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Detour for Bandera's 'cabinet of curiosities'

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

Pictured: The January issue of Texas Highways features Bandera's Frontier Times Museum in its "Drive" section.

By all accounts, 2013 proved a banner year for the Frontier Times Museum, a gem in the Cowboy Capital of the World.
Not only did the venerable institution celebrate its 80th birthday in May, but staff, board members and volunteers also put on a bang-up Bandera rendition of the National Day of the American Cowboy in July.
Culminating an exemplary year, Bandera City Council conveyed a parcel of land at the end of 12th Street, contiguous to the county's historic jail and courthouse. The donation paved the way - so to speak - for renovation, restoration and rejuvenation of the area, with an eye to adding more tax dollars to the city's coffers.
Now, it looks as though the New Year has brought additional accolades in the form of a feature article in the January issue Texas Highways magazine. So, grab a copy, flip to page 11 - don't let the stuffed and mounted rattlesnake dissuade you - and see what "Big City Writer," Gene Fowler, has to say about Bandera's "Cabinet of Curiosities." And, the accompanying photographs by J. Griffis Smith are excellent.
"I believe Mr. Fowler feels a kinship to the Frontier Times Museum and was afraid that since I had come from the Witte Museum in San Antonio, I was going to change everything," said museum Executive Director Rebecca Norton. "When he visited the museum in July, he was very pleased to discover that hadn't been the case."
When he first happened upon the Frontier Times Museum 33 years ago, Fowler described it as being reminiscent of "the antique crazy quilts my grandmother used to make. There was a little bit of everything, it seemed, stitched together every which way. And it was all fascinating."
As Norton explains in the article, museum founder J. Marvin Hunter essentially created the museum to "bring the world to Bandera," which is demonstrated by the inclusion of ancient Peruvian relics, a Ming Dynasty gong from China; a Venetian birthing chair from the Middle Age; a genuine shrunken head, whose antecedents have been lost in the mists of time; and everything else in between. "Visitors often expect to see just cowboy items," Norton told Fowler.
Admittedly, since being hired in 2006, Norton has undertaken some much-needed housekeeping duties at the museum, which included the first inventory of the thousands of objects since 1952 and cleaning vintage display cases that apparently hadn't been touched for decades.
She also inaugurated the "Stalls of Fame" exhibit, featuring local rodeo greats and the "Texas Heroes Hall of Honor," which recognizes "remarkable individuals and wondrous characters who help keep Texas Texans." Each year, new inductees are honored at the museum's celebration of the National Day of the American Cowboy.
In Fowler's estimation, Norton's deft touch and innovations seems to have worked - and spoiled nothing. As he noted in his article titled "Curious Collection - the Homespun Quirk of Bandera's Frontier times Museum," "... the museum's beloved quirkiness had remained intact - and had even been improved."
Those who might not believe him are urged to visit the museum and see for themselves.
The Frontier Times Museum, 510 13th Street, is open from 10 am until 4:30 pm, Monday through Saturday. Admission is $5, adults; $3, seniors; and $2, children. For more information, call 830-796-3864 or visit www.frontiertimesmuseum.org.