind of learning machine in a garden,” commented MFAH Director, Dr. Peter C. Marzio. “It’s an elegant and efficient facility, and its capacity for programming, scholarly research, and public access will allow the house museum itself, for the first time, to truly fulfill its potential as a unique resource for American art and material culture.”

Miss Ima Hogg
The Center realizes the vision of Texas collector and philanthropist Miss Ima Hogg, who gave Bayou Bend and her collection of American decorative arts and painting to the MFAH in 1957. A Texas governor’s daughter, trained as a pianist in New York, Berlin and Vienna, Miss Hogg (1882-1975) devoted her life and philanthropy to supporting mental health, education, historic preservation, classical music and the arts in Texas. In the early 1920s she embarked on a passionate and lifelong commitment to collecting American decorative arts; her frequent competitors in this nascent market included The Metropolitan Museum of Art and collector Henry Francis du Pont. Miss Hogg and her brothers devoted their substantial legacy to assuring that Houston could build the institutions that would sustain the city’s cultural and civic life. She intended for her public gift of Bayou Bend and its collections to tell the full story of American history to the citizens of a state that was barely a century old, and for its gardens to carry on the traditions of the great 19th-century estates of the Northeast and Southern regions. While Bayou Bend was opened to the public in 1966, Miss Hogg foresaw the eventual need for expanded visitor amenities. She purchased an additional parcel of land to the 14-acre estate in 1969, specifying that it be used for building a visitor and educational center.

The Bayou Bend Collection
In its field, Bayou Bend stands alongside the Metropolitan Museum of Art; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the Philadelphia Museum of Art; Winterthur Museum & Country Estate; Colonial Williamsburg; and the Henry Ford Museum for the scope and importance of its holdings. In addition to early American furniture, paintings, metals, ceramics, glass, and textiles shown in more than 20 room settings, Bayou Bend houses one space curated with remarkable examples of rare, 19th-century Texas-produced furniture, pottery, silver and landscapes by the German-trained Texas artist Hermann Lungkwitz.

Throughout the house, furniture from the most significant workshops, including those of John Townsend, John and Thomas Seymour, John Henry Belter, and the architect Benjamin Latrobe, are sensitively integrated with paintings by Charles Willson Peale, John Singleton Copley, Gilbert Stuart and Thomas Sully. The collection includes fine examples by the most important American silversmiths, including Paul Revere, John Coney and Samuel Kirk, among others, and rare works on paper by Peter Pelham, Amos Doolittle, Paul Revere, Asher B. Durand, William Birch and Fitz Henry Lane. Ceramics range from early slipware to fashionable Tucker porcelain of the 19th century. The collection also includes an important group of objects fabricated in England, the Continent and China, which were not produced in this country and so were sought out by Americans to complete their domestic interiors.

The Gardens at Bayou Bend
The 14 acres of gardens at Bayou Bend—for the last decade, all organically maintained—embody the vision of Miss Hogg, who avidly engrossed herself in architecture, landscape architecture, and garden design. She adapted these plantings to a domestic scale and to the Houston Gulf Coast climate, creating a total environment encompassing house and garden. These exquisite gardens and paths bordered by native bayou woodlands are nationally recognized as among the most significant in the South. They are noted for rare Duchess De Caze Pink Camellias that are no longer available in commercial nurseries, along with varieties of azaleas, gardenias, antique roses, and seasonal plantings that keep the gardens in bloom all year.

The gardens are considered the largest all-organic public garden in the state of Texas, and the museum actively contributes to horticultural research, including collaborating closely with the Texas A&M EarthKind Project. EarthKind (a trademarked name for use of specific horticultural green practices) uses research-proven gardening and landscape techniques to preserve and protect the environment—recycling beneficial yard wastes and reducing landscape water, fertilizer, and pesticide use.

The Lora Jean Kilroy Visitor and Education Center
Supported by a three-year, $25-million campaign, now nearing completion, the Kilroy Center’s two-story, 18,000-square-foot building has been designed by Houston architect Leslie K. Elkins, AIA, with production architect Larry Burns of Kendall/Heaton Associates, Inc., and built by W. S. Bellows Construction. The Kilroy Center is seeking a LEED-certified rating of Silver for its environmentally sensitive construction and energy efficiency. The Center’s two acres of grounds have been designed by McDugald-Steele Landscape Architects of Houston. The museum has worked closely with the City of Houston Parks and Recreation Department to link this property with the Ima Hogg Bird Sanctuary and provide a park-like setting for the short walk to the house museum. Located at the corner of Memorial Drive and Westcott, the sleek, metal-clad, modern-style building provides a contemporary context for the history and programming of the historic, 1928 house museum and its distinguished collections, which span 1620 to 1876. The Center is named for Lora Jean Kilroy, the project’s lead benefactor; she is a longtime supporter of Bayou Bend and life trustee of the MFAH.

The Kilroy Center features an orientation gallery; an exhibition space dedicated to the cultural, civic and philanthropic legacy of the Hogg Family; two state-of-the-art meeting rooms for public programs and special events; a book and retail shop; and a research library and study center. The research library will house some 6,000 books and other volumes, some from Miss Hogg’s personal collection. The most significant collection of its kind in Texas, it includes works on decorative arts, Texas and American history, design, cabinetry, and auction and sales records.

Museum of Fine Arts | Miss Ima Hogg | Bayou Bend Collection | Dr. Peter C. Marzio |

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