Cheryl Johnson has developed quite a following as a wildlife photographer working under the pseudonym “Backyard Bird Nerd.” Her photos have been featured in magazines, websites, and art galleries. As the owner of an advertising agency, writing has always been a part of her life and career. Her literary work has included producing text for websites, brochures, television and radio commercials, and a variety of magazines articles. Delving into the world of children's literature has been an exciting and challenging adventure, and pairing these books with her love of photography has proven to be the perfect outlet for her passions and talents. When not prowling around in nature looking for something to “fly” by her lens, she lives in South Texas with her husband, two daughters, and dog.
Bayou Bend Collection and Gardens
An Oasis of Beauty in the Middle of Downtown Houston
It’s hard to believe there was ever a time that the city of Houston didn’t have any museums, but that’s what my friend, Louise, and I discovered during a recent girl’s trip to Bayou Bend Collection and Gardens in Houston’s River Oaks neighborhood. This was also the motivation for Ima Hogg, a Houston socialite and philanthropist, to turn her 14-acre mansion and gardens into a museum for the entire community to enjoy.
I discovered this location completely by chance one day when I was looking for sightings of a specific bird, the Scaly Breasted Munia, which is an escaped Asian species who has decided that Houston is a pretty cool place to call home and can now be sighted in trees throughout the city. These birds are often seen around Houston’s Buffalo Bayou which is how I stumbled upon the Bayou Bend Collection and Gardens, a house museum that is part of the Museum of Fine Arts system.
The estate is bordered on two sides by a bend in Buffalo Bayou and is considered “an oasis of nature and beauty in the heart of Houston.” The site was originally purchased in 1925 by Ima Hogg and her two brothers to serve as their personal residence, with planning for what would eventually become nine different gardens begun immediately by Ima, followed quickly by the design and construction of the house which was completed in 1928. With the marriage of one brother in 1929 and the death of the other in 1930, Ima found herself the sole resident of the sprawling estate. As time passed, Ima dedicated herself to amassing an extensive collection of American decorative arts and paintings and decorating different rooms in the home to depict time periods of American history from 1620 through 1876. The collection is considered to be one of the finest showcases of American furnishings, silver, ceramics, and paintings in the world. Miss Hogg deeded Bayou Bend to the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, in 1957, and it opened to the public as a house museum and gardens in 1966.
Louise and I arrived at the museum one morning in early September and were given the option of joining a 60- or 90-minute tour of the home. We both have rather questionable attention spans, so we opted for the shorter tour. Tickets in hand, we trekked down the parking lot, over a bridge that spanned Buffalo Bayou (YIKES!), through a stunning garden, and into an even more stunning home where we joined our tour already in progress (what can I say… we also have time management issues). Luckily, no one seemed particularly put out by our tardiness. The collection is truly a marvel, with each room painstakingly recreated to reflect a snapshot of different American time periods, including furnishings, decor, wall coverings, and flooring. Every item in the collections are made by American craftsmen and artisans and are a stunning testament to this lost artistry. It was fun learning Trivial Pursuit tidbits like the reason spice racks were hung in the bedrooms (because spices were expensive and the homeowners didn’t want the staff stealing them), how cauliflower serving ware was all the rage in the mid-1700s, or how the Hogg boys had a man-cave on the ground floor.
After a fast 60-minutes, our tour of the home ended, but we were encouraged to enjoy a self-guided tour of the estate’s different gardens. Each of the estate’s nine gardens have a different theme and feel to them with some featuring strong water features, others statuary, and others are completely focused on specific plant life, but all of them share an intrinsic beauty and peacefulness that makes you forget that you’re in the middle of one of the nation’s largest cities.
Too quickly, it was time to jump into the car and head home, but I’m thinking that a trip back is most definitely in my future. The Collections and Gardens offers visitors a wonderful calendar of events designed for all members of the family. Some of the events include “Photography in the Gardens” each Saturday, “Sketching in the Gardens” every other Tuesday, Book Club, Free Family Day, and Lecture Series on different subjects relative to the home and its collection.
Bayou Bend Collection and Gardens is open Tuesday through Sunday and closed Monday. Tickets are required to enter the grounds and tour the home. Tour guides are available for home tours, and a taped audio tour is available for self-tours of the home and gardens. For more information, visit them online at www.mfah.org.
Share the Beauty of Nature with Your Child!
Nature is Amazing
These beautiful books by writer and photographer Cheryl Johnson, are designed to not only engage your child but to encourage their imagination, exploration, and discovery of the world around us.