The big news this week is the opening of the expanded, re-imagined and reinvigorated Witte Museum, which has been so transformed that officials now call it the New Witte. The historic $100 million transformation was envisioned as a three-part undertaking, two of which have been successfully completed so far, tripling the institution’s footprint along Broadway.
The overarching theme of the entire project is referred to as Texas Deep Time, a little phrase that poetically conveys the museum’s focus on Texas history, natural history and the related sciences, which together tell the multifaceted Texas story, going back to dinosaur time. In fact, you’ll encounter some impressive specimens of the species soon after entering the main building- renamed the Susan Naylor Center – through the light-filled glass entrance dubbed the H-E-B Lantern. In front of you, past the orientation theater, is the Naylor Family Dinosaur Gallery, which includes a massive, 39-feet long skeleton of an Acrocanthosaurus, and other ancient creatures of land, sky and sea.
Though kids seem to find dinosaurs infinitely fascinating, I think they may be even more excited and likely to spend more time in the adjacent Texas Wild Gallery where life-size dioramas of plants and animals from the different ecological zones of Texas are displayed in a dynamic environment of sound and light.
I visited the galleries about a month before the official opening in the company of president and CEO Marise McDermott, the person who deserve the lion’s share of the credit for conceiving and guiding the huge-scale transformation from idea to reality. The dioramas were still under construction, so I can’t wait to go back to see the finished product. The ecological diversity of our big state is mind-boggling. (To read my article about Ms. McDermott, get a copy of the March-April San Antonio Woman magazine. She’s our “cover girl.”)
Upstairs is the People of the Pecos Gallery, an immersive exhibit about ancient Texans and their way of life. Again, a variety of dioramas featuring human figures represent daily life in that pre-historic community, complete with a reconstructed rock art shelter. Each gallery has an associated lab for hands-on activities that help people understand how scientists go about their research. All exhibits are cleverly connected, as are the buildings.
Thus, adjacent to the Naylor Center is the Robert and Helen Kleberg South Texas Heritage Center which houses the Witte’s vast collection of South Texas historical artifacts, art, and the George West Trail Drives Gallery. From there you can reach the Mays Family Center which will be home to large, traveling shows every summer. These two were completed during the first phase of the expansion/renovation as was the transformation of the former H-E-B Science Treehouse. The latter is now the H-E-B Body Adventure, a 4-story, 15,000 sq. ft. facility focusing on interactive health and wellness exhibits. And don’t forget to walk around in the back along the San Antonio River to see and enjoy the outdoor features.
The third and final phase of the expansion will eventually add the Center for Rivers and Aquifers which will tell that crucial part of the Texas story.
(The Witte is open every day. Admission for non-members: $9-$12. Go to www.wittemuseum.org for hours and other info.)
1.McClean Family Texas Wild Gallery Diorama
2.Kittie West Nelson Ferfuson People of the Pecos Gallery Diorama
3.Jasmina Wellinghoff and Marise McDermott toured the Susan Naylor Center in late January