A stunning art deco/neo-classical-style building with sculpture reliefs of William Shakespeare and Miguel de Cervantes flanking the entrance seems like an odd home for a museum that features spurs, saddles and all things American West.
While neither of those famed authors are known for cowboy tales, their presence is nonetheless fitting. After all, they were storytellers and that’s what the Briscoe Western Art Museum does: it tells the rich, colorful stories of the American West.
A modern museum housing art and artifacts reflecting the history and culture of the American West, in the heart of downtown San Antonio, the tales told inside of its walls are reflective of a bygone era when men and women were pioneering new territory, long before maps had state names or roads. The unchartered lands that lured people west were the backdrop for tales of glory and hardship. The story is uniquely American and the art that brings it to life is on full display at the Briscoe, making it a must-see on any Alamo City visit.
Named in honor of the late Texas Governor Dolph Briscoe Jr. and his wife, Janey Slaughter Briscoe, the Briscoe preserves and presents engaging exhibitions, educational programs and public events. Located in that beautifully restored 1930s building that has a fantastic view along the River Walk, the museum includes an expansive courtyard and sculpture garden, a delightful stop as you stroll the river.
Galleries spread across the museum’s three floors feature historic and contemporary paintings and sculptures by Frederic Remington, members of the Taos Society of Artists, Maynard Dixon, Howard Terpning, Z.S. Liang and more. Visitors are greeted by John Coleman’s monumental bronze, Visions of Change, a stunning piece set in a lobby that is a piece of art on its own. It’s impossible not to stare at the ceiling and gape. It’s a perfect welcome to pull you into the wonder inside.
Even if you’re not a Western art buff, the Briscoe’s collection will lure you in and you’ll love every minute. Highlights include large and dramatic displays of fine saddles and spurs; Pancho Villa’s last known saddle; an interactive diorama of the Alamo; Santa Anna’s sword (yes, THAT Santa Anna); a 16th-century silk embroidered Spanish saddle; a Comanchero jacket; a 16th century Manila Galleon trade chest and so much more. The permanent collection of Western art and artifacts includes special exhibitions that showcase the stories of the American Indian, vaquero, American cowboy, pioneering women, and others that define the American West.
The permanent collection is fantastic and this fall offers even more reasons to enjoy the Briscoe. As San Antonio prepares to mark Día de los Muertos, the museum is sharing Almas Creativas: A Tribute to Mexican Huichol Art, a pop-up exhibit co-hosted with Day of the Dead San Antonio, San Antonio’s new citywide celebration of Día de los Muertos.
Offering more than 18 artworks handcrafted in celebration of the Day of the Dead. Almas Creativas is on display Oct. 28 – Nov. 8 and represents the intricate craftsmanship and talents of the Huichol people, descendants of the Aztec who live in the mountains of the Mexican states of Jalisco and Nayarit. Each piece in the collection features more than two million beads, handcrafted bead by bead by Huichol artisans. Known around the world for its vibrant color and intricate detail, the artwork of the Huichol tribe reflects a reverent and symbiotic relationship with nature. The exhibit includes a series of giant calaveras, the smiling skulls that are synonomous with Día de los Muertos, as well as catrinas, one of the strongest and most recognizable symbols of Day of the Dead celebrations.
Following Almas Creativas, the Briscoe holds its annual Yanaguana Indian Arts Market Nov. 23-24. Offering visitors a glimpse into tribal tradition and contemporary Native culture, this free community event features a collective of Native American artists showcasing and selling their handcrafted works of art, in addition to musical performances, dancing, storytelling, artist demonstrations of painting, printmaking, pottery, weaving, carving and Native American-inspired food.
And if all of that isn’t enough to fill your fall, you can get wild at the Briscoe during Art and the Animal, an exhibition featuring more than 100 paintings and sculptures reflecting the beauty of animals from around the world. The Society of Animal Artists’ 59th Annual Exhibition and Tour, Art and the Animal is on display through January 5, 2020. Devoted to promoting excellence in the artistic portrayal of the creatures sharing our planet, the society’s membership represents a veritable who’s who of artists from around the world. The pieces include a variety of mediums and a true zoo of animals, making it wonderful view of the natural side of our world.
Cover photo courtesy the Briscoe Western Art Museum
Dawn Robinette is an award-winning writer and communications expert based in San Antonio who enjoys finding new discoveries, revisiting old favorites and telling stories. Selected as a local expert by the San Antonio River Walk Association, she regularly writes for San Antonio Woman and Rio Magazine. You can read more of her work at Alamo City Moms.