Opened in 2015 by James Perry and Mary Jon Bryan, the eponymous Bryan Museum is home to the largest collection of Texas historical artifacts. Centering on the history of the Wild West and Texas, the collection is home to 70,000 items, including books, saddles, rare maps, guns, and cowboy things. The collection is a comprehensive history of early Western America and early Texas, particularly the influence of Spain.
Although J.P Bryan is a Houstonian, the location for his collection was a strategic choice. On the website for the Bryan Museum, they explain that “Galveston is wonderful place to have a museum of the history of the Texas and the American frontier, because Galveston is where the sea meets the West.”
The museum building itself was built in the Renaissance Revival style, and was once an orphanage (from 1895 to 1984). The building, which underwent a meticulous restoration process in 2013, is a beautiful example of the historic homes in Galveston. It is even used as a wedding venue because of the ample outdoor space and beautiful Victorian greenhouse adjacent to the building. The building provided the ample space needed to house the Bryan’s enormous collection. James Perry Bryan, or J.P., started collecting Texana artifacts at the age of eight, and he continued to steadily grow his collection.
The collection is arranged chronologically, beginning with the Texas as a Spanish colony, which lasted from 1690 to 1821, then the Battle of San Jacinto and Texas Revolution, and Texas’s involvement with the Civil War, then ending with the creation of the manufactured cowboy by figures such as Buffalo Bill and performers from Wild West shows. The items in the collection are threaded together by a connection to Texas and Galveston, however, there are also Native American and Spanish artifacts.
Some of the stand out pieces in the collection are a Civil War-era Confederate shot-gun that is hidden in a violin and three Andy Warhol silk screens of famous figures of the Wild West–Union General Custer, famed Apache Chief Geronimo, and shooter Annie Oakley. A wall holding many heavily-embellished Mexican-style saddles also drew in people. The impressive 21st century silver-work really lit up the room.
The Bryan Museum also works with other local museums to get special loaned exhibits to round-out the permanent collection. Now on view is ‘The “Stranger’s Disease”: Experiencing Yellow Fever in Galveston, 1837-1897.’ The exhibit provides a thorough look into what living in Galveston with Yellow Fever was like: teacups used to administer home-remedies, pictures of a face blistered with disease, and sketches of the original Galveston Medical College could be seen. The exhibit didn’t just focus on the history of Yellow Fever, but it also brought it into the present day by drawing comparisons between Yellow Fever and the current Zika outbreak.
As a seasoned museum goer, I feel like I have found a gem of Texas history in Galveston. This museum should not be missed, it provides an excellent immersive experience into the history of the place we all call home.
All photogaphs taken by me