Texas Heritage, Fall 1984 Page: 5
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In 1893, Ney won acclaim, however, at the Exposition
and not only were her talents revived and renowned, but,
in addition, the world was made aware that culture and
artistic achievement did exist in the State of Texas.
As Ney's community acceptance expanded, Formosa became
the center of culture in the city of Austin, a privilege
of welcome and coveted social center. She decided
to expand the studio into a more complete home by
adding another studio space adjacent to the existing one
on the ground floor and a living area on the second floor.
The basement area was enlarged and all three areas were
connected by a stair tower. Again, the construction phase
exhausted the artist, who writes in a letter to a friend,
"... The building has exhausted me! So-always wanting
advice, and last week the connection of the old and
new building was made by breaking the wall in two
places, its influence more than I could bear. It brought
me very distressing symptoms of heart failure and the
like to set an end to all the unrest, so confused did my
Courtesy of the Elisabet Ney Museum, Austin, Texas
Elisabet Ney hosting a prominent Austin family, the Bicklers, for
Sunday afternoon tea in the 1890s. Photo courtesy Austin-Travis
Ney died at the studio on June 29, 1907 and was buried
on the Liendo plantation. The studio and its contents
were purchased from Dr. Montgomery by Mrs. Joseph
B. Dibrell out of concern for the preservation of Ney's
work and the studio. In 1911 the Texas Fine Arts Association
was chartered to "preserve the memory and art collection
of Elisabet Ney and to develop art in the truest
sense in Texas." The TFAA used the building for both
private and public activities and eventually took ownership
of it from 1930 until 1940. In 1940 the Association
deeded the property to the City of Austin, who continued
to maintain and operate the structure as a museum
and cultural arts activity center.
Many years had passed since the artist's death, and the
elements, combined with the original faulty construction
of the limestone structure, gradually contributed to the
threatened physical decay of Ney's beloved Formosa. In
the 1970s, staff noticed serious structural failures. A collapse
of the roof was considered highly likely. It was
agreed that the only alternative to expensive restoration
was the liquidation of the museum. A new director, Jim
Fisher, was hired, whose main intent was to revitalize
the museum and gain community support for the expensive
restoration which was necessary. Eventually many
state and city organizations rallied to the effort to revive
and restore the Ney Museum. Instrumental to this success
were the efforts of Mr. Paul Leche, a member on the
Board of Fine Arts Association and the Austin Arts
Commission. He was able to bring together a number of
agencies, organizations and individuals pursuant in the
restoration of the Ney Museum. These organizations and
individuals included The University of Texas, the Texas
Association of Museums, the Heritage Society of Austin,
Texas Fine Arts Association, Austin Arts Commission,
Hyde Park Neighborhood Association, Republic
Bank and the Junior League of Austin. Meetings were
held and discussions regarding a plan of action continued
into the next year. They created by consensus a guideline
of long-range goals which later came to be known as the
"agreement of 1978." First of all, the collection was
considered the main priority, and secondly, the integrity
of the structure should be preserved.
Austin's City Council appointed a board of directors,
many from the original group of concerned citizens. The
City Council agreed that bond money would be utilized
for the project, and as matching dollars for grant monies.
City fathers felt that it was also important that the community
demonstrate they wanted the Ney to be saved. In
1979 the board of directors acted and they in turn incorporated
the Elisabet Ney Association, a private, nonprofit
organization incorporated to promote the museum
and raise funds for it. The Ney Association provided an
organizational structure for volunteers, raised money
from the community, and became an advocate of the Ney
to City Council.
The first of the funds necessary to rectify the situation
were $200,000 included in the City of Austin Capital
Improvements Bonds issue approved by the voters in
January 1979. The addition of later funds from other
sources, principally a grant of $50,000 from the Austin
Heritage Society to the Elisabet Ney Association, finally
enabled the start of Phase I of the restoration.
In early 1980, a thorough architectural and engineering
analysis, begun a year earlier, was completed by the museum's
consulting architects, the firm of Bell, Klein, &
Hoffman of Austin. It had been found that, due to flaws
in the building's original construction, its condition was
even worse than previously feared; in fact, a collapse of
the roof was considered certain in the event of a very
By the time the museum was temporarily closed in July
1980, careful packing of the sculpture collection had already
begun. By mid-August, so concerned was the City
Administration about the roof, that temporary supports
were erected out of fear of Hurricane Allen's expected
arrival so that the staff could continue packing and moving
without worrying about the roof collapsing on them.
The sculptures were moved to temporary storage space
at The University of Texas, kindly provided by the University
Art Museum and Humanities Research Center,
and also to the Austin Public Library. By late summer,
the large works, Sam Houston, Stephen F. Austin,
"mad" King Ludwig and the rest were ready for removal
one by one for a ghostly parade down Guadalupe Street
by truck to The University.
By early fall, the building stood empty. Construction
specifications were completed shortly thereafter and bids
for Phase I were received in December. H. D. Brown and
Associates was chosen as the primary contractor.
Work began in January 1981 with the removal of ceiling
and other interior woodwork, which included careful salvaging
and storage so that each board could later be put
back in its original place upon completion of structural
renewals. With the arrival of new steel trusses, fabricated
to replace the old deteriorated roof structure, the
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Texas Historical Foundation. Texas Heritage, Fall 1984, periodical, November 1, 1984; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth45447/m1/5/: accessed June 24, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas Historical Foundation.