An Uptown Dallas restaurant boasts the world's only museum dedicated to samurai art
Gabriel Barbier-Mueller, the Swiss-born founder and CEO of Harwood International, may be known as one of the premier commercial real estate developers in Dallas. But he also has a passion for samurai art, which he has been collecting for more than 25 years.
Earlier this month, Barbier-Mueller and his family opened to the public the Ann & Gabriel Barbier-Mueller Museum: The Samurai Collection, just above Saint Ann Restaurant & Bar on Harwood Street. Daughter Niña is the assistant curator and director of cultural affairs of the 60-piece collection, which includes suits, helmets, armor, masks and weaponry from the 10th through 19th centuries. It is the only museum in the world dedicated to samurai art.
Although the museum houses only five dozen pieces, Barbier-Mueller has more than 400 in his complete collection — 140 of which have traveled to the Musée du quai Branly in Paris and the Musée de la civilisation in Quebec City. The latest exhibition will be on display at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston next month.
“The samurai culture is an intriguing subject, and it is with great pleasure that we can display these objects so the public can explore the history that shaped the character of samurai warriors and their armor,” says curator Jessica Beasley.
When visiting the museum, visitors get a sense of the samurai’s intriguing and aggressive nature. Although the armor appears fierce, Barbier-Mueller reminds us of each item’s intrinsic artistic value. The samurai were like Renaissance men, he says, with interests in calligraphy, writing and more.
Each piece shows incredible workmanship. One helmet comprises 62 separate iron plates; ferocious-looking masks are attached to the helmet with cords that are wrapped and hooked in place. Some masks have facial hair to express masculinity.
Even the guns, which came in later centuries, have exquisite paint and metal detail. Every piece was made by a number of craftsmen.
“When I come into the museum and look around, and think about the history that springs out of the objects, I calm down,” Barbier-Mueller says.
The museum also contains a library, which soon will be filled with more than 600 books on Japan and the samurai, films, and art catalogs.
The Ann & Gabriel Barbier-Mueller Museum: The Samurai Collection is open Tuesday through Sunday. Admission is free.