El Paso Museum of Art

By: Kendall Curlee

Type: General Entry

Published: August 1, 1995

The El Paso Museum of Art, best known for its Samuel H. Kress collection of paintings and sculptures by Italian Renaissance and Spanish Baroque artists, is located at 1211 Montana Avenue. The museum is housed in Iva and William W. Turney's former home, a Neoclassical revival structure that was designed by Henry Charles Trost and completed in 1910. The idea for the museum originated in 1925, when Kate Moore Brown, then president of the woman's department of the chamber of commerce, purchased cases for the display of the Percival Henderson collection of books and tapestries, which had been left to the city of El Paso. The El Paso International Museum was granted a charter on February 17, 1930. Although the museum had no fixed location at that time, its collection continued to grow through bequests left to the city of El Paso. In the mid-1940s Iva Turney deeded her home to the El Paso Museum Board, and the International Museum subsequently opened to the public in the spring of 1947. In addition to furniture, clothing, decorative art objects, and paintings, the museum's permanent collection included the Casas Grandes Collection of pottery, the Wimber Collection of Guns, and Col. E. M. Barron's collection of southwestern and Mexican minerals. The museum's current emphasis on art developed from the close association between prominent El Paso citizens Evelyn Woods and Robert E. McKee and Rush Kress and Guy Emerson, president and art director, respectively, of the Samuel H. Kress Foundation. Samuel H. Kress (1863–1955), founder of the Kress stores chain, began collecting paintings and sculptures by old masters, with a focus on Italian artists, during the 1920s. He subsequently donated a substantial portion of his collection to the National Gallery and gave smaller groups of works to over forty museums and universities throughout the United States. In order to secure the donation of a portion of the Kress collection for the city of El Paso, the privately-owned International Museum became a public institution. This transition, necessary to raise funds for the required renovations, was facilitated by Mayor Raymond L. Telles, Jr., and Dan Ponder, then president of the museum association. Plans were drawn up in the late 1950s for a two-wing addition to the original museum structure, with interior spaces remodeled to provide additional exhibition galleries, an art classroom, an auditorium, offices, and maintenance and work rooms. After Emerson approved the plans, Ponder presented the deed for the International Museum to the city of El Paso, which agreed to maintain the museum with an annual appropriation. In 1959 the museum's name was changed to the El Paso Museum of Art, and the citizens of El Paso approved a $750,000 bond issue to remodel the facility. The museum was renovated in 1960 under the direction of the architectural firm Carroll and Daeuble and Associates, and in May 1961 the Kress collection was installed in three galleries of the museum's west wing.

