Our family ventured, several days ago, to the original of Austin Museum of Art’s two locations, Laguna Gloria. The primary building on the grounds is an Italianesque villa that houses a permanent collection, as well as rotating exhibits; the current exhibit is called Art and Nature (an apt description of the whole operation, actually). Although the artworks on display are somewhat few in number—we pretty much saw everything that was hung within half an hour of arriving-- they’re well-curated and refreshingly diverse in style and provenance, with deliberate nods toward Texan artists among national and international peers. As interesting as the artwork was, however, it was the villa itself that-- for me, at least-- stole the show… only to be outdone shortly thereafter by its lush and entrancing grounds. It was as if in driving fifteen minutes North of our home, we somehow found ourselves in Wonderland.

Click read more for the rest of the post, and a photo gallery from our visit!

After shamelessly eavesdropping on several passing tours (it probably goes without saying that we did not elect ourselves, and most notably our sixteen-month-old, as official tour attendees), and following up with a cursory web search, I’m fairly confident that my impression of the place was exactly what Clara Driscoll, the woman who imagined and oversaw the estate’s development (and eventually donated it as a museum), would have wanted. I don’t know squat about famous Southern families, but the Driscoll name is evidently a big deal down here. Name or no name, this woman was an imaginative and passionate philanthropist, preservationist, writer, politician and businesswoman. She was also an avid gardener, and spent years developing Laguna Gloria’s grounds, incorporating many plants that were native to the region… and also a bunch of palm trees that she had shipped in from Mexico (she’d seen palms in the Mediterranean, and desired some of her own). She was determined and outspoken, and Laguna Gloria was her showpiece, where she played hostess to her big-deal friends and associates from around the world. I’m willing to bet those were some seriously happening parties.

Not knowing what a visual treat we were in for, I only brought the crappier of my two cameras on our visit; my photos unfortunately don’t do the villa justice at all. Its patterned tiled floors, many-windowed parlors, high ceilings and hanging lamps—even its interior paint colors—had me in fits of “OOOOoooooo, look at this room!!!” exclamations (to which Aaron nodded, “Very nice”). It’s a stunning house, inside and out. We made our way through its rooms, stopping to take in the artwork and talk about colors and whatnot with Kaspar, and then headed outside for a “quick” look around.

We ended up exploring for an additional hour.

Manicured gardens directly surround the mansion. They’re rented out for wedding parties and other glossy functions, and there’s no mystery as to why (in fact, I suggested to Aaron that we take advantage, and renew our vows on the site in August… we’ll have been married for two years… perhaps a little pre-emptive). They’re beautiful, boasting an impressive sculpture collection, bulb-lights hung in delicate webs above the entire expanse, and uncontained peacocks strolling along in the shade. Beyond the gardens, however, running along a mile-long section of Lake Austin’s perimeter, there extend several paths. They wind just enough, and are walled and covered by just enough fauna, that, walking along, one can’t see more than twenty or thirty feet ahead.  We found ourselves at a small gazebo-type structure, encircled by benches and a large wrought iron fence (purchased by Driscoll from the state), at the end of one path, . Another path leads down to a more open area surrounded by amphiteater-like tiers of terraced land… I’m sure there’s a story behind this that a tour guide will be happy to fill you in on should you visit. We marveled at the majesty of it all, divided an orange three ways, and watched a family of swans (baby swans! I kid you not) float across the water. Above it all, Clara Driscoll’s palm fronds rustled together in an enchanting, synesthetic whisper of a breeze.

So, no doubt, this was a family field-trip score. The collection’s small size was actually just right in terms of Kaspar’s art-appreciation threshold, which allowed us to actually enjoy the pieces rather than juggle babyman meltdowns in a public place. The outdoor expanse then allowed for us all to explore, and play, together in a beautiful setting, and although it’s generally been far too hot this month to spend much time outdoors in the middle of the day, the paths, lawns and gardens at Laguna Gloria provide ample shade for outdoor activity, even in the heat. The site is also home to a sizeable art school, which offers hundreds of programs for community members of all ages (definitely planning to follow up on that once Kaspar gets past the finger-paints). Laguna Gloria is an Austin gem, and in fact has been declared a National Treasure. If you’re in the area, or pass through, I wholeheartedly recommend discovering its riches for yourself.

Nadine V.
06/25/2011 18:50

I would go there just for picnics, and certainly take classes at the school. We have been taking our kids hiking since they could walk. I can see them completely calm down when we are out in nature. It's good for us all.

I've been reading your blog on Parenting.com for months and now I am enjoying this site. You're very inspiring!

06/25/2011 21:15

Thanks Nadine! And I agree about the outdoors being good for kids and adults alike. Sometimes I think I want to get really extreme and live in a yurt in the middle of the desert, or in a remote inlet on the Northwestern coast... Really immerse our lives in natural surroundings... Who knows: it could happen!

06/26/2011 05:59

Oh, what a wonderful day.

I want to congratulate you on your site. I've been reading your weekly post on Parenting, and I've always related to your motherhood style. You are an inspiring example, and count on me to visit your blog.

06/27/2011 14:27

Glad to have you reading, AliaAtreidesBr, and I look forward to you throwing in your thoughts and perspective as I go!


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