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The Bastrop Aesthetic

A growing Art Scene Beautifies Bastrop
Written by June Naylor. Photographs by Michael Amador.

Art Connections Gallery, at 908 Main Street in downtown Bastrop, features the work  of more than  90 artists, mostly from Central Texas.

Instead of pigeon-holing Bastrop as a place to stop for a piece of pie and a poke around the shops, my husband and I arrive for a weekend visit to take a fresh look at Bastrop as a place for enjoying art and other handcrafted beauty. Hearing from friends that roughly a dozen art galleries now populate Bastrop’s historic downtown, we’re curious to find out whether this means one of our favorite Central Texas escapes deserves the designation of art destination. As soon as we walk inside the Lost Pines Art Bazaar, we think we’ve found an affirmative answer.

Kazem Khonsari has renovated a dilapidated old downtown building into a showplace for art, carpets, and furniture. Refinishing the 6,000-square-foot interior as a dramatic, cavernous showroom and gallery, Kazem and his daughter, Naseem Khonsari, feature an auspicious mix of Persian and American art, with a nod also to fine ranch décor.

“We’re contrasting Persian art with handcrafted art from the Western world. We want to be as approachable for the rancher as for the art collector,” Kazem says, noting his collection of Persian carpets created by generations of artisans from all over Iran.

Ginger Baldwin  participates in an art workshop in Bastrop, a  historic town known  for its pine forests along the Colorado River  about 45 minutes  east of Austin.Beyond stacks of colorful rugs, cowboy bronzes of various sizes overlook the room, reminding me of those by Remington and Russell. It’s good the building boasts soaring ceilings, as the sculpture pieces and the ornately carved pieces of Persian and European antique furnishings—including some eight-foot-tall breakfronts and chests—would be cramped in a smaller space.

Kazem and Naseem then lead us around the corner from Lost Pines Art Bazaar to Abri Gallery, their Main Street space filled with collector items and finery, such as pure Persian silk rugs. Named for Kazem’s mother, Abri is open only by appointment and on the occasional First Friday Art Walk for customers seeking finer quality goods at a higher price point than those at the Art Bazaar. We’re speechless at the colossal carpet hanging in front, a multicolored work created by four artisans over a seven-to-10-year period. Telling the story of Persian culture, the carpet has a depth of surface that makes it look almost like a carving.

Continuing along Main Street, where shops, cafés, and businesses occupy historic 19th-Century storefronts, we wander into Art Connections Gallery, a space showing and selling work by more than 90 artists, mostly from Central Texas. We’re particularly taken with Spicewood artist Daryl Howard’s Japanese-style woodcut prints.

Across the street, Bastrop Fine Arts Guild Gallery offers an expansive, light-filled room in which to wander through displays of paintings, drawings, photography, pottery, and sculpture, primarily crafted by regional artists. My eyes linger on several bronzes created by Tina Broussard of nearby Smithville, including one that depicts three hands working a rock-paper-scissors negotiation, which makes me smile.

My remark on the gallery’s bounty of talent elicits a wry smile from Guild board member Carolyn Wiginton. “When I came here 28 years ago, you couldn’t find art in Bastrop,” she says. “Now, people come here to find art.”

The Guild’s membership has boomed, as has interest in its work, prompting expansion plans. This summer, the Guild received a $488,800 grant from ArtPlace America, a collaboration of philanthropic foundations, to help turn the century-old Powell Cotton Seed Mill into the Lost Pines Art Center & Sculpture Garden. The Guild is working to raise $3.5 million for the project and plans to break ground by the end of the year. The new center will include multiple exhibit spaces, outdoor sculpture gardens, and artist studios, including an artist-in-residence loft and studio.

During the monthly First  Friday Art Walk,  15 downtown  Bastrop businesses, including eight  galleries, keep  their doors open into the evening, with many of them  offering wine and hors d’oeuvres. Just a couple blocks off of Main, we find still more handmade goodness. The Bastrop 1832 Farmers Market, open on Tuesday afternoons and Saturdays, offers organic produce and meats, along with a rainbow of artful finds, such as craft soaps made with olive, coconut, and sunflower oils; beaded jewelry; fabric tote bags and eyeglasses cases; art tiles, pottery, and wind chimes; and even homemade dog treats.

Wandering afield a bit, we’re soon lost in admiration for work at Deep in the Heart Art Foundry, a 22,000-square-foot facility located in a business park about three minutes by car from Main Street. A sculptor who studied art at Texas State University, owner Clint Howard and his staff oversee the production of pieces for corporate and individual clients.

We participate in one of the foundry’s one-hour tours, which cost $10 and are offered by appointment for visitors age 10 and older. At any given time, the bronze foundry is working on several dozen pieces. Clint takes us through the various stages required to produce a bronze sculpture, such as casting the piece in wax, clay, or stone, and pouring rubber molds. Our timely visit allows us to watch a casting, when bronze ingots are heated to about 2,000 degrees and poured as molten liquid into the mold.

Pointing to a number of pieces in various stages of completion, Clint astounds us with details: A giant steer sculpture comprises 44 separate pieces; a tabletop requires 10 weeks of work; and a stout, five-foot-tall Buc-ees beaver statue will be installed in one of the mega-convenience stores. We’re impressed at the moving Vietnam monument, a piece depicting American soldiers of many ethnicities, which has since been installed at the Texas State Capitol grounds in Austin.

Also just a short drive west from the center of Bastrop, the Texas Boot Company shows us another form of Western artistry. Owner Marc Conselman and staff design one-of-a-kind cowboy boots. Just as interesting as the new boots are pieces in the store’s museum collection, including antique spurs and a pair of Civil War soldier boots.

From the boot company, it’s a quick trip to our favorite Bastrop place for R&R, the Hyatt Regency Lost Pines Resort & Spa. After a couple of days of traipsing through art finds, we’re ready for healing artistry for the body. Using Texas-made FarmHouse Fresh products, the massage therapists work us over with a sea-salt scrub and soothe us with agave nectar oil. So revived, we head to the resort’s Shellers Barrelhouse Bar for live local music.

But it’s my hankering for culinary artistry that leads me upstairs from Shellers to Stories, the resort’s stylish dining spot. There, chef Nate Parnell crafts work that I think of as art on the plate: risotto gets a treatment hinting at the arrival of fall, accented with corn, zucchini, and a dash of curry, with delicate lamb chops on top; and a seared snapper dish tantalizes with its decorative tangle of carrot ribbons and accompanying delicate white asparagus.

Before leaving the Hyatt Lost Pines resort, we walk through the hummingbird garden and butterfly meadow en route to pay a visit to the resident Longhorns, T-Bone and Ribeye. Nature’s artwork, including the beautifully colored hides of the friendly animals, never fails to amaze.

As we point the car toward home, we have to make one more stop for the culinary creativity we always find in Bastrop. As much as we love the town’s new art appeal, the trip isn’t complete until we tuck into a piece of coconut chess pie at Maxine’s Cafe, located on Main Street. A work in butter and sugar, we’re just sorry it can’t be framed.

For information about visiting Bastrop, call the Bastrop Museum and Visitor Center, 512/303-0904.

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