Artful Accomodations Museum-worthy paintings, sculptures, and other artworks are unexpected amenities at these big-city hotels

Story by June Naylor // Photos by Eric W. Pohl

An afternoon at the museum isn’t the only way to check out fine art in Texas. More than simply a place to lay your head, hotels have become unexpected showcases for some of the state’s more creative collections of paintings, sculptures, and other artworks.

Guests checking into The Joule in Dallas, for instance, are greeted by a stunning array of midcentury mosaics rescued from a neighboring building prior to its demolition. In Austin, the Ella is a gallery unto itself, with a regular series of fine-art events to boot. Helpful concierges at these hotels and others like them have practically become museum docents accustomed to fielding questions and sharing the often fascinating stories behind the artworks.

We’ve rounded up eight hotels across Texas where cultural enlightenment is a bonus amenity, and the hospitality extends beyond spas and room service. Best of all, most of these works are on display for everyone, whether staying the night or popping in for a look around.


A mosaic by Millard Sheets at The Joule

The Joule

Opening a decade ago within a neo-Gothic building downtown, The Joule owns a collection of 73 mosaics created by the late California artist Millard Sheets in the 1950s. Crafted from colored glass tiles made in Murano, Italy—some tiles are platinum or 24-karat gold beneath glass, and many artworks are more than 6 feet tall and weigh more than a ton—the large-scale works originally served as spectacular decoration in the Mercantile Dallas Building, once situated just a few blocks from where The Joule now stands.

In 2005, however, the Mercantile was scheduled for demolition, and the new developers weren’t inclined to pay for the mosaics’ removal. Billionaire oilman Tim Headington heard of the plight, took a look at the mosaics, and decided to save them. Headington—who was then building The Joule—spent millions to carefully extract and remove them to storage, where they sat for six years until the Joule could provide permanent gallery space. “This is far and above the single most coherent collection of art through a building that I’ve seen done in the 20th century,” says art conservator Michael van Enter, who assisted with the project. “If you look at the mosaic corridor, I don’t think there is an installation like that in America.”

Ask to borrow the art guide from the front desk, but allow plenty of time to see them all—you don’t want to rush.

1530 Main St. // 214-748-1300 // thejouledallas.com

Berlin Wall by Jurgen Grosse at the Hilton Anatole

The Hilton Anatole

One of Dallas’ foremost real estate developers, the late Trammel Crow built his sprawling hotel on 45 acres in 1979. Sitting across Stemmons Freeway from the renowned Dallas Market Center, the hotel’s art collection mirrors the passion Crow and his wife, Margaret Crow, invested over decades spent acquiring pieces now showcased at downtown’s Crow Collection of Asian Art, one of the city’s finest cultural centers.

With more than 1,000 pieces on display, “We like to say we’re equal parts hotel and museum.”

The Anatole partners with the Crow Collection to exhibit pieces once belonging to kings, emperors, and czars from across Asia and Europe; additionally, the hotel exhibits works by such luminaries as Pablo Picasso, Josiah Wedgwood, Reuben Margolin, and K. Sweard Johnson Jr. “We like to say we’re equal parts hotel and museum because visitors can walk amongst more than 1,000 thoughtfully selected, diverse pieces throughout the property,” hotel Manager Maggie Morales says.

You could roam the rambling property for days and not see it all, but it’s fun to try. Two massive, colorful sections of the Berlin Wall, measuring 12 feet high and 4 feet wide, dominate part of one wall. The Anatole offers a self-guided 1-Mile Art Walk, either enjoyed via printed guide from the concierge desk or via the Anatole Art app, the latter providing audio narration for more than 100 artworks.

2201 N. Stemmons Frwy. // 214-748-1200 // hiltonanatolehotel.com


Swell No. 1 by Glenn R. Burke at Hotel Eleven

Hotel Eleven

The newish, modern boutique hotel in east Austin—with just 14 rooms—surprises with its spread of artworks. The owners, husband Mark Vornberg and wife Shelly Leibham, imbue their lodging with a distinct sense of place by making it a gallery for local and predominately unknown artists, displaying some four to seven larger pieces at a time, mostly paintings on canvas set on rails affixed to brick walls in the hotel’s living room.

The featured artist changes approximately every six months, so you can revisit the hotel time and again and enjoy a different gallery experience with each stay, or just when popping in for a drink at the bar. Leibham enjoys talking with guests about the artists and their inspiration—like that from one of the hotel’s newer artists, Glenn Burke. His work, Face It, features 12 friends’ Facebook profile photos he made into portraits and grouped together in one collection.

“We had a guest from Dallas here who actually knows one of the people in Face It,” Leibham says. “He pulled up the very Facebook photo to show me. Talk about a small world.”

1123 E. 11th St. // 512-675-0011 // hotelelevenaustin.com

A detail from the Driskill Hotel’s Maximilian mirrors

The Driskill Hotel

The exterior of downtown Austin’s 1886 landmark is a work of art in its own right. The ornate design is a cattle baron’s ode to opulence, as Jesse Driskill wanted to bring the elegance he appreciated in hotels in New York, Chicago, and San Francisco to the raw Texas frontier. His larger-than-life portrait, painted sometime around the hotel’s opening, hangs over the lobby. Its artist, William Henry Huddle, also painted the portraits of Texas governors in the State Capitol.

