It has showcased objects from 400 museums in 10 years.
Texans toss around such catchphrases as “Texas Big” and “Texas Proud” like so many footballs. But in the case of the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum in downtown Austin, those phrases certainly apply. Visitors who step into this enormous three-story museum will experience the adventure of Texas history through interactive exhibits, special-effects shows, educational programs and an IMAX theater. Named for the state’s 38th lieutenant governor—who helped make it a reality—the museum is going great guns in its 10th year.
The Texas State Preservation Board authorized the Legislature to manage the design, construction and governance of the museum, and five prominent Texas historians reviewed all the graphics and images before its April 21, 2001, opening in the state capital. As for its collection—well, there isn’t one per se.
“We are an innovative noncollecting institution that collaborates to provide dynamic accessible interpretations of Texas history,” explains marketing manager Rosalyn Mandola. “In our 10 years we have showcased 2,000 historical objects on loan from 400 museums, libraries, archives and individuals. We bring the story of Texas to life through the ongoing process of changing historical objects in the permanent exhibits as loans are returned and new loans are received.”
In other words, there’s always something new on display. Each floor covers a central theme—Land, Identity and Opportunity, from the ground floor up. Several exhibits highlight the pioneers and ranchers who ventured into this territory that belonged first to Spain and then Mexico, while others displays cover the oil producers and modern-day pioneers of space exploration.
Texas is celebrating its 175th year of independence in 2011, so visitors will want to spend plenty of time on the second floor exploring the early political and military forces that led to the Texas Republic and then to statehood. Exhibits, multimedia and re-creations present the story of the Alamo and other key battles of the Texas Revolution. The Revolution Theater features a film on the fight for independence from the unique perspective of Tejano Captain Juan Seguín.
Of particular interest is the prison diary Stephen Austin kept while held for two years in a Mexico City jail. Other notable artifacts currently on loan include the original, restored San Jacinto battle flag, as well as a letter written by Lt. Col. William Travis, while at the Alamo. Weapons and various articles of clothing round out the special Alamo exhibit.
The featured rotating exhibit for 2011 is “Arte en la Charrería: The Artisanship of Mexican Equestrian Culture,” presented in conjunction with the nonprofit International Arts & Artists of Washington, D.C. Its 300-plus objects, several dating from the 1800s, celebrate the everyday life of the charro, or traditional Mexican rodeo cowboy.
Early on in Texas history the charros organized events called charrería to show off their roping and riding skills and compete with each other—much like the American rodeo. In the late 19th century Mexican landowner Gumaro González began collecting handmade charrería objects. His son and grandson expanded the collection, which includes well-crafted saddles, spurs, clothing, textiles, silver and ironwork. And the Texas Revolution isn’t the only event marking an anniversary; this exhibit coincides with the 190th anniversary of Mexi co’s independence from Spain and the 100th anniversary of the Mexican Revo lution of 1910. Ongoing films at the thea ter, Austin’s only IMAX, include The Star of Destiny, the story of Texas’ defining determination, vision and perseverance, and Texas: The Big Picture, which relates the state’s early history.
The Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum is at the intersection of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and North Congress Avenue. Please visit www.thestory oftexas.com or call 866-369-7108. You can bet on one thing, pard—the Texas story told here is both big and proud.
Originally published in the February 2011 issue of Wild West. To subscribe, click here.