San Angelo Museum of Fine Arts

By Ngan Ho

The San Angelo Museum of Fine Arts sits atop an embankment across the Concho River from downtown. The sweep of its outline makes it seem a natural part of the river landscape, and its rooftop balcony and garden provides visitors with a stunning view of the city's downtown and river.

The museum, established in 1985, and originally located in the historic 1864 Quartermaster Building at Fort Concho National Historic Landmark, moved to the graceful, earthy and elegant building by the river in 1999, and the distinctive architecture has received international acclaim.

The structure was designed by Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer Associates of New York and Los Angeles with local guidance, incorporating native materials meant to reflect the spirit of San Angelo history while creating a contemporary showcase for art.

The architects shaped the design of the roof to follow the slope of the land while giving it enough height to make it a prominent feature of the local skyline.

West Texas soil yielded much of the basic materials for the building. The exterior walls are massive blocks of limestone from a quarry in nearby Garden City. The floors in the public areas are made of blocks of end-grain Texas mesquite. Native Texas red clay blocks are used for the distinctive elevator tower.

"We have endeavored to create one of the most welcoming, friendly and community-centered museum buildings in the nation," said Laura Huckaby, SAMFA's assistant director and collections manager, adding that the museum board of trustees made a bold move in placing the museum at its present location, situating it in a neighborhood that at the time was in a state of decline. Now, more than 15 years later, Huckaby said, evidence of a dramatic revival is clear all around the building, including the resurgence of Old Town, the extension of the Paseo de la Santa Angela, the River Stage outdoor performing arts center and Love Municipal Pool. The area dominated by the museum has become a pleasant and vibrant part of the city.

The museum's interior offers a sparse, elegant setting for visiting exhibits and the museum's extensive permanent collection, along with public spaces that host lectures, meetings and other community events. The main gallery with 40-foot ceilings and natural light is overlooked by a mezzanine, several display rooms, meeting and education areas.

Huckaby said the museum's array of multipurpose facilities make it a community meeting place for concerts, lectures and cooking classes. Groups ranging from Parent-Teacher Organizations to the City Council have held meetings at the museum, and it has served as a venue for weddings and proms, Huckaby said.

The museum's permanent collections include ceramics, glass, Texas art and Spanish colonial religious art. Through such collections, exhibits and programs, the mission of SAMFA is to serve the general public in San Angelo, the rural communities of the Concho Valley and the State of Texas.

SAMFA has been nationally recognized for its dedication to the community and was presented with the National Museum Service Award in a 2004 ceremony at the White House.

"As part of our motto, ‘We're not just about art on the walls, but art in our lives,' the education programs at SAMFA are extensive and exciting," Huckaby said. "Gallery and studio programs provide an opportunity for people of all ages to imagine, think critically, and create."

"The overall exhibit program encompasses all media, cultures and time periods, with a major exhibit annually focusing on the ceramic arts."

The museum's educators currently see over 5,000 children per year during school tours and outreach programs, according to SAMFA, and 26,000 people in total attend its education programs annually.

As an indication of its community-oriented outreach, most of the education programs are offered free of charge and many are intended for the whole family.

Looking into the near and distant future, SAMFA has several projects and programs in evolution. It recently acquired a 25,000-square-foot warehouse, which is being developed for expanding its collections and for sharing with other community groups. It will soon launch a mobile museum, working cooperatively with the Region 15 Education Service Center to bring art, history and cultural programming to rural school districts. In addition to the National Ceramic Competition, a renowned focus for top-tier ceramic artists from around the country, and the Richard and Pam Salmon Sculpture Competition, it also is involved in organizing and hosting the annual En Plein Air Texas event, which brings to San Angelo leading American artists who paint outdoors and engage with the public. En Plein Air, now in its third year, has put San Angelo on the map in the world of plein air painting.