The Briscoe Western Art Museum: Continuing the Rodeo Spirit

Briscoe Western Art Museum in downtown San Antonio, Texas

I hope you have read Brooke’s guide to enjoying the San Antonio Rodeo with your kids. The rodeo runs through February 23; if you want to extend your experience, I recommend a trip downtown to the Briscoe Western Art Museum. The rodeo is the product of hundreds of years of ranching history and cultural mixing, vividly illustrated through the beautiful objects in the Briscoe Museum, making it a great spot for children who love all things rodeo.

Briscoe Western Art Museum in downtown San Antonio, Texas

On a recent weekday morning, I went downtown with my son (nickname: F.T.) for a homeschool history lesson. We drove to Market Street and parked in the Riverbend Garage, the one with ramps that look like the Guggenheim. The Riverbend Garage is privately owned, but all the city-owned garages and meters are free after 5 p.m. on Tuesdays as part of Downtown Tuesday. There is also a B-cycle station nearby.

Briscoe Western Art Museum, Gunther Pavilion, Riverbend Garage, and B-cycle

The Briscoe Museum is in a historic building on the site of the first public library in San Antonio (1903). That library building was damaged in a flood and replaced in 1929 with the current Art Deco building. The exterior is still decorated with bas reliefs of books and lofty quotations about education. The building re-opened as a Western art museum in October 2013.

Former library houses the Briscoe Western Art Museum

The museum does not allow photography inside the galleries only allows cellphone photos inside the museum, but trust me: the lobby is breathtaking, with a monumental bronze sculpture under a coffered ceiling and a gilded frieze of buffalo-head nickels. Three floors of galleries are packed with art and artifacts.

F.T. froze in his tracks when he saw the wall of guns: a display of historic dueling pistols, derringers, modified long guns, a Bowie knife, even a gang mold. (Gang mold: looks like pliers, but it’s a gizmo for casting a lot of bullets at once.) F.T. asked:

Are those pretend guns?

No, they’re real, I explained. F.T.’s eyes went round.

They have bullets that are cylinders?

It depends, I explained; sometimes the bullets were round. In the same room is a scale model of the battle of the Alamo.

Is that a pretend Alamo?

Yes, I said. F.T. nodded. The museum also has a cannon from the battle. He asked:

Is that a real cannon or a pretend cannon?

It’s real. F.T. seemed impressed but thoughtful.

It needs a string.

Ha! Yes, it has an empty hole for the fuse.

It was satisfying to see F.T. studying the objects and asking questions. I did have to remind him about not touching; that’s part of getting kids used to museums, as I wrote about in this post about the McNay.

The Briscoe Museum has fun stuff for moms, too. There is a multimedia gallery dedicated exclusively to cowgirls. Also, in the Focus Gallery, don’t miss the rich blue velvet and embroidery on the 17th-century Spanish colonial saddle on loan from the Guerra family. (See a photo of the saddle here).

San Antonio Riverwalk at the Briscoe Western Art Museum

F.T. and I exited a side door near the San Antonio Public Library portal, walked past the party room Jack Gunther Pavilion, and down some steps to the Riverwalk, where we enjoyed a picnic on a cool, sunny day. Ducks swam in the river and river taxis cruised by. (More tips about Rio Taxis from Megan: “San Antonio River Boat Ride & Trivia With Kids!!” (January 28, 2014).) We could see across the river to La Villita and down the river to the Arneson River Theater. If you forget your picnic basket, try Schilo’s Delicatessen.

We went back into the museum to visit the cannon and the wall of guns one more time. I expect we’ll be coming back again soon; I’m thinking about getting a family, er, “Homesteader” membership.

Details at the Briscoe Western Art Museum in downtown San Antonio

If you want to extend your history lesson in downtown San Antonio, check out the San Antonio Conservation Society‘s Texas Star Trail walking tour. (The Briscoe Museum is #57 on the tour.) Also nearby: Katy’s “Big Giant Map!“.

What’s your favorite way to keep the rodeo spirit going?

Updated on May 8, 2014: The Briscoe revised their photography policy to allow cell phone photos inside the museum.

Inga Cotton
Inga is passionate about parent-driven education: helping parents be the best advocates for their children, finding the right schools (or homeschooling resources), and enjoying San Antonio's variety of arts and cultural events for families. She was born in California but has called Texas home since high school. She works part time as a lawyer and also blogs at San Antonio Charter Moms. Her eight-year-old son, F.T., and five-year-old daughter, G.N., attend a public charter school in the heart of the city. She married a techie and is a bit of a geek herself.

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