Discovering the Czech Center Museum in Houston
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My husband and I recently visited the Czech Center Museum located here in the Museum District of Houston. The grand Baroque-style building was constructed to simulate a small palace.
This museum is a non-profit organization geared towards teaching people about Silesia, Moravia, and Bohemia all of which make up what has become the Czech Republic. Slovakia which is an independent country with a separate ethnic group is also represented.
The Czech Center Museum also helps to celebrate the arts, language, and culture of people who came from those regions or who have genealogical ties to those regions in Europe.
Houston has a wide diversity in terms of people from diverse cultures living here. We can all learn from one another by becoming exposed to what each culture has to offer. This museum is a good starting point for those unfamiliar with the Czech Republic.
Many immigrants of Slavic origins started arriving in Texas in the mid-1800s. Most of them came from farming backgrounds and were lured here for several reasons. Political unrest along with religious oppression in their homeland spurred the desire to settle in America. They learned that land was inexpensive and suitable for farming.
A majority of the new immigrants came from a Catholic background. These typically close-knit families started building churches as well as schools and homes. Small Czech communities in Texas began to flourish, and many of them still exist today.
Our docent was pleased to show us the portraits of the two composers shown here above. Smetana is considered to be the “father of Czech music.”
Dvorak’s New World Symphony is well known and loved by many people. Neil Armstrong, the astronaut who first set foot on the moon, actually carried a recording of it on his way to the moon and back.
This museum houses art, furniture, porcelains, and hand-blown glass exhibits as well as numerous other artifacts of Czech origin. Much of this pottery collection was produced between the two world wars. Amphora, Erphila as well as peasant art is displayed in the many curio cabinets.
Each of the three floors has some wide open spaces which can be rented for functions of various sizes.
Prague Hall is on the 2nd level with windows that let in natural light. It is set up as a ballroom with a dance floor. The dance floor accommodates up to 240 people and can be removed if needed to make more room for tables and chairs.
Along with other art, there are numerous Alfons (Alphonse) Mucha art prints. Alphonse Mucha was a well known Czech Art Nouveau painter. One person donated all of these prints to the museum.
On the second floor are some smaller rooms one of which is the Comensky Library. This room contains old as well as newer books all relating to Czechoslovakia. The library if rented as a venue can hold up to 20 people.
On the 3rd floor are some rooms with mannequins wearing the traditional folk costumes of the Slavic people from the different regions.
We were told by Jasmina, our friendly and knowledgeable docent guide at the museum, that the Czech people are very frugal by nature. Most of these garments were worn for a lifetime. If the person gained weight, more fabric would be added. If they lost weight, the material would be altered appropriately.
There was one mannequin on the first floor in the Presidents Room that has a story attached to it. Here is an abbreviated rendition of it. The handmade kroj outfit is pictured below.
During the German occupation in 1945, there was a young 18-year-old girl by the name of Milena who was assisting the resistance fighters. She was helping to erect barricades in the streets of Prague. Unfortunately, she was killed, and her dad built a makeshift coffin and buried her.
Following the war, he passed on this particular kroj that belonged to his daughter to a cousin by the name of Ludmila Havlova as a souvenir and remembrance.
It is evident that these special hand-crafted garments are much cherished. This kroj finally made it to the United States where Ludmila, her husband, and son finally got to live. The tortuous journey escaping the communists and finally getting to move to the U.S. is also told.
Now donated to the Czech Center Museum, Milena’s folk costume kroj (also spelled kroje) will be admired and appreciated by countless people long into the future.
Other items on display on the 3rd floor of the museum can be seen in pictures below. The most abundant space up there is called Pilsen Hall.
View a sampling of more art on display inside the museum below.
The oil painting to the right (above) represents the Great Grandfather Cech and family of Slavic peoples arriving in Prague to establish their homeland according to the tag attached to the painting.
Memorial photos are shown regarding a horrific time when Hitler was in power.
It concerns the village of Lidice which was wiped off the map. Men were killed, women were sent to concentration camps, and the majority of children also died. The town was leveled and was all in retaliation for the murder of one of Hitler’s people in command of the region by the name of Heydrich. About 1,300 people eventually lost their lives over this incident. There were a few survivors.
You can learn much more about it as well as the rebuilding of this village by watching the informative video below.
On a happier note, one of the people who is celebrated inside this museum is the astronaut Eugene Cernan. He was born in Chicago, Illinois. His father was Slovakian, and his mother was of Czech origins. Eugene Cernan was the 2nd American to walk in space and the last to leave his footprints on the moon.
The first floor of the Czech Center Museum is impressive. Leaded, as well as beautiful stained glass windows, bathe the rooms with filtered light from the outside. Then there are the sparkling crystal chandeliers lending a certain elegance to the richly carpeted rooms.
The nondenominational chapel inside of this museum is called the Wenceslas Chapel. It is named after the patron saint of the Czech Republic. His feast day of September 28 is also celebrated as a public holiday in Czechoslovakia.
Weddings or renewal of wedding vows has taken place in this beautiful room. The St. Wenceslas Chapel can hold up to 50 people for various occasions.
The open space in the center of this first floor is called the Brno Gallery. It can be set up to host up to 200 people for receptions or can also accommodate 125 for seated occasions.
This museum is truly set up primarily as a venue for not only weddings and receptions, but also every other type of meeting. From significant corporate events to galas or much smaller gatherings, each can be crafted to suit the occasion. Contact the events coordinator at the museum for help with the catering of your private or public event. The telephone number is 713-528-2060.
Free to the public are movies shown once a month from February to December in this year of 2016. A brochure was given to us with a brief description of each of the films. Each of them sounds interesting.
There are also lectures and language courses taught here. The pianos on every floor make it easy for concerts to be held. To learn more about this museum and access their calendar of events, click here.
The stunning Presidents Room is right off the central Brno Gallery across from the gift shop. In addition to portraits of Czech Presidents, are numerous additional items of Czech origin on display.
This museum is open from 10 am to 4 pm Monday through Saturday, and a guided tour only costs $6 for adults and $3 for children. The docent tours are free on the last Monday of each month from Noon to 4 pm. Parking is free, and there is a beautiful mural painted on a wall adjacent to the parking lot on the right side of the museum. There is much to admire inside of this museum and people are welcome to take photos.
It was enjoyable getting introduced to this excellent cultural arts organization, and it would be even more fun to attend a lecture, movie or catered event there someday.
Three fortunate students of Czech heritage receive a $1,000 scholarship each year from this non-profit educational organization.
The address of the Czech Center Museum is 4900 San Jacinto St., Houston, Texas 77004. Here is a look at some of the Czech Republic by Rick Steves. It looks like a spectacular part of the world to visit. My bucket list just expanded!