11 Aug

The Woman Must Marry, Else How Live: The Culture of Weddings from 1850-1950


The meaning of getting married

The American Wedding evolved alongside the material culture and social norms of the United States and the individual communities within it. The wedding ceremony did not exist as a fixed concept in most people’s minds until the middle of the 19th century. Weddings were the pragmatic products of their immediate environment rather than public celebrations–and displays of wealth.

This exhibit traces the culture of weddings as they took place in Texas from the beginning of the wedding as a common set of standards in the 1850s to the dawn of the more public and elaborate wedding that we experience and know today in the 1950s. Incorporating period textiles as well as original texts on the planning of weddings in the 19th century and the etiquette of courtship, we turn our focus not only on the material aspects of weddings but also on the social context in which men and women were married. As the setting and styling of the wedding evolved, so did common ideas of what men and women ought to do–including whether their love for each other was an indispensable part of a good marriage.

From the pragmatic ceremony staged at home (and sometimes without a minister or member of the clergy) to the publicly advertised gathering at a large civic space and from the practical union of a man to a woman whose vocation was the rearing of children to the centering of love and romance in the common understanding of weddings, we get married just as we live. The more we look at the historic context of weddings, the more we see that the way we understand the symbolism, pragmatism, and social implications embedded within the moment at which a marriage begins is not absolute but rather anchored in our own present.

Cake Topper Final
Jones Wedding Dress (with bride, too) (657x900) (2)

The Woman Must Marry, Else How Live? Opening Reception, Thursday, March 2nd, from 6:00 to 9:00pm

Amplify Neill-Cochran with complimentary cocktails by Freedmen's, a history of weddings, and live demonstrations of History Lab experiments.

We’re opening this exhibit in conjunction with our fundraising efforts for Amplify Austin 2017. (Read more about Amplify Austin here) Proceeds we raise during this event will go towards our $3,000 goal to fund another year of History Lab, our free, hands-on take on the history of technology and the arts.

We’ll be accepting live donations during the event by credit card, but you can also schedule your donation online anytime before March 3rd at 6:00pm.

11 Aug

Remembered By Hand: Family Histories Illuminated

The Crazy Quilt Comes to Life

In a blaze of kaleidoscopic color, the late 1870s saw a fad rush in that took the United States by storm.  In a few short years, the crazy quilt was born, reached its zenith, and began a slow descent towards obscurity.  But within those years, the crazy quilt was king.  Magazines raved and shared tips and patterns for quilting.  Companies sold templates for embroidery, appliqués aimed directly at crazy quilters, and even grab bags of crazy quilt fabric.

Most crazy quilts share several characteristics.  First, they are not really quilts at all.  There is no “quilting,” that is to say, no stitching of a top fabric to a bottom fabric through a layer of batting.  Crazy quilts typically had no batting, often were never finished, and where finished had a silk or cotton backing that only loosely connected to the top.  Crazy quilts also typically featured silks and velvets, unlike most patchwork quilts, and elaborate embroidery stitching covered seams within blocks as well as between them.  Many quilts incorporated lace, appliqués, ribbons, hand-painted fabrics, and even beads and mirrors.  They provided women the opportunity to share their needlework skills in a context far more elaborate (dare we say flashy?) than a patchwork quilt or even a sampler.

The Centennial Exposition: Cultural Influences

Though precedents do predate the 1870s, the cultural phenomenon of the crazy quilt emerged directly from the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition of 1876.  This World Fair had a great influence on American culture, with millions visiting the fair and even more exposed to the exhibits through magazine articles.  Among other new trends, the Fair coincided with the first mass-marketing of Japanese culture outside of Japan.  This can be seen in the emphasis on printed fabrics, vibrant and exuberant color, and the many fan motifs incorporated into the quilts.

