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Stark Museum of Art

Stark Museum of Art, Orange, Texas Photograph by Will France

Stark Museum of Art

The Stark Museum of Art in Orange, Texas, began as a vision of H.J. Lutcher Stark. As early as 1927 he had discussed with associates his hope of someday opening a museum. His interest in the arts followed that of his mother, Miriam Lutcher Stark, an enthusiastic collector of art, furniture, and decorative items from around the world. Lutcher Stark developed a similar passion for collecting, with a particular interest in nature and art depicting the American West.

Lutcher Stark began building his collection as an undergraduate at the University of Texas. In the late 1920s and early 1930s, he collected American Indian objects and paintings of the American West.

He married Nelda Childers in 1943, and together they continued to build the collection. From 1944 to 1962 they traveled annually to their ranch in Colorado, stopping along the way in Santa Fe and Taos, New Mexico, to meet with artists. From these visits they built a collection that strongly represents the Taos Society of Artists and other artists in the Taos colony, drawn to the area for its scenery and culture.

In the 1950s, they expanded the collection with the rare five-volume set of John James Audubon’s The Birds of America as well as letters and first edition copies of publications by Audubon and John Woodhouse Audubon. In that same decade, they collected porcelain birds and flowers by Dorothy Doughty and Edward Marshall Boehm, as well as a series of Steuben Glass pieces, including the complete set of The United States in Crystal. In the late 1950s, the Starks added 230 works by Paul Kane, and in the following years they strengthened the holdings of Western art.

Inspired by their shared passion, Nelda and Lutcher Stark founded the Nelda C. and H.J. Lutcher Stark Foundation in 1961 to enrich the quality of life in Southeast Texas through education and the arts. Although Lutcher Stark had envisioned a museum in his hometown of Orange, Texas, he did not live to see it accomplished. Upon his death in 1965, the majority of the art collection in Lutcher Stark’s Estate passed to the Foundation. Under Nelda C. Stark’s direction, the Foundation built the Stark Museum of Art, which opened on November 29, 1978. The Foundation continues today to acquire additional works of art for the collections. Today, the Stark Museum of Art houses one of the nation’s most significant collections of American Western art.