Built on land purchased from the T & P Railroad in 1881, the Hotel Grace changed hands in the mid-1930s and was renamed the Drake Hotel. Under its new name, the hotel changed ownership many times, suffering decline along with the decline of the railroad, and finally closed its doors in 1973 following a boiler failure.
For more than a decade, the building sat vacant, overrun by vandals and stray animals. In 1985, the Abilene Preservation League and the Abilene Fine Arts Museum joined forces to save the building from demolition. Following a successful capital campaign, the building underwent extensive renovation and restoration. Exterior and interior first floor spaces were restored to their original specifications, including original colors and architectural details in the lobby and ballroom.
“The Grace Museum really is a spectacular tribute to the dedication and perseverance of the Abilene community,” Grace Museum Executive Director Dr. Francine Carraro said. “The museum is living proof that anything is possible with a clear vision and a lot of hard work.”
Today, The Grace Museum is AAM accredited and houses an art museum, children’s museum, and history museum. At 55,000 square feet, it is the tenth largest general museum in Texas. The museum’s special exhibitions draw crowds that include visitors from across the country, and its educational programs give quality art education to countless students across the region.
The centennial year arrived, bringing with it celebratory plans for The Grace Museum. A Centennial Committee was named, their purpose to oversee Centennial-related events, as well as the planning of the museum’s famous annual Fall Benefit gala, to be held September 12. Grace Museum Chief Curator Judy Deaton organized the museum’s 2009 exhibitions with a focus on Texas art past, present and future, to correlate with the historic celebration year.
The year began with exhibitions from Texas artists representing the future of contemporary art. Houston artists Jack Massey and Michael Galbraith, better known as The Art Guys, brought their exhibition “The Art Guys: Failed Schemes and Pipe Dreams” to The Grace’s second floor galleries, while currently in the museum’s main gallery is “20 to Watch: New Art in Austin,” which showcases works from Central Texas artists, all under age 30. The insightful and cutting-edge exhibition spans a broad range of media including painting, sculpture, mixed media, video, and installation art. Currently more than 800 works of art from area elementary, middle, and high school students cover the walls of the second-floor galleries for Youth Art Month 2009.
Slated from mid-April through the end of August, The Grace’s exhibitions feature the art of well-known Texas artists whose reputations are well-established in the world of contemporary art. April 14, celebrated artist Helen Altman will begin her showcase of unique printed blankets and realistic torch drawings. And on April 21, the museum presents the high desert paintings of James Woodson.
May 2, the art of internationally acclaimed American sculptor and Texas native James Surls will be presented in a landmark exhibition entitled James Surls: From the Heartland. The exhibition will feature 21 sculptures and 12 large-scale graphite drawings created by the artist between 2005 and 2008. The Grace Museum has also published a large hardcover book in tandem with the exhibition, aptly titled James Surls: From the Heartland, which features rich photos of the artist’s work, along with essays contributed by three of the nation’s foremost experts on contemporary art. The book will be on sale at The Grace Museum beginning May 2.
In September, The Grace Museum will open three simultaneous exhibitions, including the inaugural exhibition of the new Alice and Bill Wright Photography Gallery at The Grace Museum, as well as the opening of Texas Art Seen, a celebration of Texas art past, featuring works created by Texas artists from 1909-1965, dates corresponding with the heyday of the hotel. These three major exhibitions of Texas art also include a retrospective of the paintings of Michael Frary, who was a leading modernist in mid-20th Century American art and a professor of art at the University of Texas.
“The entire year is a celebration,” museum Executive Director Dr. Francine Carraro said. “The programming of [our volunteer group] Los Aficionados is focusing this year on the history of the building and the history of the museum. Other educational programs throughout the year highlight the importance of this building and this museum as a historic and contemporary cultural gathering place for the community.”