By: Shilo Urban
Suzie Hudgen sits in her living room bouncing her restless 5-month-old grandson in her arms as she casually scans the walls surrounding her, speaking lovingly about each piece of artwork in her collection. Suzie and husband Steve’s 15-year accumulation of more than 250 works creates a captivating microcosm swirling with memories of when, how and why pieces were attained and the evocative stories being told by the artists through their paintings or photographs.
“We’ve met nearly all of the artists who created the pieces in our home. You’d be surprised at how willing they are to share their visions,” Steve says. The Hudgens believe that knowing the background behind the work is half the fun. They delight in walking guests through their home, explaining what the artists were trying to express, the processes used to create the work and why they decided to purchase the pieces.
While the impressive collection is equivalent to a museum’s, the Hudgen’s home doesn’t simulate that type of backdrop. There is no air of pretension, sterility or stanchion ropes. The floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall compilation inhabits a comfortable home filled with a steady stream of their visiting friends, children, rambunctious grandkids and a few basset hounds.
“When we first moved into this house, the rooms were small and painted bright, bold colors. We decided to paint the walls a more muted, neutral color so all of the focus would be on the artwork,” Steve says.
So what are the criteria for what they add to their collection? It has nothing to do with which photographer or painter is trending or what is happening in the art market. “I buy for aesthetic reasons,” Suzie says. At first Steve says that he bought purely based on his instinctual response. “We are more discriminating in our tastes as we’ve learned more about photography. We have little wall space left, which makes us more discriminating as well,” he jests.
Steve and Suzie were early members of the Stieglitz Circle, currently discontinued, at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art. It was made up of a group of photography aficionados and was started by John Rohrbach, the museum's senior curator of photographs, to encourage area collectors and to help develop museum-quality collections. The Hudgens have a close relationship with Rohrbach and have traveled with him to New York City and Los Angeles for sales. The Amon Carter has requested the couple's pieces for past shows.
Suzie also has a background in photography, taking several professional classes over the years. “I am always learning to look differently at art,” Suzie says. Her own photographs are displayed on their walls among those of Lee Friedlander and Ansel Adams.
When asked which piece is their favorite, the couple’s response was as if they’d been asked which of their children they preferred the most. Suzie walked instinctively to the family room where in the back corner hung a large portrait of actress Isabella Rossellini by Robert Mapplethorpe. “This may be my favorite,” Suzie says.
Steve was less resolute. At first he chose the 8-by-5-foot gelatin silver print of the Chrysler Building created by Vera Lutter that hangs in the hallway. The couple lived in New York for a stint, and all three of their children were born in Manhattan.
Later Steve spoke about the significance of a photograph by Joel Sternfeld of Death Valley entitled Badwater Lake, which was the location of an extreme 100-mile race he ran in Death Valley during the dead heat of summer. He was able to get the print at auction for half of what the gallery was charging. Steve also has an affinity toward an Abelardo Morell print of the Grand Canyon taken using camera obscura techniques that is featured above the fireplace in the formal living room. “My dad was a geologist. We must have hiked thousands of miles in the Grand Canyon,” Steve says.
There is intrigue hidden in each nook and around every corner in the Hudgens’ home. They recall stumbling across a collection for sale that had been discovered under the bed of a French Vogue photographer in a little cottage in France. “Looking back, I should have bought all of them,” Suzie says. Another story Suzie tells is about the photograph she purchased for $75 from a fellow student, Dominick Mastrangelo, who is now well-established and is doing impressive work photographing bands in New York.
Suzie and Steve’s collection isn’t solely housed under one roof. Their three children have their parents’ pieces in their homes; a few reside at Steve’s cardiovascular and thoracic surgery office; and pieces are occasionally loaned to local and international museums. “We don’t keep any of our collection hidden away in boxes. I just don’t get that,” Suzie says.
Their support for the arts doesn’t cease with the work hanging in their home. Steve and Suzie strengthen the Fort Worth art community by attending all exhibits at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth and photography shows at local museums and galleries. They also promote and support local artists such as Misty Keasler, a Dallas-based documentary photographer with an upcoming show at the Modern, exhibiting a series of American haunted houses.
Suzie and Steve passed their appreciation and support for the arts onto their children. “My eldest has really developed a good base in art. She enjoys the photo exhibits and loves learning about composition, condition and printing with each trip we take. She has a good eye,” Suzie says. Parents often pass on jewelry, dishware or other keepsakes, but the Hudgens’ impressive collection will be their lasting legacy that someday will be entrusted to the next generation and hopefully many generations to follow.
By: Shilo Urban