Art is a Livelihood: Clark Hulings Paves a Way

Elizabeth Hulings, Director of POBA partner, the Clark Hulings Fund for Visual Artists, tells about how she came to understand much more about art as a livelihood after her father left behind an extensive creative legacy.

Throughout my childhood I accompanied my father, Clark Hulings,  on painting trips. We’d go for weeks at a time to Europe or Mexico. He’d get up at dawn and spend hours investigating a town’s outdoor market, or pull the car over next to a landscape or barnyard that suited him, and set up his easel to paint for the day. My mother and I would be left to amuse ourselves. I didn’t realize until I was in high school that most people don’t spend their childhoods this way. I also took it for granted that people could earn a good living from the creation of fine art; after all, that was my experience. That said, I decided at an early age that one artist in the family was enough, especially when that artist was Clark Hulings. I had other interests to pursue.

Eventually, though, it became clear that it was time for me to get involved in my father’s business. A lady called my father one day while I was visiting and said she wanted to know about a painting called Blue Barn. My father told her that he didn’t recall giving any painting of his that title, and asked that she send a photograph to see which picture it was (and if it was, in fact, one of his!). The lady sent an image of the piece, and he immediately called to tell her all about the painting, including the correct title and its provenance. As his only child and sole heir, it hit me like a ton of bricks that I would not have been able to help that woman. I also knew that I never wanted to have to say “I don’t know” in a situation like that, nor did I want to abdicate that responsibility to others.

Even so, it wasn’t until my father’s death in 2011 that I understood the volume of work he had produced (while not a fast painter, he was a steady one who created salable work for over six decades), and the extent of his business operations. I shouldn’t have been surprised after years of watching him diligently work for more than 40 hours a week, sometimes painting at 3:00 AM because he had spent the day crating and shipping pieces, and then hosted a collector for dinner. But, when faced with drawers full of drawings, cupboards with over 97,000 35mm slides, and hand-written logs dating to the 1950’s, I was overwhelmed at the amount of stuff to deal with. At the same time, I was reassured to see just how organized he was—that he was running his business, and running it well, in his own particular way. Learning his process, and understanding how well it worked for him, had a big impact on me, which, in turn, has strongly influenced the mission and activities of the The Clark Hulings Fund for Visual Artists, which my mother and I founded after his death.

There is always a tremendous amount of work to do when settling an estate, but because my father was an artist, there were some very particular tasks to be undertaken as well. There was Clark Hulings, Inc., and White Burro Publishing (which publishes and distributes his books) to deal with, and we had to have a full appraisal of the artwork he and my mother owned, and of his own inventory. Jack Morris, the gallerist with whom I work on my father’s oeuvre, connected us with Charlie McCraken—a well-known and respected certified appraiser of contemporary American realism. Charlie and his wife came out to Santa Fe and we spent four solid days documenting everything, including an extensive art library, tools and ephemera-like objects that appear in his paintings.

Art appraisal can get really complicated. You have to make sure you know what you’re doing and that you’ve hired the right team, because issues can arise in a number of areas: establishing market value versus insurance value, provenance, original work versus reproductions, etc. We spent many hours reviewing and re-reviewing to ensure accuracy. Charlie then went home to South Carolina and spent another month doing his due diligence before giving us his final three-binder report. I’m sorry to say that Charlie has himself recently passed away. He was a fascinating guy, and a serious appraiser.

Just as I used to manage Clark Hulings, Inc. and White Burro, I now manage the Clark Hulings Estate. We maintain my father’s archives, and are compiling his catalogue raisonné (a never-ending task!). We also assist collectors, museums, and everyone who trades his work, by providing research, information and sales support. None of this would be possible had I not inherited an organized business. As the daughter of an artist who was unafraid of the business world, and navigated it quite successfully, I am living proof that middle-class artists are essential members of our society and strong contributors to the GDP. This is Clark Hulings’ legacy which, as a child, I watched being built, and which, as an adult, I cultivate and support in his memory. –  Elizabeth Hulings