Austin’s Elisabet Ney Museum wins grant for honoring women’s history

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — In Austin’s Hyde Park neighborhood, there’s a building that looks like a small castle on 44th Street. The Elisabet Ney Museum (also known as “The Ney”) has existed in that spot as a museum since 1911. It sits on the site that formerly housed the studio of 19th Century sculptor Elisabet Ney.

At the end of October, the museum learned it would be one of thirteen recipients of grant money for preservation work that honors the legacy of women’s history.

The limestone exterior of the Elisabet Ney Museum (KXAN Photo/Alyssa Goard)

The Ney will receive $150,000 to restore the eighteen exterior doors on the building and to preserve the structure for future generations of visitors. The money comes from the National Trust for Historic Preservation (a privately funded nonprofit organization) and American Express through the “Partners in Preservation: Main Streets” program.

“Worn and fragile, plain but grand,” a Partners in Preservation release says of the doors to the Elisabet Ney Museum, “they graciously welcome outsiders, women, artists, and immigrants — just as they did a century ago.”

Partners in Preservation is focusing on women’s history this year because of the approaching 100 year anniversary of the ratification of the 19th amendment which allowed women the right to vote in the U.S.

The Elisabet Ney Museum houses the world’s largest collection of her art, spanning from the 1850s until the year she died, 1907. It also houses contemporary artwork as well, including pieces from local women artists.

In 2007, the City of Austin’s Parks and Recreation Department created a master plan for the Elisabet Ney museum that included recreating a prairie landscape like what Ney would have seen on the property.

More than 25,000 visitors per year walk through the museum’s limestone walls.

One of the doors at the Elisabet Ney Museum which will be repaired with new grant money (KXAN Photo/Alyssa Goard)

The museum is the focal point for many community events, and Sunday it served as the starting point for the 42nd annual Hyde Park Homes Tour.

Ellie Hanlon, who helped organize the tour, explained, “we just feel really lucky that such a treasure is right here in our neighborhood.”

Hanlon explained that The Ney offers interesting insights about the growth of Austin, noting that when Ney built her studio it was on the northernmost part of Austin.

“Just thinking about the natural landscape as well as the built landscape, you can sort of get a better sense of the history of Austin as it has grown north from downtown, ” she said.

Elisabet Ney

A portrait of Elisabet Ney hands in Austin’s Elisabet Ney museum. (KXAN Photo/ Alyssa Goard).

Ney grew up in Germany and had an interest in art from a young age. She applied for the Munich Academy of Art and was first rejected because she was a woman, but later she was invited to become a student after she proved herself to teachers and peers. This made her the first woman to ever study at the Munich Academy of Art. She went on to become an esteemed sculptor in Europe.

During the Franco-Prussian war, Ney and her husband moved to Texas. She blazed a trail, stepping outside the bounds of what was expected of many women at that time. One example: she did not take her husband’s last name.

She eventually purchased the land for her studio in the neighborhood that is Hyde Park today. She called her studio “Formosa.”

A photo of Elisabet Ney’s studio “Formosa” in the Elisabet Ney Museum. (KXAN Photo/ Alyssa Goard).

In her studio, she continued to work on sculptures, earning regard for her work in Texas. In fact, the sculptures of Stephen F. Austin and Sam Houston at the Texas State Capitol are made by her.

Ney also invited people to her studio to meet and discuss art, politics, and philosophy. The city of Austin website describes her as a “philosopher, a feminist, a humanist, and a historian.”

A release from the Partners in Preservation describes Ney as, “deeply intellectual, a gender nonconformist, and a democracy activist.”

The site of her studio was turned into a museum in 1911 and since that time, it has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is also a state and local landmark.

The museum at 304 East 44th Street is open Wednesday through Sunday from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. and admission is free.

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