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Briscoe Western Art Museum offers immersion in art, history of the West

Written by , published October 25, 2013

It's hard to say what's most impressive about the new Briscoe Western Art Museum in San Antonio. It could be Pancho Villa's last-known saddle, decorated with braided silver. Or the exhibit of more than 100 spurs, presented as a "school" swimming in an aquarium-like display case. Or the Frederic Remington colorful oil painting, "A Dandy on the Paseo de la Reforma, Mexico City, 1890."

A cannon used by the Mexican forces at the Alamo battle in 1836. A cannon used by the Mexican forces at the Alamo battle in 1836.

There's a lot to see at the brand-new museum, which celebrates its grand opening this weekend. There's plenty of diversity in the museum's representation of the American West for each visitor to form their own impressions about the works and their place in the development of the West.

A replica of a Wells Fargo western mail stage coach, including leather-strap suspension. A replica of a Wells Fargo western mail stage coach, including leather-strap suspension.

"What matters is not from where it came, because it's all western," museum Executive Director Steven M. Karr said at a media preview held at the museum this week. "What matters is that it's here for people to see and interpret in their own way, how it speaks to you and your own history."

The $32 million museum, 10 years in the making, inhabits the historic building along the River Walk at 210 Market Street that first opened in 1930 as San Antonio's central library and later housed the Hertzberg Circus Museum. The museum restored the old library's original art deco lobby, including the cast plaster ceiling adorned with large buffalo and Indian-head nickels around the border.

The museum takes a broad view of the American West, though it’s definitely characterized by a San Antonio and borderlands perspective. The artworks and artifacts on display range from iconic cowboy-on-the-range paintings to a Mexican cannon used in the Alamo battle and Quanah Parker’s actual Oklahoma land grand signed by President McKinley.

Yes, there’s a lot to see in the new Briscoe Western Art Museum. After a couple of hours immersed in the collection, I felt transported back in time, pushed by the vividness of the artists’ portrayal of yesteryear. Stepping out onto San Antonio’s historic downtown streets, I wouldn’t have been too surprised to bump into Teddy Roosevelt himself.

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