This exhibit brings together six crazy quilts from the Neill-Cochran House Museum’s permanent collection.  All of the quilts share characteristics, most notably an emphasis on velvet and silk fabrics and embroidered seams.  However, there are notable differences between the different quilts as well.  Some are backed, while others appear unfinished.  One quilt incorporates small mirrors, another pipe cleaners, and several are hand-painted.   All of the quilts reward close inspection and speak across the 100+ years since their creation to share the stories of their makers.

The preservation of some elements of our quilt collection is funded in part by a grant from the Quilter’s Guild of Dallas, Helena Hibbs Endowment Fund.

This exhibit will be on view from February 7th – February 25th, timed to coincide with quilt exhibitions by the Briscoe Center and the Texas Quilt Museum.

06 Mar

May 1: Sunday Funday: Lightbulbs, Leyden Jars, and More

“Is that a good idea, or is it actually a lightbulb?”Electricity 2

When the Neill-Cochran House was built, having ample indoor light at the flip of a switch was practically unimaginable. This month, we will conduct simple (and safe!) experiments with static and dynamic electricity while we imagine what life was like for Austinites before, during, and after electricity’s increasing availability in the beginning of the 20th century.

With help from staff, kids can experiment with two early means of generating electricity: the Leyden Jar (static) and the Voltaic Pile (dynamic). We will also be able to build and test our own experimental light bulbs using batteries, graphite filaments, and glass jars. Rounding out the day’s displays, demonstrations of a Wimshurst machine and a simple electric motor/generator will let us look closer at both forms of electricity at work.

Free Electrical Knowledge: Bring your own container!

WimshurstBring one glass jar (no lid required) to complete your home-made lightbulb, or just borrow one of our jars while you’re here. For a more advanced project, bring a smooth-sided jar with a plastic lid to build a Leyden jar (similar to a battery, but for storing static electricity). We’ll have a few examples available to experiment with as well.

Come visit us this Sunday from 1pm-4pm,

and while you’re exploring, be sure to try our scavenger hunt, check out our new gardens exhibit, listen to our new friends The Barns Owls, and enjoy a glass of homemade & fresh-squeezed lemonade on the front porch! If you’re new to the museum, remember that you can find free parking in the museum lot accessible from 23rd street in between San Gabriel and Leon (aka, behind the museum!)


05 Mar

April 28: Friends Trip: American Epics

American Epics: Thomas Hart Benton and Hollywood

Art inSight day trip benefitting Friends of the Neill-Cochran House Museum

BentonJoin art historian Karen Pope for a day trip to Fort Worth to view and discuss the first major exhibition in more than twenty-five years to feature the life and works of the renowned American painter Thomas Hart Benton (1889 – 1975). Entitled “American Epics: Thomas Hart Benton and Hollywood,” this exhibit, on view at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art, explores the previously overlooked relationship between Benton’s art and movie making. Benton’s awareness that movies were the best and most popular means of telling American tales inspired a signature artistic style that melded centuries-old traditions with movie-production techniques to create images that appealed to a broad range of Americans.

The exhibition brings together nearly 100 works by Benton, including more than thirty of his paintings and murals, as well as a selection of his drawings, prints, and illustrated books in juxtaposition with scenes from some of Hollywood’s greatest films. In these works, Benton reinvented national narratives for 20th-century America and captivated the public with his visual storytelling. The Peabody Essex Museum organized this exhibition in collaboration with the Amon Carter Museum and the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.

Also on our itinerary:

During the remainder of our day in Fort Worth, we will visit the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame and have a western lunch at Reata, Sundance Square, and time to visit either the Kimbell Art Museum or the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth. We will return to Austin in the later afternoon with discussion and refreshments en route.

Ticket Pricing and How to Register

Your registration includes chartered coach transportation, museum admissions, lunch, snacks, and readings. Register by sending a check for $100 per person to:sponsor1b

Karen Pope
Art inSight
PO Box 5730
Austin, TX 78763-5730

Full schedule and departure details will be sent to all registrants. You may give your place to a friend; refunds unlikely less than 10 days before the trip. All proceeds benefit the Friends of the Neill-Cochran House Museum.

