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San Antonio, TX
Phone: 210-357-1900 - Tty: -
The mission of the Witte Museum is to motivate public interest in history, science, the humanities, and the arts through its collections, exhibits, publications, and education programs.
The city of San Antonio's first museum began when Ellen Schulz Quillin, a young schoolteacher, met Mr. H.P. Attwater. A land man for the railroad, Attwater collected many of the wonders of Texas to entice potential customers to this region. When Mrs. Quillin saw his collection, she realized it was a treasure that needed to be preserved. Mrs. Quillin and her students raised the $5,000 to purchase the Attwater Collection. In 1925, as the need for space to house the growing collection of items reached a critical point, local businessman Alfred G. Witte bequeathed $65,000 for a museum to be named in honor of his parents. The grand opening of the Witte Memorial Museum was on October 8, 1926.
The Witte Museum now houses a permanent collection of approximately 200,000 objects and specimens. The museum features history and science exhibits, major traveling exhibits, family events, live gallery theater performances, hands-on activities and overnight camp-ins for children, concerts, demonstrations, and lectures.
The Anthropology collection includes historic Native American objects, archaeological artifacts from South Texas and the Lower Pecos Regions, and ethnographic material from around the world. The Museum houses an extensive textile and costume collection including quilts, clothing, and accessories dating from the early 1800s through the present. The history collection includes Texas art, furniture, decorative arts, firearms, western memorabilia, photographs, documents and ephemera. The natural science collection includes vertebrates and invertebrates from South Texas, gems and minerals, fossils, and live Texas animal specimens.
Texas Wild: Ecology Illustrated
Texas Wild offers visitors an in-depth exploration of the tremendous diversity of the state's seven ecological regions. The exhibition includes a walk-through diorama recreating the South Texas thorn brush. The concepts of interdependence of the species and the food chain are also examined.
Texas Wild: Animals Alive! is designed to get visitors up close and personal with a variety of native Texas wildlife. The lab features snakes, tarantulas, grasshopper mice, a pair of black-tailed prairie dogs, an active bee colony, and a saltwater aquarium. Hands-on discovery boxes allow children to explore Texas rocks, minerals, and more.
Ancient Texans: Rock Art and Lifeways Along the Lower Pecos is the product of more than 50 years of research by the Witte Museum into the culture and lifeways of the ancient people of southwest Texas. This prehistoric hunter-gatherer society flourished 4,000 years ago along the confluence of the Rio Grande, Pecos, and Devil's Rivers. Museum sponsored excavations have yielded irreplaceable artifacts such as sandals, basketry, stone tools and painted pebbles, many of which are on display in the exhibition. Also featured are photographs of the magnificent rock art paintings that can still be found in limestone shelters throughout the region by noted San Antonio photographer Jim Zintgraff. Several times a week, guests have the opportunity to experience a chance meeting of a modern archaeologist and an ancient shaman, in the Bank of America Gallery Theater presentation of Encounter at Panther Cave written by playwright Bryce Milligan.
In the Dinosaur Hall, the massive skeleton model of a triceratops represents the dinosaurs that lived in Texas 60 to 65 million years ago. The femur of a duck-billed dinosaur and a cast of an actual footprint left by a giant plant-eating dinosaur are among the fossil wonders from Texas that visitors can touch.
Mummies: Unwrapping the Past explores the process of mummification, and shows how modern science and medicine have been used to analyze the past and unlock ancient secrets. The exhibit features a mummy, ancient artifacts, and a recreation of a predynastic Egyptian burial. In 1995, radiologists and forensic experts from San Antonio's University of Texas Health Science Center performed scientific tests to learn more about the mummy's life and death. The results of these tests are revealed in the exhibit.
Texas By Candlelight transports you back to life in Texas during the late 19th century. Hands-on exhibits focus on how people lit their homes, washed, sewed, and entertained themselves before electricity. Period rooms include a kitchen and a bedroom as they might have looked in the 1880's. Visitors discover items that could be found in a general store, saloon, pharmacy, blacksmith shop, or dentist's office of the time.
