‘It’s great to see old friends again’: Austin’s Elisabet Ney Museum reopening after 15 months


AUSTIN (KXAN) — Oliver Franklin, the Elisabet Ney Museum’s site coordinator, pauses to steady himself as he reflects on the museum reopening its doors to the public.

“A lot of different emotions going on at once,” he admits. “It’s great to see old friends again, so my relationship with Elisabet Ney is one I’m glad to rekindle.”

For the last 15 months, the iconic building nestled in the Hyde Park neighborhood of central Austin has been closed to the public – apart from a brief reopening last June.

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

But as cases of COVID-19 continue to drop in Central Texas, the Ney is once again open to guests, who are encouraged to wear masks, starting Wednesday.

“Six months ago this would never have happened,” Franklin said.

“It’s very liberating and it’s a lot of fun and it’s very engaging, and I hope the visitors find it to be as exciting as we do.”

Exhibits at the Elisabet Ney Museum in Austin (Picture: KXAN/Harley Tamplin)

The museum is dedicated to the life’s work of Ney, a 19th Century sculptor who fled her native Germany during the Franco-Prussian War and moved to Texas.

She died in 1907, and four years later the site of her studio was transformed into a museum housing the world’s largest collection of her art.

The National Register of Historic Places has listed the museum as a state and local landmark, but like countless organizations and businesses across the world, it was forced to close and pivot online when COVID-19 took hold in March 2020.

Exhibits at the Elisabet Ney Museum in Austin (Picture: KXAN/Harley Tamplin)

“There was a lot of trepidation and anxiety but at the same time, we figured it wouldn’t last very long,” Franklin said. “We thought it made sense, let’s close, but then it took longer than we thought to reopen.

“We were able to do a lot online, we really expanded our online toolkit and I’m really proud of the way that we pivoted to accommodate the many plans that we had to change,” he added.

Franklin, an Austinite whose family has been in Central Texas for generations, has seen plenty of local landmarks struggle during the pandemic, but insists the Ney is not going anywhere.

“One of the great things about this site is that it’s going to stay here forever,” he said.

“Unlike so many Austin icons we’ve lost in the last year, and as an Austinite, I mourn the loss of a lot of things, but this place isn’t going anywhere.”

“I think people can find some solace and serenity in the notion of coming back to a place that they are familiar with and that will stay and is representative of the city in a very unique way,” he added.

The museum’s return to normal operations comes with a particularly pertinent exhibit from local artist Jade Walker, ‘Reweave: 2021’, about society coming back together again.

The Ney will be open between noon and 5 p.m., Wednesdays through Sundays, and Franklin said he is excited for visitors to return.

“I think this will be a very grounding experience for most people and for their kids,” he said, “to come back to a familiar place and enjoy it, relish the magic castle that this place is.”

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