In the small town of Boerne, Texas, you might meet more artists than cowpokes, hear more polka than honky-tonk, and eat more schnitzel than barbecue. But you’ll experience equal measures of Old World charm and Texas hospitality.
Tucked in the Texas Hill Country 30 miles northwest of San Antonio, Boerne (pronounced “Bernie” — much folksier than it looks) began in 1849 as an encampment of Freethinker German colonists near Cibolo Creek. Utopia-seeking intellectuals who named their new settlement after Cicero’s Tusculum, they had the good sense to rename it Boerne after German author Ludwig Börne.
The original classical-culture-loving colonists are long gone. Taking up the freethinking standard these days are the many creatives who have turned Boerne into an art destination. Here are some of them.
J. Hester’s Highland House Studios & Gallery
“I’m the old long-tooth around here,” jokes Jay Hester, the artist who many thank for helping transform Boerne from a simple Hill Country town into one of the most valued art destinations in the Southwest. Hester was an accomplished and renowned Western artist living in Santa Fe when he fell in love with a Texas gal who refused to leave the Lone Star state. He relocated to Boerne, which carried the perfect blend of natural beauty, small-town charm, and a close proximity to a major city and international airport. “I looked at other Hill Country towns — Kerrville, Fredericksburg, Austin — but I didn’t want to live in the hustle and bustle of all that.”
Inspired by his experience practicing his passion in the epicenter of Southwestern art, Hester wanted to start a movement of his own in Boerne, where he moved in 1988. Through his involvement in local organizations, the creation of the yearly Parade of Artists, and teaching and mentoring of countless artists (at least countless for him — he lost track years ago), he has successfully helped transform this old German town into a destination for Western art lovers.
Hester and his wife, Judy, run J. Hester’s Highland House Studios & Gallery. The gallery was originally a rustic, dilapidated house before it was completely renovated by the multitalented Hester. Now the gallery exhibits his art as well as the works of some of the most renowned Hill Country artists working today. Whether you’re looking for giclée prints, bronze sculptures, pottery, jewelry, lessons, or the man who helped bring the artistic spirit of the City Different to Central Texas, make sure you stop by J. Hester’s. 114 E. Highland Drive, 830.249.8678, www.jhestergallery.com.
Garden Path Gallery
Jay Hester helped with Boerne’s blossoming, but he certainly hasn’t been making art here the longest. That distinction likely goes to Bill Zaner, who moved to the town in 1974 “back before Main Street had sidewalks,” says Zaner. But Main Street, or Hauptstrasse as it’s called, offered historic European architecture and the potential for great ambience. “When I opened my first gallery in 1975, everyone thought, What is that?” Zaner, tired of a soul-draining occupation painting portraits in Houston, decided to move to the Hill Country, where he’d have subjects that wouldn’t tell him how to go about his art. The move has paid off: Zaner has now proven himself as one of the finest landscape artists documenting the unique beauty of the Hill Country, as well as every other region of Texas. While the lively octogenarian is still spry enough to work and ride his Harley every day, he no longer maintains his own gallery; however, his art is still available at the Garden Path Gallery along with the works of many other award-winning artists. 136 S. Main St., 877.833.0621, www.gpgfineart.com.
A bucolic Cibolo Creek attracted early German settlers in the 1800s and draws tourists and residents to its banks today.
The School at Majestic Ranch
As you pass through the entrance and drive up the steep trail of The School at Majestic Ranch, you’re likely to see several artists busy at work in the open studio perched atop a hill that overlooks hundreds of acres of stunning Hill Country terrain. The ranch was founded by a group that originally banded together to preserve San Antonio’s Majestic Theater. After saving the historic venue, foundation members turned their attention to the visual arts. They found the perfect location to promote the arts and foster an appreciation for the beauty of Central Texas at a 525-acre property just outside of Boerne. Since the organization purchased the land in 1989, the ranch has hosted world-renowned artists as well as students of all experience levels and ages in a vast variety of mediums.If you’re not looking to hone your artistic energy, the Majestic Ranch is also home to a gallery space that features the work of visiting and local artists. 543 Highway 46W, 830.537.4654, www.mraf.org.
Carriage House Gallery of Artists
Owned and operated by a group of local artists, the Carriage House Gallery of Artists is a testament to the creative spirit brooding in Boerne. Every decision, whether it pertains to business or art, is voted upon by the entire group. The endeavor has not been without struggle. For instance, a discussion about wall paint got heated until one artist threw down a cluster of Concord grapes, convincing the rest of the members that the perfect color scheme would be one that was inspired by the fruit of the vine. But despite the hardships and a stereotype of artists as poor businesspeople, the gallery remains a success and continues to feature the works of the nine current partners. 110 Rosewood Ave., 830.248.1184, www.carriagehousegalleryofartists.com.
Few art collectors put in the effort that COSAS gallery owners Bob and Amy Niederhauser do when they search for the works of the great masters of Mexican folk art. When they fell in love with the early canvas paintings of famous Latin American burnished pottery artist Salvador Vazquez, they traveled to Jalisco, Mexico, to ask him to return to this medium. After witnessing the Niederhausers’ enthusiasm, Vazquez was thrilled to paint an exclusive series for COSAS, even though the artist had not painted a canvas in more than 50 years. The store is a feast for the eyes and ears, as each unique piece has its own enchanting story that the Niederhausers will eagerly share with you. 1109 S. Main St., 830.249.1500, www.cosasonline.com.
If you find yourself gallery-hopping in Boerne on a Sunday, don’t worry. Though the founding Freethinking Germans had no religion and forbade churches — legend says signs posted outside city limits warned preachers they would be shot if found inside the town after sunset — British settlers built the first church inside city limits (Episcopal) in 1881. Freethinking in Boerne managed to continue unabated and, thanks to artists and other Lone Star free spirits, thrives today.
Issue: October 2010