The Bryan Museum Partners with
For a Unique Collaboration
Photography by Annie Mulligan
Located in the historic Galveston Orphans Home on Galveston Island, the Bryan Museum opened its doors in 2015. Committed to preserving and promoting the rich history and art of Texas and the American West, the museum educates and entertains its visitors with fine programming and engaging exhibitions.
Conceived by founders J. P. Bryan and Mary Jon Bryan, avid collectors of Western and Texan art and artifacts, the museum is home to their collection. The Bryan Collection is the largest and most significant of its kind in the world. Its 70,000 pieces include historical volumes and documents, artifacts, and fine art that illuminate the days of the Old West.
J. P. Bryan’s interest in this period of history began when he was just a boy and has its roots in his family’s involvement in the Texas Revolution. He is also a descendant of businessman Moses Austin, the father of Stephen F. Austin who was a leading American settler of Texas.
After an exhaustive search, Bryan chose the Galveston Orphans Home as the permanent repository for the Bryan Collection. The moment he crossed the threshold, he knew it was right: The large rooms and high ceilings were just what he needed. Add to that the structure’s warm ambience and elegant interiors and he had the perfect union. Visitors, too, feel welcome as soon as they enter the immaculately restored edifice.
Bryan’s own words express his sentiments regarding the museum’s purpose most effectively: “When you get an opportunity to share with other people, it’s a far more gratifying experience, especially the history of the State of Texas and the evidence of thousands of heroes and the values most shared in bringing about the settlement of the Western United States—it’s a wonderful story. There’s not another country in the world that has such an interesting historical chapter attached to it.”
An Innovative Partnership
The Bryan Museum has recently partnered with the iWRITE Literacy Organization to bring literacy and creativity into the youth history program at the museum. Its thousands of artifacts are displayed in chronological order, aligning with the fourth- and seventh-grade Texas school history curriculum. The program provides student tours of the museum with an emphasis on the stories and adventures of the Old West that make its history so engaging and exciting.
Summer campers gathering creative inspiration from the Bryan Museum
J. P. Bryan
To create a lasting experience for young people who like to be entertained, the tours have been expanded. The novel result is, The New Writers and Historian Project. Its purpose is to bring creative writing into the museum’s fourth-grade history tours in an effort to combine literacy and creativity within the history curriculum.
The iWRITE Literacy Organization inspires kids to write their own stories. It also offers them publishing and leadership opportunities. Writing and reading go hand in hand, so iWRITE encourages young readers to let their imaginations soar through the written word.
It’s hard to believe that in 2017 our literacy levels are drop- ping, but they are. For that reason, the Bryan Museum and iWRITE understand it is important to incorporate fun and interesting literacy activities into every subject. Because they both place great value on the arts, the program they have created together, The New Writers and Historian Project, encourages students to think for themselves and develop their creative writing skills while learning about the movers and shakers of the Wild West and the fascinating mosaic that makes up the current state of Texas.
During tours, students are asked to think about which historical figures they might want to be. Character development charts help them categorize historical figures, determine the roles they played, and understand the problems they encountered. They are also guided through experiential activities where they gain the perspective of our forefathers and use it for writing inspiration. Ultimately, their findings are incorporated by the group into a piece of historical fiction or a poem.
For those who wish to take the experience beyond a single tour, there is the opportunity to attend a 5-day history and creative writing camp right at the museum. Kids get to experience all kinds of cool activities like sitting in a saddle, spending time with horses, learning to throw a rope, and trying on Wild West era clothes. All constitute great first-hand experience for enhancing brainstorming sessions and developing characters. Once their stories are written, students can submit them to the annual iWRITE contest, “I Write Short Stories by Kids for Kids.”
The collaboration between the Bryan Museum and the iWRITE Literacy Organization is an innovative one. Its immersive nature allows children to learn and understand the people and events from a specific time in history and create their own personal masterpieces from the experience.
CKW LUXE had the pleasure of talking with J. P. Bryan about his historical collection, the Bryan Museum, and the museum’s collaboration with the iWRITE Literacy Organization.
CKW LUXE: The Bryan Collection is the most comprehensive of its kind. Please tell our readers what sparked your interest in the period of history it covers. Also, we would be very interested to know what piece began the collection.