For questions about this event, please contact us using the form below:

05 Mar

April 10: Susan Rather and the American School

The American School: Artists and Status in the Late Colonial and Early National Era

DT56 (1500x1097)What did it mean to be an American artist in the 18th- and early-19th-century transatlantic world? In this first comprehensive art-historical study of the subject, Susan Rather examines the status of artists from different geographical, professional, and material perspectives: portrait painting in Boston and London, the trade of art in Philadelphia and New York, the negotiability and usefulness of colonial American identity in Italy and London, and the shifting representation of artists in and from the former British colonies after the Revolutionary War, when London remained the most important cultural touchstone.

BenjaminWestNGA (2) (1232x1500)The book interweaves nuanced analysis of well-known artists (John Singleton Copley, Benjamin West, and Gilbert Stuart, among others) with accounts of non-elite painters and ephemeral texts and images such as painted signs and advertisements, all well represented in this richly illustrated book. Throughout, Rather questions the validity of the term “American,” which she sees as provisional—the product of an evolving, multifaceted cultural construction.

An Afternoon with the American School

Sunday, April 10th
Refreshments served at 2pm; talk begins at 2:30pm

Dr. Rather will speak on both the contents and the process of creating the book and will sign copies after her talk. Copies will be available for sale with a 10% discount for current members of the Friends of the Neill-Cochran House Museum. Cash, check, and credit cards all accepted.

This is event is free to attend. We encourage your RSVP online or by contacting us.

About the Author

DSC03923_1024 (287x401)Susan Rather is Professor of Art History at The University of Texas at Austin. Her recent book was published by Yale University Press in association with the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art.

01 Mar

Stitching Memory: American Quilts from the Neill-Cochran House Museum Collection

On Quilts and Stitching Memory

The art of quilting is in many ways the art of stitching memory.  Quilts tell us the stories of families’ lives, both through their use and through their designs.  The quilts in the Neill-Cochran House Museum
collection speak to us of creativity, practicality, and the beauty to be found in the everyday lives of the
artists who produced them.  In some cases, we know a good deal about the quilter, and in others the quilter remains an enigma – anonymous.  In this inaugural exhibit we have placed on display five quilts, which represent different processes (patchwork, applique, and crazy quilting) as well as a variety of
traditional design motifs.  Though very different from one another in appearance and process, all of the quilts on display share great artistic design and detail in the stitching and material choices.

The term “quilt” stems from the Latin culcita, meaning “stuffed sack,” a description of the process of
sewing two or more layers of fabric together to produce a thicker, padded material.  Most quilts have three layers: a quilt top, batting or insulating material, and a back.  Ancient Egyptians produced the
earliest-surviving quilts, though the process is thought to stretch into pre-history.  During the 11th century, quilting came to Europe from the Middle East.  Europeans used quilts not just for bedding, but in clothing as well; knights wore quilted garments under their armor for additional protection and padding.

The art of quilting came with immigrants to the American Colonies.  For early American Colonial women, quilting was a practical means of producing bedding with remnant fabric either left over from another project or salvaged once it no longer served its original purpose.  Remnant fabric even found its way into batting.  Over time, quilts became increasingly elaborate in design, and many were virtuoso displays of both creativity and technique in needlework.

For generations of American women, producing quilt tops was a vital part of building their trousseaus; they finished the quilts after they married and as their families grew.  And quilts were active participants in the story of American migration.  When Abraham Lincoln enacted the Homestead Act of 1862, and Americans began preparations, travel guides encouraged families to carry enough fabric to produce 2-3 blankets or quilts per traveler for the passage across the continent.

