Marion Koogler McNay led an interesting, varied life. Although she was born in Ohio, the only child of a doctor, she was living in Kansas when oil was discovered on her father’s property in 1915. Great wealth resulted. She married Don McNay, a railway manager, 2 years later. She was 33 and Don was 23, but they both wrote age 28 on the marriage license. They honeymoon on their way to Laredo, Texas, where shy, handsome Don, in the Army as World War I raged, was stationed. They stopped in San Antonio and Marion liked it. Ten months after the wedding Don, the love of her life, died in the 1918 flu epidemic. Marion went back to Ohio and married an executive. After they divorced, she recalled San Antonio’s relaxed lifestyle, moved there with her mom, and married 3 more times. Husband #3 was a San Antonio ophthalmologist. The marriage lasted 10 years during which they built a 24 room Spanish Colonial mansion on his 23 acre property.
Before oil money gushed in, Marion was already an artist. As a teenager she took drawing courses at the Art Institute in Chicago and became an art teacher. With 24 rooms to decorate, she began collecting art and created a vase room. Her 1st major purchase was “Delfina Flores”, the Diego Rivera painting of a child pictured above. Marion had great taste. Like driven Doris Duke, Marion created hand-stenciled patterns on Roman arches, imaginary creatures on ceiling beams, etc. Among the 700 pieces Marion collected before she died in 1950 were Renoirs, van Goghs, and the brilliant Georgia O’Keeffe below. One husband was an artist, Victor Higgins. The marriage quickly went bad, but Marion started an art school during it. In 1942 she founded The McNay, the 1st modern art museum in Texas, and gifted her mansion, the amassed collection, and 23 acres to the State. I was told she had no children, was one of the wealthiest women in Texas, acquired the deep voice of a smoker, and was a lively hostess.
The McNay Museum of Art’s collection has grown to almost 20,000 works. The focus is mostly on 19 through 21st century European and American paintings. The McNay has an unusually enthusiastic, dedicated staff and eager-to-please volunteers, a sculpture garden, the Tobin Collection of Theater Arts, a lovely patio, fountains, etc. Marion’s house is as worth seeing as the art on display.
Located at 6000 North New Braunfels well northeast of downtown San Antonio, the McNay is a 5 Compass attraction that I knew nothing about until 2015 even though it celebrated its 60th birthday in 2014.