Our trips to Houston primarily consist of catching up with family and friends. However, H-Town, as it is lovingly known, has a great range of interesting and captivating museums and galleries which we have enjoyed visiting. Houston, the fourth largest city in the US by population, doesn’t have the reputation of being a tourist hub, but perhaps that perception now needs to be reviewed. With over a 150 museums and galleries in the Greater Houston area, there are plenty to choose from. Just make sure that you have the use of a car!
Originally, it was our intention to write a blog on our ten favourite museum and galleries in Houston, but we found this to be far too difficult. Instead, we decided to present our personal top twenty and split over two blog posts. So, in no particular order, here are our first batch of favourites.
The Houston Museum of Natural Science
Located in Houston’s Museum District, The Houston Museum of Natural Science (abbreviated as HMNS) is a huge, captivating, science museum. The museum was established in 1909 and it can boast over two million visitors each year. The permanent exhibits at the museum includes the following: the Focualt Pendulum, demonstrating the Earth's rotation; the Cullen Hall of Gems & Minerals, featuring over 750 crystallized minerals and gemstones; the Lester and Sue Smith Gem Vault, showcasing finely cut gems in jewelry; the Farish Hall of Texas Wildlife which exhibits animals and wildlife native to Texas; the Evelyn and Herbert Frensley Hall of African Wildlife; the Strake Hall of Malacology, with many specimens of mollusks; as well as our favourite, the Morian Hall of Paleontology, containing over 60 major skeleton mounts.
Cockrell Butterfly Center
When visiting the Museum of Natural Science, we always make sure to also visit The Cockrell Butterfly Center, which is a butterfly zoo located within the same complex. The center is a huge three-story glass building, which is filled with tropical plants and butterflies. Also, part of the center is devoted to the Brown Hall of Entomology, which is filled with live creepy crawlies.
The Menil Collection
The Menil Collection was the private art collection of John and Dominique de Menil, which they gathered from the 1940s to the late 1990’s. The original collection of 10,000 art works has almost doubled in the last twenty years since the de Menil’s passed away, creating a varied and eclectic gallery. The Collection includes the Arts of Africa, Arts of the Americas and Pacific Northwest, Arts of the Ancient World, Arts of the Pacific Islands, Medieval and Byzantine Art, the Menil Drawing Institute, Modern and Contemporary Art, Surrealism, and Witnesses.
Bayou Bend Collection and Gardens
Bayou Bend is a house museum for American decorative arts and paintings. Displayed in the former home of Houston civic leader and philanthropist Ima Hogg (1882–1975), the collection is one of the finest showcases of American furnishings, silver, ceramics, and paintings in the world. Guided tours are available, which gives access to both floors of the house. If you miss one of the time slots, you can also conduct your own self-guided tour, but you will only be able to visit the rooms on the ground floor. The house is situated on 14 acres of well-maintained gardens and you can while away an enjoyable hour or so wandering around the greenery.
Beer Can House
Houston can boast of several quirky, one of a kind attractions, such as the Art Car Museum and the Orange Show, but the one weird museum that gets on our list is The Beer Can House. As the name suggests, this is a private house which was decorated in beer cans and has become a well-loved favourite in Houston. The house is in the middle of the normal and unremarkable residential neighborhood of Rice Military and was owned by John and Mary Milkovisch. Over 18 years, starting in 1968, John covered the outside of the house with flattened beer cans, adding touches such as the garlands of cut beer cans hanging from the roof edges. It is estimated that there may be over 50,000 cans adorning this house! John considered his work an enjoyable pastime rather than a work of art, but he did enjoy people's reaction to his creations. Self-guided tours of the inside of the house are available only on a Saturday and Sunday afternoon (and Wednesday to Friday during the summer months), but the outside of the house can be seen from the sidewalk at any time.
Buffalo Soldiers National Museum
Most people have probably heard the term ‘Buffalo Soldier’, as sung by Bob Marley, but do you know to what it referred? Well, the 10th cavalry, an all African-American Army unit, was nicknamed Buffalo Soldiers by Cheyenne warriors in 1867 out of respect for their fierce fighting ability. Then, over time, the term Buffalo Soldier was applied to all African-American soldiers. The Buffalo Soldiers National Museum is the only museum in the U.S. dedicated to these service men and women and tells the interesting and, at times, shocking story of the African-Americans who proudly served their country.
Rienzi, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
Rienzi, the MFAH house museum for European decorative arts, is situated on four acres of wooded gardens in the historic River Oaks neighborhood. Formerly the home of philanthropists Carroll Sterling Masterson and Harris Masterson III, Rienzi was designed by prominent Houston architect John Staub in 1952. Opened to the public in 1999, Rienzi houses a substantial collection of European decorative arts, paintings, furnishings, porcelain, and miniatures.
Houston Police Museum
In the heart of Downtown, the Houston Police Museum is located in the lobby of HPD headquarters. This small, but interesting museum features unique displays and a memorial wall honoring the ultimate sacrifice made by those officers that gave their lives in the line of duty. Included among the displays are artifacts from the Honor Guard, SWAT, Mounted Patrol, badges, uniforms and other equipment utilized over the years. Because of its location, you will need to go through security to access the museum, so make sure that you have official identification such as your US Drivers Licence or your passport if you are a non-US visitor.
Cy Twombly Gallery
When visiting the Menil Collection, you should also visit the eponymous Cy Twombly Gallery, which was opened in 1995 across the road from its sister gallery. The works on view created by the highly influential artist Cy Twombly date from 1953 to 2004 and comprises many of his large-scale, freely-scribbled, calligraphic and graffiti-like works.
The museums at the Houston Baptist University
The Houston Baptist University can boast of not one, but three great museums! The Dunham Bible Museum, the Museum of Southern History and the Museum of American Architecture and Decorative Arts can all be found in the Morris Cultural Arts Center building.
The Dunham Bible Museum has an extensive collection of rare Bibles. On public display are ancient manuscripts; decoratively illuminated medieval Scriptures; examples of the earliest printed Bibles; the earliest Bibles in English; the earliest Bibles printed in America; Bible translations from across the centuries and around the world. For us, however, the most interesting Bible on display was the ‘Wicked Bible’ which was printed in 1631 and mistakenly omitted the word ‘not’ from one of the Commandments, so that it read “Thou shalt commit adultery”!
The Museum of Southern History chronicles the history of the South during the mid-1800's. The many cases and dioramas display the clothing, fine furnishings, uniforms, tools, and weapons of the people who settled in the region and how they rebuilt their lives after the Civil War.
The Museum of American Architecture and Decorative Arts display the social history and material culture of people settling in Texas between 1830 and 1930. The Museum provides a warm, intimate and friendly setting for the household furnishings and decorative arts which help the visitor appreciate the changes that occurred as Houston grew from a frontier settlement to a town.
Join us next time when our family adventures take us to the second part of our museums and galleries of Houston post. Until then, happy reading and safe travels.
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