The Elisabet Ney Museum is a quiet place to soak up a little Austin history and to enjoy the arts. I went for the first time the other day and was so refreshed by my visit. I happened to be the only visitor at the time- which was perfect. I had the house and grounds all to myself and was free to explore all the little things that give it character.
The house was built by Elisabet Ney and her husband at the end of the 19th century and became the center of the Austin art scene at that time. (The studio, called “Formosa” by Elisabet Ney is actually the oldest art studio in Texas, for those interested in Austin superlative landmarks.)
It is not a large museum and doesn’t usually make it on to a list of Austin “must-see”s, but if you are interested in Austin art history, or in portrait sculpture, or old houses with lots of character, it’s definitely worth a visit. Even if you have a couple of scrappy kids in tow, you can plan a field trip to the Elisabet Ney and follow it up with a splash at one of Shipe Park’s two free pools which are just across the street. Fun and culture!
Unfortunately, the museum does not allow photography inside the studio, so I can’t give you a feel for all the beautiful plaster, wax and marble sculptures. You’ll have to go and see for yourself. If you plan a visit, here are 5 interesting things to look for:
- The portraits of individuals important to Texas history. Many of these are plaster casts for famous statues you may have seen other places. Look for Sam Houston, Stephen F. Austin, and Albert Sidney Johnston.
- Death cast of a baby in the children’s display. Elisabet Ney made a cast of a friend’s baby who died in infancy. Apparently, this was a fairly common practice during the era, but I had never heard of it and found it interesting and moving.
- Narrow spiral staircase leading up to the tower study. The house is built in a style to be reminiscent of the architecture of Elisabet’s hometown of Heidelberg, Germany. The staircase very narrow and steep and really makes you feel like you are in an old German castle.
- Display on how portrait busts are made. This section includes a display and explanation of some of the tools, photographs of the process, and several partially made busts. I had no idea there were so many steps involved!
- Picturesque creek on back property. There is a crumbling stone dam and a bridge just right for playing pooh sticks when the water level is high enough.