TRAVEL THERE: SAN ANTONIO’S MCNAY ART MUSEUM
There’s more than one reason I have a blast traveling with my bestie. One of the benefits I truly enjoy is her encyclopedic knowledge of movies and TV – especially movies and TV she enjoyed with her boys. Since I didn’t have kids at all and tend to know more about concierges than coneheads, I can be seriously entertained by things most everyone else already knew. Enter the sculpture garden at the McNay.
You can usually tell what is most important to me on a trip, because I will schedule it first on the agenda if at all possible. That’s why the McNay Art Museum was our Friday morning destination. As we pull into the beautiful grounds of the wonderful museum, Deb says, “Incoming message from the big giant head.” This made no sense whatsoever to me. Yes, there was a large sculpture of Marion Koogler McNay‘s head there on the lawn, but what was that “incoming message” stuff about?
That’s when I got a lesson on sci-fi sitcoms. Most of you don’t need an explanation, so I’ll leave it at that. We arrived a few minutes before the museum opened which gave us some time to explore the garden. Deb posed before the big giant head in the appropriate stance and we captured a few of the other lovely sites on the grounds.
Getting to Know Marion Koogler McNay
Though I’ve mentioned the McNay before, I’ve never really told you how wonderful it is. Marion Koogler McNay was a patron of the arts and one of her husbands (she had several) built her a palace in what was once a rural area outside San Antonio. Now the estate is just minutes from downtown, surrounded by accouterments of the bustling metropolis. Learning more about the heiress’ life is just one of a plethora of reasons to visit the McNay.
Ms. McNay is one of those people who had everything other people want, but was denied the one thing she really wanted. Over the years as I’ve visited the museum, I’ve learned tidbits about her life and it is a haunting story.
Born in Ohio, to a family with money, she was exposed to great art at a very young age and it captured her heart. She was one of the first to collect works of Impressionism, which led to an appreciation of the schools which followed it, like Cubism and Fauvism. But the modern art of her day was not her only interest. She collected religious images from the Middle Ages and classic sculpture also. She was an artist in her own right and played a role in the artistic community of Taos New Mexico.
But all she really loved was Don McNay. She was still quite young when the pair met and married. Though she was well-to-do, her husband was not. He was just a soldier who was about to be posted to an assignment on the Texas-Mexico border. She came along and they lived very happily in a very modest house near his posting. In spite of her affluent upbringing, this was the best time of her life.
Unfortunately it was not happily ever after. Don was reassigned and shortly after leaving the border area, he died from the Spanish Influenza epidemic. Ms. McNay had not followed him on his second assignment, but settled in San Antonio, where the two had honeymooned on their way to the border town. There were other homes and other husbands, but her heart would always belong to Don.
One of her husbands built this beautiful mansion, called Sunset Hills, for her, and even though she made it a beacon of art and beauty for others, she had sad experiences there. It took years to build the complex residence and when it was done, our country had fallen into the Depression. She held a gala housewarming, but the pictures of it seem to echo with disappointment, rather than glee. In just a few years her marriage ended and she took back Don’s surname as her own. I can imagine her walking the halls of her beautiful home wishing she could trade it all for just a little more time with the love of her life, Don McNay.
The McNay Today
Though her own life was sad, she brought opportunity and great art to San Antonio for others to enjoy. A visit to the McNay to learn more about Marion and enjoy Sunset Hills is more than enough reason to make the pilgrimmage, but on top of it all is the art – some of it hanging on the walls, other items actually a part of the walls, like the beautiful mosaic in the courtyard.
Membership having its privileges, Deb and I got in for free, thanks to my membership at the DMA. Then we began to roam the museum enjoying first the permanent collection, then wandering back to the theater area for some special exhibitions out there. One was called “All the Rage in Paris” and it had posters, costumes and other artifacts from the days of the Ballet Russe in Paris. What and interesting and beautiful collection!
While visiting the museum we watched a video on Ms. McNay’s life, which reminded me of some of the things I’d learned about her. We also relaxed in the courtyard. I love that courtyard so much that there is even a chance that I actually go there for the fountain and mosaics rather than the art. (Don’t tell anyone! I’m still trying to impress people with my art appreciation skills.) The museum also has a whimsical and wonderful gift shop, but I managed to leave without buying anything this time.
After a couple of hours, it was unfortunately time to move on. We had many plans for our day and lunch at the Guenther House was one of them. Come back next week and find out about Champagne Chicken Enchildas! In the meantime, enjoy a few more pictures of the McNay.