Shortly after my arrival as the new assistant curator for the Bayou Bend Collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, I was introduced to Mary Frances and Fred Couper by Miss Ima Hogg. They were the personification of Texas hospitality with their warm, engaging and generous welcome. Mary Frances Bowles Couper was the only child of Edna Henderson and William V. Bowles. Her father was the President of Bowles Oil Production Co. Fred was a prominent Houston attorney. Mary Frances poured her seemingly boundless energy and enthusiasm into numerous local, state and national organizations that ranged from the Kappa Alpha Theta sorority to the Interiors Committee for the United States Diplomatic Reception Rooms, the Department of State, Washington, D.C. The Coupers' generosity to the State Department included the donation of the last portrait of Thomas Jefferson by Thomas Sully.
Mary Frances' lifelong interest in history and antiques was a focal point of her life. Considered one of Houston's major philanthropists of the past half-century, she co-founded the Houston Theta Charity Antiques Show in 1952, which ensured that Houstonians had access to some of the finest antique dealers in the country and stimulated the formation of other collections in Houston. She was a personal friend of Miss Ima Hogg, who had donated her magnificent collection of Americana and her home, Bayou Bend, to the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. Mary Frances had a national reputation as a great supporter of American antiques and their interpretation. She was asked to serve on state and national restoration projects. She generously donated antiques to Bayou Bend in Houston, the Texas Governor's Mansion Restoration Project in Austin, Texas, in the 1980's and to the White House when former first lady Jacqueline Kennedy was restoring it in the early 1960's.
The Coupers delighted in entertaining at their beautiful home, Piney Point, especially during the Christmas holidays and at the time of the Theta Show. The candlelit home and adjacent Richmond Cottage were the perfect settings for the parties that collectors, dealers and friends eagerly awaited each year. Mary Frances dedicated the move, restoration and furnishing of Richmond Cottage to her mother and Richmond area relatives. The early to mid-19th century American furnishings reflected Mary Frances' keen eye and talent for integrating color, pattern and form.
Dean F. Failey
American Furniture and Decorative Arts