This is a tribute to people throughout my life who have contributed to my career.
ELLEN VIRGINIA HUGHES (COLLINGE), my Mother
The first person who encouraged me to become an artist was my mother. When she was young, she had the looks and talent to become a successful entertainer. That is if she would have had the opportunty. As a single parent, however, she had to let go of those dreams to take care of me. If there were problems I didn't know about it, and I never once heard her complain. When she could, she sang with bands in nightclubs, danced when opportunities arose, and played the piano whenever there was free time. The rest of the time she was working at jobs to make sure there was enough food on the table; that I had decent clothes to wear, and that all the bills were paid, including art lessons. Late in life she produced several CD's, and published two books; one a mystery, and the other, a compilation of short stories based on her life experiences. Ellen gave me moral support throughout her life until she passed away on December 4, 2017 at age 92.
ALLEN WINTER HUGHES, my Grandfather
As a kid, I spent summers in Colorado with my grandparents. My grandfather had been a woodsman as a young man; estimating timber for companies, but he was also an artist, writer and poet. He would hike into Cheyenne canyon to draw and paint landscapes. At home, he created wooden sculptures. He gave me my first paint brushes from his collection. Both his mother and her father had been artists, and those summer experiences had a direct influence on my path to become an artist. After my mother's death, I was given her collection of his artwork, writings and poetry.
JAMES JULIUS KILLOUGH (Architect, Collector, Entrepeneur, Art Dealer)
In 1975 while I was living and painting in Mexico, Sharon Neyland, a very close friend, told me about James Killough. He was known to everyone as just JJ. He had lived for a number of years in Hong Kong as an architect. When he returned to the U.S., he chose Houston as his base, and rented a large warehouse on Main Street. It was filled with a priceless collection of antiques and artwork, along with his classic white Cadillac, which he parked over a fine Persian rug. It was a unique environment featured in Architectural Digest in 1977. He was from a prominent family in Victoria, Texas.
J.J. was the first person to represent my work. He represented a number of well known artists at the time, so I felt grateful for the opportunity. When I returned from Italy, he gave me studio space in his warehouse until I could find my own space. One day when I came in, John Canaday, the well known art critic and author, was standing in my studio examining my work. With JJ's connections, you never knew who you might run into.
As a novice painter with very little money, J.J. had each individual who wanted my work arrange to pay $100.00 per month. After awhile, I had a monthly income that made it possible for me to survive and keep working until 1981 when I obtained my masters degree. I also felt honored that he added some of my work to his own collection. Unfortunately J.J. passed away in 2012, but I owe him a debt of gratitude for everything he did for me over those years. I miss his counsel, patience, wit, and sense of humor.
HARRISON ITZ (Owner, Harris Gallery, Houston)
In 1981 after receiving my MFA, I was invited to teach during the summer at Bennington College in Vermont. After I returned, I shared a studio in the Houston Heights with artist, Sharon Kopriva. One day I was visited by a man named Harrison Itz who was interested in seeing my work. I didn't know who he was at the time, and I only had one finished painting to show him. It was an unconventional piece; the first in what would be my transition away from figurative work into still-life. During that initial visit, Harrison informed me that he represented artists, and wanted to take my painting to his gallery.
Harrison initially opened the gallery in 1977 with his partner, David Harris. David eventually decided to go into another business, and Harrison became sole owner, but kept the original Harris Gallery name. He successfully operated the gallery for 38 years, and finally closed in December of 2015 to retire. He represented my work for 34 of those years, and I have to credit him with establishing my professional career. When I decided to stop teaching and paint full time, he offered to pay me a stipend; something unheard of in galleries today. Harrison is a rare individual, a friend, and I owe him a huge debt of gratitude.
KARAN RUHLEN (Owner, Karan Ruhlen Gallery, Santa Fe)
Karan and I first met in the 1980’s while I was teaching at the Glassell School of Art in Houston. She was in one of my painting classes at the time, but it was evident from her work that she didn’t really need instruction. She already had her own direction; was extremely talented, and always willing to take risks. Eventually, she and her husband, George, moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico. When I moved back there in 1990, we shared a studio on Cerrillos Road.
Karan opened her initial art gallery on E. De Vargas, and she was the first to represent my work outside of Texas. After a few years, she was fortunate to obtain a permanent location on Canyon Road; a coveted area for upscale galleries. Karan proved to be extremely successful and well respected throughout her career until she retired. She could handle herself in any situation; had boundless energy, confidence, and always made time for her artists. Today she remains a valued friend, and the one person I go to whenever I seek professional advice.
DENISE SMITH MCCOY, Artist (My Wife)
Last, but not least, I want to thank Denise, my partner in life. For over twenty years we have worked side by side, through thick and thin. She has been a positive force, and is a multi-talented artist in her own right. That is probably one of the things that makes it work. Living the life of an artist can seem like a strange existence to most people, but we take it in stride.
I have to say, Denise works harder than I do. She never runs out of energy or ideas, and she has had experience in numerous areas of the arts over the years. She's not only a fine painter, but early in her career, she won both the regional and national American College Theatre Festival Award presented at Lincoln Center.
She was a graduate student at Carnegie Mellon University in Theatre and Set Design; Robert Merrill's makeup artist, wardrobe assistant to actress Julie Haydon, and worked on movie sets like "Heat of the Night" and "Day of the Dead". She has also been a costume designer for such places as the Santa Fe Opera, and Magic Theatre here in San Antonio. Currently, she designs and fabricates beautiful handmade jewelry for clients both home and abroad.