Today Carolyn Nottleson and I spent most of the day running around. First, we went to the Elizabet Ney Museum. It had been on my bucket list for a long time. When we first drove up to the museum, we were surprised by the unkempt appearance of the grounds but, upon entering, we saw a sign stating that the grounds are a certified wildlife habitat. They are much as they were when “Miss Ney” lived here. The house resembles a small castle.
The main room contains the European sculptures, only a few of which are marble; the others are plaster models. One side room holds her Texas works (1997-1906) and another room displays modern paintings and historical Austin maps. We were very impressed with the quality of her work.
Franzisca Bernadina Wilhelmina Elisabet Ney (1833-1907) was born in Münster, Prussia (now Germany). She became interested in sculpting as she watched her father carve intricate statuary and gravestones and was determined to become a portrait artist. Contrary to her parents’ wishes and prevailing customs regarding women’s education, at age 19 she enrolled in the Munich Academy of Art where she was the first woman to be accepted into the sculpture department. Two years later she received a scholarship to attend the Berlin Academy of Art. She went on to become one of Europe’s most noteworthy sculptors. She received portrait commissions from leading scholars and political figures.
In 1892, Elisabet Ney purchased property in Austin, established a studio named Formosa and resumed her career as a eminent sculptor of notables. Formosa was completed in 1893 and enlarged in 1902. It was the earliest art studio built in Texas. At Formosa, Ney sculpted legendary Texans, among them Stephen F. Austin and Sam Houston. She also assembled at her American studio portraits of European notables, including King Ludwig II of Bavaria, Otto von Bismarck, Arthur Schopenhauer and Jacob Grimm rendered from life as a young artist in Europe.
At the turn of the 19th century, Elisabet Ney’s studio became a gathering place for influential Texans drawn to “Miss Ney” and to the stimulating discussions of politics, art and philosophy that took place there. After she died in 1907, Ella and Joseph B. Dibrell purchased the building to preserve it as an art center in memory of her and established the Texas Fine Arts Association dedicated to her memory. The City of Austin assumed ownership of it in 1941 and it is managed through the City of Austin Parks and Recreation Department.
In addition to being a local and state historic landmark, it was added to the National Register of Historic Places on November 29, 1972. The museum is also a member of the National Trust for Historic Preservation's Historic Artists’ Homes and Studios program.
After this very interesting museum visit, we headed to The Oasis on Lake Travis. It was good to see Lake Travis full once more, after several years of drought. I last visited The Oasis in late 2001 -- nearly fifteen years ago already! -- so I was surprised at how much it had changed. In 2005 it was destroyed by fire but the owners quickly rebuilt. Many of their employees helped with the rebuilding effort. Now it is much larger than the original complex of restaurant and stores. One of the “big” things is the ringing of a bell at the exact moment of sunset. However, Carolyn and I didn’t stay for that.