It’s hardly possible to live in River Oaks and be unaware of the neighborhood’s two glorious house museums, Rienzi and Bayou Bend. As a new docent-in-training at Bayou Bend, I was thrilled to meet the man currently responsible for overseeing its priceless collection of early American furniture, paintings and decorative artifacts.
Curator Bradley Brooks manages more than 5,000 works at Ima Hogg’s one-time home, collaborating with museum staff on installing, conserving and acquiring everything from canopy beds and candlesticks to rugs, door hardware and china. He also lectures widely and has written dozens of scholarly articles. Before coming to Houston, Brooks’ work and study included time at Oldfields-Lily House and Gardens in Indianapolis, the McFaddin-Ward House in Beaumont, Moody Mansion in Galveston and Winterthur in Delaware. As Brooks celebrates five years with Houston’s world-famous house museum, we took the opportunity to lob a few nosy questions.
What was your earliest ambition?
I think my earliest ambition was to be a cape-wearing superhero. But by the time I was in college I knew that I was unable to fly and that I wanted to pursue a career related to decorative arts.
Tell us about your education. University or straight into work?
After college [at Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania], I went to work for a small auction company and almost became an auctioneer. I went to grad school instead and have been working in historic house museums ever since.
What’s the biggest mistake that homeowners make when they collect antiques?
One of the biggest mistakes anyone can make is to fail to examine an object thoroughly before purchasing. It’s the surest way to suffer buyer’s regret.
What do you collect personally?
Truth to tell, I am more an accumulator than a collector, with a “collection” formed as much by opportunity as by intention.
What would you like to own that you don’t currently possess?
Personally, I am delighted by things that I didn’t even know that I wanted until seeing them. Professionally, I am always refining the wish list for the Bayou Bend Collection.
What is your biggest personal extravagance?
The occasional splurge on a nice hotel.
Who is your top cultural icon?
Cary Grant: elegant, charming and funny.
Do you have any pets?
Yes, our family includes three dachshunds: Ike, Stevie Ray and Priscilla. Life pretty much revolves around them.
“Every day I read …”
Well, almost every day, I read information in Bayou Bend Collection object files. The collection has so much to teach, and I am continually astonished at the connections I find.
Please tell us a fun fact about yourself that most people wouldn’t know.
On a museum business trip to Hearst Castle [in San Simeon, Calif.] I was invited to swim in both of the pools – the magnificent outdoor Neptune Pool and the stunning indoor Roman Pool.
What is your favorite personal item?
A watch that I bought as a teenager and still wear every day.
What is your favorite food and drink pairing?
For the kid in me, tea and shortbread; for the grownup, oysters and Sauvignon Blanc.
Your friend is coming to Houston and has never been before. What must he/she do while here?
Visit Bayou Bend, of course! A beautiful place to learn about Houston, about Texas and about American history and heritage.