The Kress collection at the El Paso Museum of Art consists of fifty-seven paintings and two sculptures that range in date from 1200 to 1800. The majority of the works are by Italian Renaissance painters, although there are some fine works by Spanish Baroque painters Juan De Borgoña, Jusepe de Ribera, Francisco de Zurburán, and Juan de Valdés Leal, among others. The collection also includes portraits by eighteenth-century French painters and a Portrait of a Lady (ca. 1618–20) by Flemish painter Anthony van Dyck. Highlights of the collection include a tondo of the Madonna and Child (ca. 1500–10) painted by a follower of Sandro Botticelli; a fine Venetian landscape, ca. 1730s, by Canaletto; and Bartolomé Esteban Murillo's Ecce Homo (ca. 1672–78). Other outstanding works in the collection are Filippino Lippi's St. Jerome in His Study (ca. 1490), Lorenzo Lotto's Portrait of a Man with Allegorical Symbols (ca. 1540s), and Artemisia Gentilleschi's Saint Catherine of Alexandria (ca. 1620s). In addition to the Kress collection, the museum has acquired collections of Pre-Columbian art, Mexican Colonial art, and graphics by Japanese, European, and American artists. Paintings by North American artists such as Gilbert Stuart, Rembrandt Peale, George Inness, Frederic Remington, Frank Duveneck, Childe Hassam, and Manuel G. Acosta are included in the museum's permanent collection. Since 1959 the city of El Paso has provided operating funds and salary support for the museum and has been the governing authority of the institution. A board of directors, consisting of fifteen members elected on a rotating basis for three-year terms, develops museum policies, guides acquisitions, and directs the activities of the El Paso Art Museum Association. The museum association, founded in 1960, uses membership dues and donations to finance museum services, programs, and acquisitions. Funds for acquisitions are raised by the Members Guild, a "working force" of dedicated volunteers drawn from the membership of the El Paso Art Museum Association. A full-time professional director implements plans and guides daily activities at the museum. Ann Butterfield Newman, director of the International Museum from 1947 until her death in 1959, was succeeded by Reginald Fisher (1959–63); interim directors Woody Crumbo and Clay Aldridge subsequently coordinated museum activities until Leonard Sipiora was hired in 1967. Sipiora was succeeded by interim director Peter de Wetter (1990–91). Becky Duval Reese has served as director since April 1991. The El Paso Museum of Art participates in approximately eight traveling exhibitions each year, hosts the annual El Paso Artists Association exhibition, and sponsors an annual art competition for high school students. The museum has organized exhibitions of the McKee collection (1968) and Anschutz collection (1976), both of which feature works by southwestern artists, and solo exhibitions of local artists such as Tom Lea (1963, 1971) and Manuel Acosta (1974, 1988). The museum's emphasis on southwestern art and history is also evident in the traveling exhibitions it has participated in, such as Texas Public Buildings of the 19th Century (1975), The Big Bend: a History of the Last Texas Frontier (1976), Raices Antiguas/Visiones Nuevas. Ancient Roots/New Visions (1978), and Dos Artistas Mexicanos: Benjamin Dominguez and Magali Lara (1991). Lectures, demonstrations, recitals, workshops, and film programs supplement the museum's exhibitions. Tours are offered to the public by trained volunteers from the Members Guild. Classes in oil painting, ceramics, print making, and other media are offered in the Junior Arts Center, which was established in 1960 by the Junior League of El Paso. Other facilities include a 500-volume library and a Sensorium. The Sensorium, a room filled with models of sculptures, originated as a place for the blind to appreciate art and has become a popular exhibit with many visitors to the museum. Additional monies for exhibitions and lecture series have been supplied by occasional grants from the Texas Commission for the Arts and the El Paso Community Foundation.

In the early 1970s Leonard Sipiora approached Mayor Fred Hervey with the suggestion that the museum extend its scope to encompass science and history. Sipiora subsequently worked with Hervey and the El Paso Heritage Foundation to establish two museums. The Cavalry Museum, now the El Paso Museum of History, is housed in a Spanish colonial building on Interstate Highway 10, East, and opened in July 1974. The museum features seven life-size dioramas representing events from El Paso's history; artifacts from the museum's permanent collection, such as tools, weapons, and quilts, are also displayed. The Wilderness Park Museum, located in a seventeen-acre park on Transmountain Road, opened to the public in October 1977. The museum uses dioramas and permanent exhibits to trace human development in the El Paso area. A mile-long nature trail in the park leads visitors past a pithouse, a kiva, and a replica of a Pueblo ruin, enriching the visitor's glimpse into the area's past. Changing exhibitions are also presented. Upon completion the new museums were deeded to the city of El Paso Museum Department for operation and maintenance. The El Paso Museum of Art director supervised the curatorial staff at both museums until December 1990, when the El Paso Museum of History hired its own director. The Museum of Art also provides maintenance staff for the Museum of History and the Wilderness Park Museum. In 1991 Reese led a staff of eighteen employees, seven of whom were full-time professionals. A $12 million fundraising campaign was underway to renovate a Greyhound building in downtown El Paso into a new facility for the El Paso Museum of Art. The El Paso Museum of Art is a member of the American Association of Museums, the Texas Association of Museums, and the Mountain Plains Museum Association.

Thomas B. Hess, "Culture as the American Dream," ARTnews, December 1961. The Samuel H. Kress Collection (El Paso Museum of Art, 1961). Paula and Ron Tyler, Texas Museums: A Guidebook (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1983). Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.
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The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Kendall Curlee, “El Paso Museum of Art,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed August 15, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/el-paso-museum-of-art.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

August 1, 1995