As happened even in fancy places, a shootout in the hotel lobby in the early 1900s damaged Driskill’s commanding portrait—but it was repaired long ago. The focal point in the busy Driskill Bar is the huge bronze Widow Maker, which depicts a runaway horse dragging a cowboy whose foot is caught in the stirrup. Dallas artist Barvo Walker, a former Fort Worth dentist, crafted the sculpture for the Driskill, inspired by the spirit of Texas’ Wild West.

Perhaps most intriguing are the Maximilian mirrors, a set of eight enormous mirrors in gold-leaf frames that Mexican Emperor Ferdinand Maximilian commissioned for his beloved wife, Carlota, a Belgian princess. Backed with sterling silver and diamond dust to provide more gleam, the mirrors each feature Carlota’s bust atop the elaborately designed frames. After Maximilian was executed and his palace fell, their belongings were lost; when the mirrors were discovered at auction in San Antonio in 1930, the Driskill bought them to hang in the grand hall, called the Maximilian Room. Carlotta may have come along, as Driskill ghost stories include sightings of an apparition that looks like the woman on the frames.

604 Brazos St. // 512-439-1234 // driskillhotel.com

san antonio

The 1924 Steinway player piano in the St. Anthony Hotel in San Antonio.

The St. Anthony Hotel

When young investors began rescuing this 1909 downtown beauty from its slide into disrepair about five years ago, their undertaking included a treasure hunt for a 1924 Steinway player piano originally made for the Russian Embassy in Paris. The piano resided at the St. Anthony for several decades before it disappeared during the hotel’s near demise. It turned up in California, and the new St. Anthony owners repurchased the antique for more than $200,000. The piano is jaw-dropping in its design and craftsmanship: the style is Louis XV with marquetry inlay and gilt bronze detail, looking much like something from a European fairy tale.

“Our Steinway piano has literally seen the world.”

“Our Steinway piano has literally seen the world,” hotel co-owner Clyde Johnson says. “We were over the moon when it came on the market after being gone for two decades.”

300 E. Travis St. // 210-227-4392 // thestanthonyhotel.com

Metal sculptures, paintings, and mixed-media works adorn the common areas of JW Marriott San Antonio Hill Country

JW Marriott San Antonio Hill Country

The 600-acre resort on rolling hills north of the city integrates work by San Antonio glass artist Gini Garcia into its design. Hanging from the ceilings as you move into the hotel’s conference space, Garcia’s vividly colored blown glass installation represents Texas wildflowers, with cobalt-hued bluebonnets standing out amidst a field of oversized glass pieces representing Indian paintbrush and Mexican hat. Garcia studied wind patterns in the area and positioned each bloom as it would look in a breeze.

General Manager Arthur Coulombe notes that art helps illustrate the region’s spirit. “Art found throughout the resort was carefully curated to reflect the story of the resort and the Hill Country. We have incredibly modern metal sculptures and gallery-quality paintings that play an important role to do that.” A good many paintings, sculptural pieces, and mixed-media works found in common areas are detailed in Deep in the Art of Texas Resort Art Walk, a booklet for self-guided tours that guests are welcome to use.

23808 Resort Parkway // 210-276-2500 // marriott.com


Hotel Granduca

In 2006, Milan native Giorgio Borlenghi built the elegant lodging in the Post Oak-Galleria area to resemble a palazzo in his homeland. Indeed, just pulling into the front drive puts you in an Old World frame of mind, as the commanding slate-blue statue of a war hero astride his horse before the hotel’s entrance evokes ideas of heroes past. Borlenghi is especially proud of two exquisite light fixtures hanging in the hotel’s Salone Savoia that once held candles before being retrofitted for electricity.

“These chandeliers hung in a Torino government building around the end of the 1700s,” he says. “That building now belongs to my family, and we wanted to bring a bit of our Italian history to Houston.” Other artful pieces throughout the hotel include decorative sconces resembling those from Borlenghi’s ancestral home and framed architectural prints from the Borlenghi family collection. 1080

Uptown Park Blvd. // 713-418-1000 // granducahouston.com

Murano glass from Italian company Barovier & Toso at the Hilton Americas

Hilton Americas

The downtown high-rise looming over Discovery Green boasts work by Robert Rauschenberg, a Port Arthur native who became known as the Father of Pop Art and the creator of renowned pieces displayed in New York at MoMA and the Guggenheim. Behind the concierge desk hang three large color litho prints in Rauschenberg’s signature style: a triptych of photographs transferred to canvas by means of silkscreen.

Other highlights include a striking glass sculpture chandelier created by Barovier & Toso, said to be the oldest glass company in Murano, Italy. A wonderful collection of 16 large-scale photographs of local gardens, parks, and private estates covers a wall behind the guest reception desk. The hotel commissioned the works, commanding silver gelatin prints by New York photographer Jean Kallina, who is from nearby El Campo and studied at St. Thomas University in Houston.

Vanishing Edge Round, a massive work in granite by the late Jesus Moroles of Rockport, required some building modifications. Sitting beside soaring windows, it sparkles as light changes throughout the day.

1600 Lamar St. // 713-739-8000 // hilton.com


Eric W. Pohl

Report Abuse

If you feel that this video content violates the Adobe Terms of Use, you may report this content by filling out this quick form.

To report a Copyright Violation, please follow Section 17 in the Terms of Use.