Before we even saw icy Palo Duro Canyon during a couple of very unpredictable days, Ruth and I knew a lot about it thanks to the town of Canyon’s Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum (PPHM).
On our way north from Lubbock last March, the temperature was 80 something degrees. We had spent far too much time at Silver Wings and were anxious to get to Canyon quickly because it was nearing 3 pm and PPHM closed at 5. Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum is not easy to summarize. After reading several descriptions, I finally found one that comes close to nailing it, “The Smithsonian with a Texas accent”.
PPHM opened during the worst of the Great Depression and has never stopped growing. A major addition doubling its size opened in 1967, the local university donated its former library to it in 1973, etc. Now on the campus of West Texas A&M, it began its existence in a brand new art deco building in 1933. The local college was not Texas A&M yet. Over time, people were generous and donated paintings, vehicles, prized possessions, etc. For example, legendary Texan Charles Goodnight, who sometimes smoked 50 cigars a day, gave Reeta Carter his treasured silver-mounted saddle when Reeta married his foster son Cleo. It’s in PPHM’s collection. Panhandle-Plains now has more than 3 million artifacts and is the largest history museum in the Lone Star State.
By 4: 30 I was in despair. We had only 30 minutes left. We had been through the Oil Patch and all the displays about petroleum with names like Down Hole Tools, seen a very impressive weapons collection, looked at windmills, dinosaurs, and the massive Palo Duro Canyon exhibit, checked out historic cars including an accidental oil magnet’s 1930 V-16 Cadillac, etc. But we still hadn’t seen PPHM’s art, several galleries, the complete pioneer town, etc. I was clutching a map of the place which said, “…you’ll find…guards who are willing to help…” as we just happened to pass one sitting on a chair outside an art exhibit. I explained our dilemma and he said, “Wait here.” Minutes later he was back with an invitation.
We were, quite accidentally, in PPHM on the day the Panhandle Plains Invitational Art Show and Sale opened. Guests were pouring in from all over the country to see the latest in museum-quality Western Art and talk to others who shared their enthusiasm for it. The painting, sculptures, etc. not bought that evening would be offered to the public for the remainder of the exhibition, about another 3 weeks. PPHM would remain opened for guests until the reception ended, and we were suddenly among them meeting Associate Director Michael Grauer, Marketing Manager Stephanie Price, etc.
The next morning the temperature outside Canyon’s Holiday Inn Express was 10º, which turned out to be the high temperature for the day, and an ice storm was occurring. Palo Duro Canyon was close but unapproachable. The 2015 Panhandle Plains Invitational Art Show and Sale is not. It will begin with a reception on March 7. If you like Western Art and comprehensive museums, the show and Panhandle-Plains are both 5 compass experiences.