Since 1966 Bayou Bend has been one of the top attractions in Houston. Writing about it is like trying to encourage people to see the Eiffel Tower or Niagara Falls, two places I vowed never to write about along with other champion attractions around the world. No Taj Mahals!
Ruth and I visited Bayou Bend many years ago and were awed by its collection. It seemed like time to return in 2020 to see if there are notable changes. There were no big changes, and the collection remains both superb and augmented. We were in Houston earlier this year before COVID19 appeared.
Bayou Bend remains a comprehensive look at the scope of decorative art in our culture from the Colonial Era to the 19th century. There is little if any modern stuff on view. Don’t go expecting to see Warhols and Wrights and Wyeths. The dedicated collector who amassed this collection, Ima Hogg, knew what she wanted and had tunnel vision in her purchases.
Ima was born into a colorful Texas family and had 3 brothers. Her father Jim became the 1st native-born Governor of Texas and died in 1906 at the age of 54 from injuries sustained in a railroad accident. He requested that a pecan tree be planted to mark his grave instead of a traditional headstone. Oil, also called black gold, became the foundation of this family’s wealth. You will hear this family’s saga when you visit Bayou Bend. It’s as inescapable as admiration for Ima’s collecting dedication and savvy. Ima built this home with her brothers and lived in it from the late 1930s until near her death at the age of 93 in 1975. She amassed more than 5,000 treasures during these years and deeded her estate and collection to the local Museum of Fine Arts in 1957. About half of what she collected is on display.
Because she loved flowers and natural woodlands, Ima began creating formal gardens on her property in 1934 and continued until 1942. There are now 8 formal gardens opened to the public for individual touring. Ima introduced the azalea to the Houston area. Before a formal tour of her house, visitors get to see Buffalo Bayou via a bridge across it on their way from the parking lot to the house.
Some wealthy people spend their money collecting what they like for their own enjoyment. Ima Hogg clearly had vision. She realized that her collection would survive her and made sure that her purchases, her formal gardens, and her home would remain together to entertain and enrich future generations. Go see what she accomplished.