Textile Destination: San Antonio
You may not know this, but Texans have certain assigned duties, including checking on the Alamo regularly, and drinking beer down on the Riverwalk while listening to mariachis play Johnny Cash songs. So that means I end up in San Antonio at least once a year.
After I have fulfilled my routine obligations, I usually make my way to the McNay Museum.
Marion Koogler McNay was a wealthy woman who collected modern art throughout her lifetime, and left her beautiful Spanish-style house as a museum, which opened in 1954. The collection includes works by Diego Rivera, Raoul Dufy, Cezanne, Picasso, Van Gogh, and even a huge water lily painting by Monet. Her friends Dr. and Mrs. Oppenheimer collected medieval and Renaissance works that are also housed at the museum, and in 2008 a whole wing was added to house sculpture and changing exhibitions.
After I have visited every other corner of the museum, I go to my favorite part, the Tobin Collection of Theatre Arts. (Unfortunately, photography is not allowed in this wing, but you can see representative works here.) Changing exhibits of costume designs, actual costumes, set designs, and maquettes (miniature models of theatre stage sets) are on view. I love how the exhibits show so many different aspects of a topic. Sometimes there are artifacts from different productions of the same play, ballet, or opera, so that you can see how different artists interpreted the story. Last year, I saw costumes from different productions of Swan Lake, and this time, I saw sketches and costumes from different productions of The Threepenny Opera. Or there might be an exhibit of items spanning the career of one costume designer or set designer – right now designs and costumes by Myrna Colley-Lee are on view.
As you walk further into the wing, there is a giant room filled with shelves full of art books. There are extremely rare books on display in special cases. On this visit, I saw illustrations of looms from some of the first encyclopedias to be published, in the 1700s. And last time, it was even better – there were the actual “costume bibles” on display – the books where costume designers record not only their designs, but details and samples of the actual materials used to create the costumes. (Although I just read on Wikipedia what Diderot had to go through to publish his Encyclopedie, and I guess I should respect it more than the costume bibles. But I really loved them.)
In the middle of this room is a spiral staircase that leads you down to a room filled with even more art books. And this is the wonderful part – you can sit and look at the books! You can browse and pick them off the shelves as they appeal to you, or you can search the catalog for books on a specific topic, and the librarians will kindly go and find them for you! It is pretty much my idea of heaven.
If you go to San Antonio, I would highly recommend a visit to the McNay. If you can’t get there in person, you could check out their website. There is also a fabulous book, An Eye for the Stage, by Jody Blake. It spotlights items from 12 past exhibitions of the Tobin Collection, with large color illustrations on almost every page. It’s as good as an actual visit!