Museum of the Big Bend hosts grand opening of building exhibiting early Texas art

The Museum of the Big Bend, a nearly 100-year-old institution on Sul Ross State University’s campus, will commemorate the opening of a brand-new building this week. The Emmett and Miriam McCoy building will be dedicated to showcasing early Texas artists and the museum’s growing art collection. Photo courtesy of Rebekah Antrosio/Museum of the Big Bend.

ALPINE — The Museum of the Big Bend, originally established on the Sul Ross State University campus in 1925, will celebrate the opening of a newly-constructed 10,000 square foot exhibition and events space this weekend. 

The Emmett and Miriam McCoy building was erected next to the museum’s original 1937-built stone structure, a corridor now connecting the two. While the long-established space will continue to display the museum’s historic artifacts and maps, the modern facility — complete with three galleries and a “cultural events center” — will focus on exhibiting the museum’s growing collection of early Texas art. 

The addition of the Emmett and Miriam McCoy building doubles the footprint of the museum, which serves around 18,000 visitors annually. 

Museum Director Mary Bones said the new space, which has been in the works since 2018 and came to fruition thanks to a successful capital campaign, will allow the institution to showcase more of their collection, in turn increasing their ability to tell stories, further promoting the work of the university and the rich culture of the Big Bend region. 

“As people come out to the Big Bend area, instead of heading south immediately [we hope] that they stop off here at the museum,” said Bones. “Because we give everybody a real nice overview of what to expect in the area, and then open their eyes to the great art and artists that have worked in this area.”

Sul Ross does benefit from a history of artist’s efforts — from 1921 to 1950 an annual summer art colony took place where “some of the best early Texas artists” taught, said Bones. The work of those artists and their pupils are among the museum’s collections, some recent acquisitions that will be on view in the new building. 

“The museum has slowly been building, through the generosity of donors, our early Texas art collection, with, right now, a focus on those folks who not only came out here and taught but their students as well during the summer art colony,” said Bones. 

On display during the opening weekend will be a granite sculpture titled Interlocking Column by Jesús Moroles, which visitors will pass on their path indoors; large murals by Xavier Gonzalez and Julius Woeltz; works from the John L. Nau III Collection of Texas Art; a series of rarely seen paintings by the late El Paso artist Tom Lea; part of an exhibit titled Western Beef Cattle, on loan from the Dallas Museum of Art; and more. 

The Fred Darge collection, paintings by the artist and ranch hand who worked on family ranches in what is now Big Bend National Park in the early to mid 1900s that were recently gifted to the museum, will also be on view. Along with early Texas art, the Museum of the Big Bend is also amassing a Mexican Folk Art collection, consisting of Coronas, retablos, prayer candles and more that will be held in new collections storage. 

Besides allowing for more comprehensive display of the museum’s holdings as well as the opportunity for traveling exhibits via three new galleries, the space is also outfitted with an indoor and outdoor reception area that the museum will utilize for programs as well as rent out to the larger community to help fund museum operations. 

Designed by the prolific Texas architect Larry Speck of architecture and engineering firm Page, whose works also includes the U.S. Federal Courthouse in Alpine and a number of large-scale public facilities across the state, the new wing was designed to be low maintenance, said Bones. Its exterior is made out of Corten weathered steel, a material that develops a rusty-hued patina over time, in keeping with the older iteration’s earth tones. 

Constructed with the help of the Works in Progress Administration, the older museum facility helped steer the contemporary structure’s features, said Bones, which consist of a diamond polished concrete floor, sourced from aggregate from the area.

“What we did is try to take some of the colors and the shapes of the [original] building and incorporate it into the new building,” said Bones. “So the Corten [steel] having that wonderful rusty red color is a nod back to the historic building. We have a number of curved windows that reflect back on the beautiful arched windows in the historic museum building.” 

The museum is hoping to work collaboratively in the new museum space with the art department on campus moving forward, and is revamping its education curriculum to bring in more area schools to the educational site, said Bones. 

The grand opening begins with a ticketed reception on Friday evening, and continues with a free, public event from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday complete with tours, lectures, a book signing, and more. Bones expressed excitement for the expansion, and said it will help the institution better fulfill its long-held mission of collecting, preserving, interpreting and educating the public on the Big Bend region. 

“We’re just building on what started almost over 100 years ago,” said Bones. “We can now expand telling the story of this area to a larger audience since we have so many more people coming out to visit this area, as well as to remind folks who call this place home what a truly unique place that we live in.” 

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