Houston Community News >> Bayou Bend Receives Rare Texas Furniture Collection

4/30/2008 Houston —Bayou Bend Collection and Gardens has acquired 11 examples of rare 19th-century Texas-made furniture, a gift of Houston collector Williams James Hill. Most of the pieces had been on loan to Bayou Bend and on view in the Texas Room and Texas Hall, including an elegant armoire attributed to the workshop of Johann Michael Jahn, the New Braunfels cabinetmaker who is celebrated as one of the state’s preeminent furniture makers. The gifts significantly strengthen the interpretation of the Texas Room, one of 20 unique room settings in the mansion given to the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, by philanthropist Miss Ima Hogg (1882-1975). The estate is the museum’s American decorative arts center.

“This is one of the most remarkable gifts of objects Bayou Bend has ever received,” said Bonnie Campbell, director of Bayou Bend. “It elevates the collection and pays tribute to Miss Ima Hogg’s pioneering commitment to the decorative arts of early Texas. We are especially pleased to make this announcement as we recognize an important moment in Texas history with San Jacinto Day on April 21.”

German-born Craftsmen Influence Texas Aesthetic
Jahn’s furniture is characterized by its delicate proportions and distinguished craftsmanship; armoires are considered among his greatest works. The armoire in the gift is related to one that has descended in Jahn’s family. Jahn (1816-1883) was born in Pomerania (a region now comprising areas of northern Germany and Poland), apprenticed in Prague for five years, and then was employed as a journeyman in Switzerland. He came to Texas in 1844 and eventually settled in New Braunfels. In addition to the armoire, five other pieces in the gift also are attributed to his workshop: a pair of side chairs, a server, a candle stand, and a footstool, all in black walnut and dated 1846-1860.
The other objects, by anonymous cabinetmakers, also exemplify the quality of design and craftsmanship that is synonymous with the German cabinetmakers that migrated to central Texas in 1840s and 1850s. They are a center table in black walnut (1850-1870), a black walnut and pine table (1850-1860), a black walnut and pine chest of drawers (1845-1860), a cypress and cedar work table (1845-1860), and a black walnut and pine work table (1845-1860). The designs, like Jahn’s, are based on the European aesthetic, but executed in indigenous materials such as the black walnut usually used in
dining room furniture that was readily available along the banks of the Comal and Guadalupe rivers, rather than the maple or fruitwood that would have been standard in Germany.

The 11 pieces of furniture join two earlier gifts from Hill: a graceful side chair attributed to Jahn’s workshop and a music stand (1845-1860) that is among the earliest known Texas-made examples of the form.

Also included in Hill’s gift is a rare engraving, Champ d’Asile, which records a brief moment in Texas history as a group of Napoleonic loyalists established a colony along the Trinity River in 1818. It was engraved by Joseph Claude Pomel (1781-1839) after Charles Abraham Chasselat (1782-1843).

Texas Room History
Shortly after Bayou Bend was built in 1928, Miss Hogg displayed her collection of Texian Campaigne china, historical glass flasks, and prints depicting the Mexican War in a first-floor space, now called the Murphy Room. In 1959, when that room was converted to a showcase for 17th-century American furniture, pewter, and delftware, Miss Hogg immediately began to consider plans for a new space for her Texas collection.

She found inspiration in a cedar-paneled room in the nearby home of Agnes and Haywood Nelms. The paneling, dating from the 1850s, had been removed from a home in Independence, Texas, and reinstalled at the Nelms house in the 1930s. In 1960, Miss Hogg had the Gothic Revival style design adapted to a second-floor room in Bayou Bend, with the arches recessed to accommodate her Texian Campaigne china.
Little was known about Texas furniture then. Although Miss Hogg acquired two nice pieces in 1962—a simple table of red cedar and ash (1850-1880) and a black walnut desk on chest (1860-1890)—she thought the scarcity of objects would make it impossible to furnish the entire room with Texas-made examples. The next best option, she reasoned, was to install Southern furniture in the room.

At about the same time, Hill, then a young student at the University of Texas at Austin, had developed an enthusiasm for early Texas furniture. “I attended estate sales and visited antique shops in Austin and the Hill Country, then widened my search into New Braunfels and Fredericksburg, where some of the finest pieces were created by German immigrants, such as Jahn,” said Hill. “I came to know Miss Hogg and other collectors, and eventually broadened my collecting efforts to include paintings, sculpture, ceramics, and silver ranging from 1840 to the present.”

Over the years, Hill’s interest in Bayou Bend deepened. He has served on the Bayou Bend Committee and has contributed a number of works to the collection.

Visiting Bayou Bend
Bayou Bend, the American decorative arts center of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, is located at 1 Westcott Street. Parking is free. The magnificent house is set among 14 acres of formal gardens and lush woodlands. The collection comprises more than 5,000 works, including furniture, paintings, metals, ceramics, glass, and textiles.

Docent-guided tours of the house are available Tuesday through Friday, 10–11:30 a.m. and 1–2:45 p.m., and Saturday from 10–11:15 a.m. Reservations are required. Self-guided audio tours are available Saturday and Sunday from 1-5 p.m. (last admission at 4 p.m.). Admission is $10 for adults; $8.50 for senior adults and students with ID; $5 for children 17 and under, free for children 9 and under. Audio and self-guided tours of the gardens are included in the fee or are available separately for $3.