As time passed, and the Industrial Revolution brought store-bought products within reach of a larger number of Americans, for wealthier women the tradition of quilting became more a labor of love than of necessity, while it remained a household necessity of others.  Quilts became educational resources in classrooms, depicting alphabets, solar systems, and constellations.  Families also produced quilts to
commemorate significant events such as births and weddings.  The crazy quilt, which is not a true quilt as it contains no batting, dates to this time period when many quilters approached quilting as fabric

The Neill-Cochran House Museum quilts date from the mid-nineteenth century to the 1930s, a time that saw virtuoso skill and craftsmanship as well as a rapidly changing material world.  All of the quilts feature machine-produced fabrics, arranged with great care.  Whether elaborately stitched into a crazy quilt or precisely cut and pieced for an appliqué or patchwork quilt, these objects are a testament to the lives and art of the women who produced them.


Installation - Patchwork Installation - Lone Star Installation - Dresden Plate Installation - Crazy Installation - Applique






















This exhibit is free with any museum admission and on Sunday, March 6th for Sunday Funday.

Join us for a special, behind-the-cordons reception Tuesday, March 8th to benefit our fundraiser with Amplify Austin.

28 Jan

April 3: Sunday Funday: Simple Machines

What’s so simple about machines?

IMG_0793What is a machine? Many of us think of machines as things that do work for us, but this month, Sunday Funday will investigate simple machines, that is, tools that make it easier for us to do the work ourselves. From inclined planes to pulleys, from levers to screws, simple machines are everywhere, including the construction of the 1855 historic house and the implements and tools used to live life in it.

With help from staff and volunteers, kids will be able to engage in daring feats of strength using a block-and-tackle (a system of pulleys and ropes) and a movable fulcrum lever.
The museum and grounds will be open for tours, including a new exhibit from the IMG_0794Austin History Center in the interpretive gallery and a responsive exhibit about the museum gardens and grounds. We’ll also have a machine themed seek-and-find guide for more curious and keen-eyed patrons.

Keeping with the theme and weather permitting, we’ll have badminton and croquet set up on the front lawn: both games using – you guessed it – simple machines! (Third class levers, to be exact)


17 Nov

Friends Trip: Northwest Passage

Please Note: Reservations for Northwest Passage are currently full. Please contact museum staff to be added to our waitlist.

Join the Friends of the Neill-Cochran House Museum for a six-day adventure to witness Portland, the Columbia River, and the landscape of Lewis & Clark.

Experience the natural beauty and muse over the historical significance of the American Pacific Northwest. This trip incorporates a varied itinerary, including stops at several important house museums (Simon Benson House, Grant House, Pittock Mansion), outdoor spaces (Ft. Clatsop, International Rose Test Garden, Mt. Hood), and art museums (Portland Art Museum).

Thursday, September 8th, 2016

Ankeny Square

Ankeny Square

Simon Benson House

Simon Benson House

Arrive in Portland, Oregon.

Welcome tour, including stops at Ankeny Square (1888), Portlandia sculpture, Simon Benson House (1900), and the Portland State University campus. Dinner included.




Friday, September 9th, 2016

Grant House (1848)

Grant House (1848)

Fort Vancouver

Fort Vancouver

Excursion to Vancouver, Washington, including trips to several historic sites and house museums.

Ft. Vancouver National Historic Site, George C. Marshall House (1886), Clark County Historical Museum, Grant House (1846), Two Rivers Heritage Museum, and Pendleton Woolen Mills. Lunch included.

Back in Portland, a tour of the Portland Art Museum.


Saturday, September 10th, 2016

ft clatsop

Ft. Clatsop (1805)

proto cathedral

St. James the Greater

Excursion to beautiful Astoria, Oregon, including trips to important Lewis & Clark sites and local history museums.

Proto-Cathedral of St. James the Greater (1885), Lewis and Clark National Historical Park: Ft. Clatsop (1805), Columbia River Maritime Museum, Astoria Column (1926). Lunch included.



Sunday, September 11th, 2016

Lan Su Chinese Garden

Lan Su Chinese Garden

International Rose Test Garden

Rose Test Garden

Spend a day in the sunshine, touring the historic gardens of Portland.

