Texas is blessed with a large collection of fine educational institutions. But the universities and colleges of the Lone Star State are not only enlightening young minds, their profusion of acclaimed art galleries and museums are a wonderful resource open to everybody.
As the second largest and second most populous state in the US, you can expect Texas to be home to many beautiful, modern cities. This is undoubtedly the case, with Houston, San Antonio, Austin and Dallas-Fort Worth globally recognizable names. These international cities are filled with institutions designed to educate, showcase and preserve great artefacts of art, culture and history. But it is the museums on university campuses that are increasingly turning heads and drawing in more visitors.
People usually think of the University of Texas (UT) at Austin, and Texas A&M when it comes to top education in Texas. The University of Houston, Southern Methodist University, and Texas Tech University are also proud educational establishments, as are various others, including various branches of UT. Often, these foci of intellectual development have given rise to museums that champion certain academic branches, not only providing an invaluable resource to students, but to the public as well. Here are five exceptional Texan university museums and galleries you can visit today*.
Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum
Designed as a space for the local community to unite and learn together, the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum (PPHM) – housed in a beautiful old West Texas A&M University building – is an impressive sight. What lies within is a thorough exploration of American Western life as it related to the wider Panhandle region of northern Texas. “People of the Plains” looks at Native American life and survival before the rapid changes ushered in by the arrival of the Pioneers. There’s an entire Pioneer Town built outside, replicating the early settlements of the late-19th century, and “The Panhandle Petroleum Story” offers a historical perspective on the once prospective business that has since changed Texas and the world. There are also exhibits of weaponry, antique vehicles and decorative arts.
Address: 2503 4th Ave, Canyon
Texas A&M University Art Galleries
Not content with only one art gallery, Texas A&M University has multiple galleries on its College Station campus. Forsyth and J. Wayne Stark galleries are both open to the public for free and combined have a permanent collection of almost 6,000 artworks on show, which are rotated regularly. J. Wayne Stark’s main collection is of American paintings and photographs from the 19th century onwards, with particular emphasis given to Texan artists like the Modernist Dorothy Hood and H.O. “Cowboy” Kelly. The Forsyth Galleries was initially created to house The Runyon Collection, which specialized primarily in American art glass, along with an eminent collection of the beautiful English cameo glass. The collection expanded to contain paintings by American artists like the Impressionists Mary Cassatt and Childe Hassam.
Address: Texas A&M University Art Galleries, Memorial Student Center, 275 Joe Routt Blvd, College Station
The Meadows Museum
Southern Methodist University (SMU) in Dallas has an arts school with an exceptional resource at its heart: The Meadows Museum. The collection of Spanish art that lies within is considered to be unrivalled by any other gallery outside of Spain. The big hitters on show here, such as Goya, Joan Miró, Dalí, Picasso and El Greco, among others, is partly why The Meadows Museum is considered to be the “Prado on the Prairie”. There are sculptures by Rodin and Maillol alongside SMU’s own art collection, which favors the creative contributions of North Texan artists such as the Dallas Nine (a group of local painters heavily influenced by the Mexican muralists) member Jerry Bywaters, and Frank Reaugh, the “Dean of Texas Painters”, as he was known.
Address: 5900 Bishop Blvd, Dallas
The Harry Ransom Center
Humanities students at the University of Texas at Austin have enviable access to one of the world’s most comprehensive and valuable resources in the Harry Ransom Center. Through careful curation of their hugely impressive collection (42 million manuscripts, 5 million photographs, 1 million books, and 100,000 works of art) the temporary exhibitions offer a unique glimpse of the creative processes and thematic obsessions of some of the most pre-eminent creative minds ever known. For example, a recent Gabriel Garcia Marquez exhibition explored what drove his creativity to iconic levels. Among the permanent collection – on display and also viewable in their website’s “Visit from Home” section – are priceless artefacts of literary history, including a complete copy of the Gutenberg Bible, an early Shakespeare folio, and one of Jack Kerouac’s notebooks that illustrates his creative process while writing “On the Road”.
Address: The University of Texas at Austin, 300 W 21st St, Austin
Museum of Texas Tech University
Over in Lubbock, Texas, where Texas Tech reigns supreme, there is a delightfully diverse museum. The Museum of Texas Tech University started life in 1929 as a provincially-funded regional museum. Since then it has grown and added to its collections so that what is now open to visitors is a wonderful pastiche of different disciplines and interests. The Davies Gallery displays Native American art, while the Diamond M Gallery showcases American Western artists, whose works depict the 19th-century expansion westwards. A special room is dedicated to N.C. Wyeth, who illustrated Last of the Mohicans and other books. But it’s not all art, there are palaeontological galleries dedicated to dinosaurs and other megafauna, with plenty of fossils, and exhibitions exploring natural sciences and anthropology, among other topics.
Address: 3301 4th St, Lubbock
Honorable mentions: We didn’t include all of the bigger, more obvious Texas University-affiliated museums, like the Blanton Museum of Art (UT Austin), because these institutions have become well-known in their own right. But Blanton certainly deserves an honorable mention nonetheless. Other honorable mentions include the Texas Memorial Museum (UT at Austin) and the Institute of Texan Cultures (UT at San Antonio).
* Please note that at the time of writing, COVID-19 has severely impacted opening hours for many of the listed museums, although many are returning to normal schedules. Please check directly with each institution for the latest opening information as part of your pre-trip plans.