The town of Canadian is widely considered one of the most beautiful places in the Texas Panhandle. That designation comes from the sprawling river breaks and the rare presence of trees in this area. But this town of less than 2,800 residents, located 100 miles northeast of Amarillo on the Canadian River, is also home to another kind of beauty.
And it’s housed in an old Baptist Church.
First Baptist Church was built in Canadian in 1910. It became home to the local Church of Christ beginning in 1955, and ended up vacant around 1975. The historic building had been slated for demolition until a local family bought it in 1977.
It wasn’t just any local family, either. Malouf Abraham, Jr., M.D., was the grandson of a prominent family who had immigrated to the Texas Panhandle from Lebanon. He felt out of place in the isolation of this rural community—Abraham describes it as having “a hole” in his soul—but discovered what was missing while attending Trinity University. It was art. When he returned to Canadian to practice medicine, he wondered whether other children in this remote community could benefit from similar inspiration, especially in the form of visual art.
Dr. Abraham and his wife, Therese, saw an opportunity in the church property, which they bought for $15,000. They loved its brickwork, tall white columns, stained glass windows and 8,000 square feet of space. They moved in and spent years renovating the landmark. People thought they were crazy, so Therese posted a sign outside that said “We think you’re crazy, too.” (The sign, shown below, was received with humor. Therese spent most of the 1980s as the mayor of Canadian.)
They weren’t afraid to laugh at themselves, and in the process they created what became one of the most talked-about homes in the Panhandle. Malouf and Therese filled it with a growing art collection. A serious art collection, with dozens and dozens of fine pieces.
Then, in 2008, the family decided it was time to open up the mansion to the rest of the town. The Abrahams donated their home and full art collection to the community of Canadian as a public museum. It has since been transformed once again into a place filled with creativity, inspiration and beautiful things, all intended to help shape the cultural education of this rural town.
Now just one of only three art museums across the 26,000 square miles of the Texas Panhandle, The Citadelle has become a prominent tourist destination, hosting thousands of visitors and students
every year. It offers one of the most robust education programs in the state, providing art enrichment and art-making experiences to more than 30,000 students—including small, rural school districts who can offer little in the way of fine arts education.
Meanwhile, visitor programs challenge the viewer to reframe their knowledge of art and give artistic relevance to history. Recent visitor and student experiences have featured veterans and film, art-centered musical performances and even theater, public art, and artist residencies. Smithsonian exhibits have traveled here, as have curated exhibitions featuring the art of Rembrandt, Cassatt, Chagall, Degas, Ansel Adams, Texas Impressionists, and modern artists.
This coming year, The Citadelle has plans to conduct student projects with West Texas A&M University and Rice University. It serves as the institutional anchor of Canadian’s state designated Cultural District—the northernmost and smallest such cultural district in the state—and only the second in the vast Texas Panhandle.
The museum is open to the public Tuesday through Saturday, from 11 a.m. until 4 p.m. Admission is $10 for adults and $8 for seniors 65 and older, with children under 18 always free. Upcoming events include an artist reception featuring George Mendoza on Sept. 29, whose Colors of the Wind exhibition is on loan from the Ellen Noel Museum until mid-December. A blind artist and world-class runner—Mendoza holds the world record for blind athletes running the mile with a time of 4:28—the artist paints the vibrant colors and wild landscapes he sees in his dreams.
For local residents, Canadian has become a prime destination for viewing fall colors. Its historic Main Street will be hopping during the town’s annual Fall Foliage Festival the weekend of Oct. 15-16. In addition to its regular Saturday hours—followed by a Cowboy concert featuring R.J. Vandygriff—the Citadelle will open on Sunday, Oct. 16, from 1 to 4 p.m.
Learn more about the Citadelle and coming events and exhibitions at thecitadelle.org.