Historic Artists’ Homes and Studios Program Member Highlight
By Valerie Balint, Program Manager, Historic Artists’ Homes and Studios
As the administrator for the Historic Artists’ Homes and Studios Program (HAHS), Chesterwood has the privilege of championing its colleagues around the country. The roster in this membership of artists’ spaces spans the country, crossing many eras, artistic mediums and styles, and even gender and race. Each member of the HAHS program, and its physical site, represents the very personal expression of a specific artist. That said, synergies between sites also exist as is the case between Chesterwood and the Elisabet Ney Museum.
Visitors today experience the comprehensive artistic environs, sculptor Elisabet Ney created for herself at Formosa in Austin, Texas.
Ney was groundbreaking, building the first artist’s studio in Texas. Later, when her close friends preserved the site, and created a memorial museum after her death in 1907, her home and studio became the first art museum in the entire state. Today’s visitors to the museum enjoy the same rare opportunity to view original preparatory plaster models for final artworks, as the public does when touring Chesterwood.
In addition to the careful preservation and interpretation of Ney’s legacy, the Elisabet Ney Museum is dedicated to engaging programming, which often includes female writers in residence.
Like Daniel Chester French, the nineteenth-century sculptor, Elisabet Ney (1833-1907) worked in the classical vein. She too was prolific and successful, and while she created some allegorical works, she is best known for her portraits. Born in Germany, Ney spent the first part of her artistic career in Berlin and with the support of her friend and patron King Ludwig II, created likenesses of important personages such as Jacob Grimm, Arthur Schopenhauer and Giuseppe Garibaldi.
By 1892, Elisabet Ney and her husband Edmund Montgomery, a Scottish medical doctor and prolific philosopher had moved to Austin, Texas. Elisabet set about designing her own home and studio, which she would call Formosa; “beautiful” in Portuguese. Only a few years later, French too would begin work on his own studio and residence at Chesterwood.
Ney would surround her resulting classically-inspired stone villa with 2.5 acres of designed prairie landscape, taking advantage of the native species of grasses, yucca and wildflowers, in much the same way French would integrate Berkshire native woodlands into his larger landscape design at Chesterwood. Like so many artists, Ney continued to perfect her vision for her home, enlarging her studio in 1902.
While at Formosa Ney, in the later part of her career, would sculpt many important Texas citizens including Sam Houston and Stephen F. Austin. Her finished works grace sites all over Texas, as well as the collections at the Smithsonian and the National Statuary Hall in Washington, D.C.
The sculptor had varied interests beyond her art, and is considered today an early feminist, as well as a philosopher, historian and humanist. At Formasa, as at Chesterwood there were many and varied guests and entertainments, including rigorous discussions centered around politics, literature and music.
Ney’s legacy is now entrusted to the City of Austin Parks and Recreation Department. In addition to being a local and state historic landmark, it is also on the National Register of Historic Places.
The museum has been a recipient of a National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Save America's Treasures grant, and continues its efforts to restore the entire site to the vision of its initial creator, Elisabet Ney. To learn more about visiting this valued member of the HAHS program see the site in our directory at www.artistshomes.org.