International Rose Test Garden, Japanese Garden, Lan Su Chinese Garden, Pittock Mansion (1909). Lunch included.




Monday, September 12th, 2016

Mt. Hood

Mt. Hood

Multnomah Falls

Multnomah Falls

A scenic tour of the Columbia River, including trips to local wineries and the towering Mt. Hood.

Multnomah Falls, Maryhill Museum, Mt. Hood Winery, Mt. Hood, Timberline Lodge (1935), Cascade Dining Room. Dinner included.




Tuesday, September 13th, 2016

Afternoon flight.


We are currently adding interested travelers to our waitlist. Please contact museum staff for more information.

Click Here to download a form with more information, including notes on different costs and accommodations. Then be sure to reserve your spot by mailing the printed form and your deposit to:

Karen Bluethman, Heart of Texas Tours
8501 Silver Ridge Drive
Austin, TX 78759

Have questions or concerns? Contact Karen Bluethman at (512) 345-2043 hottours@sbcglobal.net.

02 Nov

Friends Trip: Houston and the Azalea Trail

Join the Friends of the Neill-Cochran House Museum for a day trip to Houston to celebrate the River Oaks Garden Club’s Azalea Trail.

AzaleaWelcome the incomparable Texas springtime with a day trip to consider the gardens of the ROGC’s Azalea Trail, MFAH’s Bayou Bend and Rienzi Collections, together with Lunch at Houston Classic Ouisie’s Table, and a private reception at NSCDA-TX President Dorothy Knox Houghton’s residence.

Saturday, March 12th, 2016
Depart from Austin at 8:00 am; meet/arrive in Houston at 11:00 am.

Local to Greater Austin?

Chartered transportation will leave from the Neill-Cochran House – meet us by 8:00 am. We will arrive back in Austin at approximately 9:00 pm.  Register online securely from Austin here. Please note that $25 of your registration fee is a tax-deductible gift to the Friends of the Neill-Cochran House Museum.

Coming from Houston (or catching your own ride)?

No need to miss out if you’re not in Austin! Meet us in Houston so we can spend the day together. Meet us in Houston at our first stop on the Azalea Trail (TBD) at approximately 11:00 am or at Ouisie’s Table at 1:00 pm for lunch. Reserve online securely from Houston here. Please note that $25 of your registration fee is a tax-deductible gift to the Friends of the Neill-Cochran House Museum.

Questions about this event? Don’t be shy! Contact us and we’ll get you all sorted out.


14 Oct

Collections: Xavier Sprang Melodeon

Melodeon, c. 1860-1890, Xavier Spang, Rosewood and Cast Iron.
Gift of Mrs. Gordon West, 1959.09.01

The melodeon is an American invention from the first half of the 19th century. Although melodeons were very popular before and during the Civil War era, they are seldom seen today. Housed in a piano-like case, a melodeon is a small reed organ with a five or six octave keyboard. Back in its heyday, Americans preferred the melodeon over the piano for its durability, lower price, and the advantage of seldom needing maintenance and tuning. Two men in Buffalo, New York – Jeremiah Carhart and Elias Parkman Needham – invented the melodeon. They had sought to improve the previous-existing pump organ and created an instrument that, instead of using pressure bellows like the European harmonium, used suction bellows. In the mid-19th century, it was common for well-to-do families to have a melodeon, often situated in the parlor, and to use it for entertaining guests and family members. During the Cochrans’ residence, the Neill-Cochran House was often filled with music. The Cochran family had a Victrola, and a piano is visible in the back parlor of the 1914 photographs from Bessie Cochran’s wedding.

The Neill-Cochran House Museum melodeon was made by Xavier Spang, a mid-19th century organ and melodeon maker from Syracuse, New York. Spang advertisements first appear in 1860 and disappear after 1890, leading us to believe that he went out of business shortly before the turn of the century.

Images copyright Neill-Cochran House Museum, 2015. All rights reserved.