Bryan Museum exterior
J. P. Bryan: The collection is a comprehensive display of the settlement of the Western part of these United States, which begins at the 98th parallel—the 98th parallel runs right through Dallas and extends to the Pacific Ocean. The modern period of the settlement of the West began with the arrival of the first Europeans in about 1528. That whole period of history intrigued me, first of all because my ancestors were part of the early Anglo settlement of Texas in 1820. Second, it was due to the experience of going to family events and learning not only about our history, but also about the greater panorama of the settlement of the West and its fabulous history.
The first things I had that were any connection with it were a couple of guns I bought when I was ten years old. I still have them today. Later, my interests evolved into what is in the museum: guns, spurs, saddles, bridles, and so forth. But my early collection was around books and documents. Books are really my favorite of all the items in the collection. It gravitated to art in the ‘80s, and we began collecting a lot of art by Texas artists—people who called Texas their home. It evolved into art by others who came and painted the West. We expanded the reach of the collection from purely Texas to Western.
CKW: How daunting a task has it been to catalogue the collection and put it on display to be shared with the world?
JPB: There are 70,000 items in the collection. We have had to make a selection and decide what we want to show the public, figuring out what would be the most memorable pieces to put on display. We went through the entire collection, not every piece, but knowing the categories, and tried
to pick those items that we felt best explained the whole story of the settlement of the West. We also picked those with entertainment value so people will look at them and say, “Gosh, I wonder how they used that,” or “Isn’t that pretty?” or “Wow, that’s unusual.” We wanted the choices to inspire a reaction by those viewing them.
CKW: You place high value on education and have the museum pieces displayed to reflect the Texas school history curriculum. Did you set out to make this a teaching museum, and what benefit do you think school-age children get from touring the museum?
JPB: Beginning early in the history of the museum, we began to see that school kids were enthused by being able to come and see the artifacts that were part of the history of the West. It made the subject more interesting for them. They seemed to learn a lot more that way than by just reading about it or being lectured on it by a teacher. We began to see that this could be a wonderful educational outreach as a way to teach history, and at the same, display interesting artifacts—coupling the visual experience with learning about history. We believe it’s critical for children to learn history, as it’s the only way they are going to learn to live their lives in an appropriate way. You don’t have to be here for very long to realize it’s about individuals—many are heroes. Their conduct, their exceptional performance, frequently, in settling the West, we think should be a source of continual inspiration to our visitors and especially the children.
Summer campers share their historical fiction stories with J. P. Bryan
Bryan Museum interior
CKW: What is your personal philosophy on how history has been taught in the public school system?
JPB: I think the adventure of history has been subdued by concepts of trying to make everything politically correct. Most history was not correct in the various things people were doing. Also, what’s missing, is the lack of appreciation that people really can be heroic and do great things. The values that fashioned history, normally the search for freedom and liberty, are the most redeeming. Children should be shown these and taught to understand them. There are a lot of things we can learn from it. That’s what I think children need to become infected with in the way history should be taught. For us, our educational outreach is the most important endeavour of this museum.
CKW: Do you have any new initiatives that are launching at the museum besides “The New Writers and Historian Project” that the museum is launching with iWRITE?
JPB: We have a rotating gallery here where we bring in new events like the yellow fever epidemic, immigration to Galveston, the Mexican Revolution, and the White Cross—nurses who served both sides of the revolution. We have speakers’ series with them, too. We’ve launched something recently that I think could change the way history is taught, and maybe change it forever. We’re going to teach Texas history through a virtual reality film. It should be ready for the school year this September and will be distributed to three or so school districts in Texas first. It will combine museum artifacts with a virtual reality presentation. We think it will change children’s view of history.
It’s amazing how a simple collection can turn into so much more. In this case, a young boy’s interest in his family’s legacy and the Wild West of his imagination has become a mirror of an era that will never exist again. By preserving the items that define that period, J. P. Bryan has created a time capsule for visitors to the Bryan Museum so they have an inkling of what life was like then. He has also created a rich resource that is being utilized by the iWRITE Literacy Organization as a conduit for young minds to create magic through words.