Made by Hand features the Museum's collection of Texas furniture. Most of the furniture was hand crafted between 1830 to 1890 by Texans of German birth or background. One furniture maker, Wenzel Friedrich, won design competitions at the time with his furniture made of cattle horn. The Bank of America Gallery Theater presentation, Longhorn Connections, takes us back to the time of Wenzel Friedrich. The character of Lizzie reveals to visitors how the unusual horned furniture was made. By Idea Steven and adopted by Pam Slocum.
Art for History's Sake highlights the museum's preeminent collection of Texas paintings. The collection spans a 100-year period from 1845-1950. Oils, watercolors, prints and drawings by major Texas painters illustrate the rich heritage of Texas regional art. On display are landscapes, portraits, genre scenes, and historical paintings produced by American-born artists and European immigrants. Artists include Julian and Robert Onderdonk, Theodore Gentilz, Hermann Lungkwitz, Carl G. von Iwonski, Clara Caffrey Pancoast and Louise Andree Frettelliere.
The Betty Coates Textile Gallery features changing exhibits with a focus on textiles and costumes. In the spring and early summer of each year, the gallery is transformed with an exhibit on San Antonio's annual April festival, Fiesta San Antonio. Fiesta fashions range from brightly colored Mexican cotton dresses and hats decorated with Fiesta pins and ribbons to the bejeweled trains and gowns worn by ceremonial queens. The Witte commemorates each year with an official Fiesta Pin inspired by a train from the historic gown collection.
History of the Witte chronicles the seventy-three year history of the museum through artifacts, photographs, newspaper clippings and museum publications. Included are the Reptile Garden, Faces of the Witte, Haunted Halls, and the mystery of the stolen McFarlin Diamond. The Bank of America Gallery Theater Production A Gallery of Ghosts written by playwright Laurie Dietrich features the character of Ellen Quillin who reappears and gives an account of her years at the Witte, and the history of San Antonio that unfolded around the museum at the time. Some say that she still walks the halls of the Witte!
The Changing Exhibits Gallery features major traveling exhibits and in-house changing exhibits. Past exhibits include: Thundering Hooves, WhoDunit?, Children of Children, Backyard Monsters, and Eureka It Works! Visitors can take part in a virtual adventure by riding the motion-based simulator, Explorer 1, where you can experience the history of the earth, go back in time to Ancient Egypt, or tour the interior of a computer.
The H-E-B Science Treehouse is located beside the San Antonio River on the museum grounds. This 15,000 square foot native Texas limestone building features four levels of hands-on science exhibits for all ages. Visitors can launch a tennis ball two stories high, play music with laser beams, lift themselves up with pulleys, and surf the Internet. The underground level, designed to accommodate group programs, includes facilities for conducting basic chemistry experiments, a weather station, and a magnetic wall. A real two-level tree house is connected to the main Treehouse building by elevated walkways. Overnight camp-ins for young people are scheduled, together with live science demonstrations, and seasonal Adventure Club programs.
Witte Museum Grounds
The museum grounds situated on the banks of the San Antonio River, received an Urban Habitat designation from the National Wildlife Federation. The Butterfly Garden is a courtyard garden landscaped with native Texas plants attracting butterflies and hummingbirds.
Three restored historic homes are located on the museum grounds. The 1795 Ruiz House, the 1835 Navarro House, and the 1841 Twohig House were originally occupied by noted inhabitants of 19th century San Antonio.
Two log cabins are also located on the grounds. Both were recently restored by the San Antonio Conservation Society to commemorate its 75th anniversary. The large dogtrot style cabin shows how pioneers lived in East Texas; the small cabin is an example of the Texas Hill Country style.
The fountain, by Texas sculptor Charles Umlauf, located in front of the museum depicts birds in flight. Umlauf also created the large figures, Mother and Child and Father and Child, which stand on each side of the front of the museum. Other Umlauf sculptures are located throughout the museum grounds.
Clothing out the Century
The museum is located at 3801 Broadway in historic Brackenridge Park.
Transportation from downtown is available on the Texas Trolley, leaving from the Alamo Visitor Center. Call 210-225-8587 for more information on the Trolley.
Dr. James McNutt, President & Executive Director
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