Contemporary Austin – Laguna Gloria Museum is on the US National Register of Historic Places. It was built on land that was originally owned by Stephen F. Austin (whose name was taken for the Capital of Texas). The beautiful Italian inspired “villa” on the site was built later on by Clara Driscoll and her husband after they honeymooned overseas. Clara, an important Texas philanthropist and published author, was well known for her efforts to preserve the site of the Alamo for all future Texans.
After donating the Laguna Gloria homesite to the Texas Fine Arts Association Holding Company in 1943, it became an art school, and in more recent times, it has been an art museum which features prominent local and regional artists’ work… including a modern art outdoor sculpture park (the picture above of my daughter is by one of the wooden sculptures there). The site is now one of a few that are encompassed by The Contemporary Austin, which also includes an art school and the Jones Center. While we were there, we got to sit down and make our own “sculpture” with the kids after we visited the grounds.
It just so happens that Laguna Gloria is really close to Camp Mabry, in Austin, also. Camp Mabry is an old military base in Austin on the MoPac Expressway which is the headquarters of the Texas Military Forces and the Texas Military Forces Museum. It is also the headquarters of the Texas Army National Guard, the Texas Air National Guard, and the Texas State Guard. It’s the third oldest base in Texas and also part of the National Register of Historic Places, like Laguna Gloria.
Camp Mabry is only a few miles away from downtown Austin, making it a great side-trip to any downtown area field trip. It encompasses nearly 400 acres of land, so it is literally, a CAMP. I’m not sure if they still do military training exercises there, but I’m sure with that much space, it is entirely possible. The land that Mabry sits on is a figurative “goldmine”. Austin has some of the most expensive land in the state of Texas and being so close to the busy center of town makes this one of the best spots around.
Some of the guides at Camp Mabry during our visit were all business, but they were extremely helpful and super nice. They handed us a flyer before we left and told us about the Lone Star Military Vehicle Preservation Association which boasts more than 40 events over the course of a year that are held all over the great state of Texas including military vehicles of all sorts. Some of those events include the Camp Mabry Muster Day (a reenactment, I think – would love to go to that one), the Burnet Air Show (which we have also attended in the past and enjoyed), and so many more.
The Lone Star MVPA preserves historical military transport from all periods, conflicts, wars, and countries. Club members include civilians as well as military personnel (current and retired). Basically, that means anyone can participate and get in on the fun.
As a homeschool mama, I am always scoping out fun, close, free field trips and learning adventures for the kids… so Laguna Gloria and Camp Mabry handily made our list. We decided to hit both on the same day to save gas and time. I took this field trip back in 2015, so pardon the older images, but it was a double-the-fun one worth mentioning. I’m sharing about it now so it will make it into our Field Trip Foto Friday hall of fame.
First up, we stopped in at Camp Mabry. My boys enjoyed learning about the Alamo battle more in-depth than ever from a on-site historian. They had a gorgeous replica under glass that was very much like the one at the Alamo itself that I have taken much time to stare at over the years and many field trips I’ve been on there.
Side note: I consider the Alamo field trip a litmus test for whether you are a real Texan or not. Even my tiniest dude has been inside the Alamo, however briefly, back when he was just in a sling.
Here are the little guys, back when they were a lot littler, blending in with their camo. Can you see them? They fit right in with the Mabry landscape and military vehicles. They wanted to play with all the military toys we saw, too. The learning experience for them was a bit over their heads, but the spark of interest was born. They loved climbing into the military vehicles.
Field trips are best done in three separate trips to the same place over time… once in the early years for fun and interest, once in the middle school years for hands on and more learning, and again as a high schooler who can study the subject in depth and quiz the historians and guides for more information.
The sculpture park is a great place for kids. Wilderness and cool stuff to crawl around and on can’t be beat. Especially for loud little boys who are a bit too noisy for quiet museums. This was probably my favorite part of the day – hanging out and walking with the kids and my mama in the “gardens”. My mom used to go to a lot of our field trips with us when she could. I miss that.
So many interesting things to see and so many wiggles to wiggle out. I can’t remember the rest of the day now, but I bet they slept the whole way home. Ha! They always used to do that and when I was finally at the house and exhausted, there was no nap to be had for mama because they would wake up in the driveway!
Here’s the wooden sculpture I mentioned above with the image of my daughter. You can crawl under it to see out the top, too. It’s pretty cool looking up close. However, probably the most interesting sculpture on the site was the mesh fence (called “Net-Work”) they set up on a pier there. It was created by Do Ho Suh. I looked at the current exhibition and it looks like most of the sculptures come and go depending on what artists they are working with at the time… so some of these may no longer be on site. The fence was fantastic… it looked like a regular fence until you got up close and discovered that it was actually hundreds of thousands of human figures, stretched together to make a netting… so wild!
Isn’t that neat? Makes for interesting discussion for sure.
Art is amazing. It brings people together – just like this mesh… we all are linked more than we know.
You can look up all the artists and installations they are currently exhibiting at the sculpture garden on their website and check out a map of the grounds. I browsed their website for educational and field trip opportunities and called ahead to get the tour guide and craft time (making our own “sculpture” activity). It’s been a while, so you will have to do some sleuthing to find out what they now offer to homeschoolers or groups.
This sculpture was the boys’ fave: “Miffy Fountain” by Tom Sachs. They wanted me to make a bunny like this in the back yard. This is the sculpture I think of when I’m sad… and then it makes me laugh.
Even if sculptures aren’t your thing, the grounds are lovely and the walk was nice. I think they also offer the grounds for weddings and events, too. I can imagine that it would be a great place for engagement or wedding pictures; fun and interesting!
Laguna Gloria is actually the name of a nearby lagoon off the Colorado River. After checking out the website for Laguna Gloria during the writing of this post, I discovered the new vision for the museum and grounds and how they have already begun renewing the garden by removing invasive trees and shrubs and preparing to build shaded visitor spaces, an “art-filled” design shop, visitor’s center, and a cafe. Looks like we will have to add Laguna Gloria back on the list of field trips to make in our homeschooling future. I’d love to see the new installations and enjoy a nice picnic someplace on the grounds (as long as it’s NOT in the summer… because the best place to be in the summer in Texas is NOT OUTSIDE).
Note to Laguna Gloria: cool mist fans, snow cone stands, food trailers, and air-conditioned areas to rest would go a long way into luring some of us heat haters out to the grounds in the warmer months (and in Texas that means 3/4 of the year). The photos in this post are from FEBRUARY, by the way. I’m so chicken when it comes to hot weather. Don’t judge. I would rather go to the Blanton Museum in the summer!