Sunday arts pick (And Things We Love About Austin): Elisabet Ney Museum

On Oct. 24, we published “175 Reasons We Love Austin,” an idiosyncratic list of the lists various members of the American-Statesman Arts & Entertainment staff came up with.

The sprawling list of our personal lists went viral. You can read the whole thing here: (subscription-free link).

I chose things having to do with art and architecture for my list. And because I haven’t stopped loving them, I’m going to trickle them out on this blog in the next couple of weeks.

As it so happens, on Sunday, Oct. 26, the Elisabet Ney Museum is hosting “Polkapocalypse” a free celebration from noon to 5 p.m. of polka music with bands including Conjunto Los Pinkys and Grammy-winners Brave Combo. See the Facebook entry for the event here.

What I love about the idiosyncratic limestone building Ney built in 1892 and named “Formosa,” is that though eventually the German-born artist would add living quarters and a kitchen, the place was first and foremost an art studio not a house.

Hence the building’s odd architectural composition — it’s driven by the demands of Ney’s large-scale figurative marble sculpture-making.

Ney had moved to Austin in 1892 to resume her career as a sculptress after a 20 year lapse. She had just been commissioned to sculpt Sam Houston and Stephen F. Austin for the 1892 Chicago World’s Fair.

Her art was her priority, not housekeeping. Most nights she slept on the roof. “Women are fools to be bothered with housework” she once said.

At first, the building — with its quirky mash-up of stylistic details both neo-Gothic and neo-Classical — was a large high-ceilinged studio with a small antechamber on one side.

Ney built her studio on the shore of Waller Creek in the Hyde Park neighborhood.
Ney built her studio on the shore of Waller Creek in the Hyde Park neighborhood.
First iteration of Formosa, Elisabet Ney's studio.
First iteration of Formosa, Elisabet Ney’s studio.


Only in 1902 did Ney add the tower and two-story addition that has a kitchen in the basement and sleeping quarters upstairs.

And the tower? Yes, there’s a “secret” door that leads out to Ney’s favorite place — the roof.





Author: Jeanne Claire van Ryzin

Jeanne Claire van Ryzin is the arts critic for the Austin American-Statesman. She writes about visual art, theater, dance, music, performance, public art, architecture and just about any combination thereof.

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