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A “Mad Career” to Preserve and Share America’s Past at Bayou Bend June 30, 2016


March 5, 2016, marked the 50th anniversary of Bayou Bend’s opening to the public. We’re celebrating throughout the year with blog posts offering behind-the-scenes perspectives on this cultural and historical Houston treasure.

Each year, on the 4th of July, all of America celebrates the historic events of 1776. As Houston’s home for America’s treasures, Bayou Bend goes all out to commemorate Independence Day with an afternoon of free family activities. But that’s not the only July celebration for us: Bayou Bend’s founder, Ima Hogg, was born on July 10, 1882. 

Given her nearly lifelong passion for early American history, heritage, paintings, and decorative arts, it seems especially fitting that Ima Hogg was born in the patriotic month of July. Through her actions and accomplishments over more than six decades, her dedication to and passion for preserving and sharing America’s past are abundantly clear. Fortunately, some of her own comments on what she called her “mad career” survive, albeit in mostly unpublished records stored in archival collections. Reading the words that she spoke or wrote offers a sense of her legendary personality.

Here are some highlights of a talk she gave in 1963 to the River Oaks Garden Club, less than three years before Bayou Bend would open as a public museum:

  • I don’t know who or what to blame for my antique collecting. . . . I suppose one is born with a fever for collecting.
  • My earliest memory is of visits to my grandfather’s beautiful old house in East Texas. It was filled with antebellum furnishings, long out of fashion. . . .  We lived in the governor’s mansion when I was still a small child, and I knew the thrill of sleeping in Sam Houston’s great four-post bed. So maybe I could blame him, too, for my proclivities.
  • It was not until 1920 that I had my first encounter with . . .  an early American Queen Anne chair. This sent me on my mad career. I immediately enlisted the sympathy and interest of my brother Will. And thereupon I conceived the idea of forming a collection of early American furniture, which even then we intended to give eventually to some Texas museum.
  • The objects . . . have historical significance and are intended to stimulate a keener interest in the social and economic history of our country.
  • The hope is that future generations will find just cause to enjoy and value the selections at Bayou Bend. 

As we mark Bayou Bend’s 50th anniversary this year, Ima Hogg’s hope that future generations would enjoy and value Bayou Bend has been not only fulfilled, but exceeded. Our own hope is to continue her vision, sharing her passion for America’s heritage to inspire visitors for years to come.