dedicated to discovering all that is authentically amarillo
current issuecurrent issue
Cover Story - Posted August 25, 2017 10:24 a.m.
photo
Photo by Shannon Richardson

Saint Ann of Amarillo

When Ann Crouch unexpectedly passed away on Jan. 5, 2017, the 84-year-old artist, entrepreneur and philanthropist left behind a legacy that will likely resonate across the city’s art scene for years to come.
Following her death, West Texas A&M University art professor Marcus Melton, in a Facebook post, proclaimed her “the patron saint” of art in Amarillo. He was not alone in his tribute.

“Her contributions to fine arts and education were definitely a gift to Amarillo,” says David Corbin, who owns Art Gecko Studio and Gallery at The Galleries at Sunset Center. “It was a gift not just for the artists but for the whole community.”

An accomplished painter, Crouch and her husband, C.W., built a number of successful business ventures in Amarillo. They founded Texas Carpet before operating Crouch Petroleum and related oil and gas entities in Texas, Oklahoma and Colorado – with Ann serving as the company’s private pilot. C.W. Crouch eventually converted his successful petroleum interests into real estate, developing commercial properties throughout the Panhandle. After C.W. passed away in 2001, Ann continued to manage the family’s estate and business ventures.

One of those was the Sunset Center Shopping Mall near Plains and Western. It had been one of the state’s first shopping malls when it opened in 1960, but the city’s changing retail environment eventually left the space almost entirely empty. After her husband’s death, Crouch had begun renovating it to attract new tenants. That’s when her friend, Hunter Ingalls, the late WTAMU art professor, asked her if a few of his college students could use empty space at Sunset for an art studio.

Crouch loved the idea and said yes. One thing led to another. Other artists began to request studio space, and Crouch eventually abandoned her retail dreams for Sunset Center and turned it into an art haven. Offering very affordable rates, she developed and rented out studio space to more than 100 local artists across dozens of galleries, including the non-profit Amarillo Art Institute, the collaborative Panhandle Art Center, and Crouch’s own Sunset Art Gallery.

Artist Janette Dickerson, who shares the Sunset art gallery Sunny Side Up with Karen Herpich and Barry Bogue, knew Ann for more than 40 years. More than a decade ago, the two friends were both at a Lone Star Pastel Society meeting when Dickerson got a sense that Crouch was up to something. “We were talking about people needing places to paint, and I knew she must have something in mind from the questions she was asking us at the time,” Dickerson says. “She came up with the idea of the Panhandle Art Center at the east end of Sunset Center, a place where people had the chance to hang their art and show it. We just grew from there.”

In addition to the educational space provided by the Amarillo Art Institute and the opportunity to display art at the Panhandle Art Center, Sunset’s brightly-lit mall space transformed the veritable center of the Amarillo art community. By the time of Ann’s death, around 2,000 people were flocking to the galleries every month for the First Friday Art Walk. These popular events gave countless local artists their first chance to display and even sell their work to the public.

“[Ann] gave artists in this area an opportunity to have places to work and become more noticed,” says Mary Jane Whitehurst, who first met Crouch in the 1970s when both were taking a drawing class at Amarillo College. Whitehurst currently operates Color Wheel Creatives at Sunset Center, where she teaches painting. Before that, she managed Crouch’s Sunset Gallery for several years. She says her friend’s generosity extended beyond providing studio and gallery space. “She was supportive of the artists at Sunset Center in any capacity. She bought a lot of artwork. I watched her buy work from an artist who displayed in her gallery, who was having a difficult time selling paintings. She also bought from artists that she took classes from along the way. She had a huge collection of really fine art.”

Whitehurst says her friend began drawing as a child, impressing friends by sketching the pin-up girls from military aircraft nose art for classmates – particularly the boys – in her grade school. After getting married and helping her husband in business, she brought her sketchbook along as she and C.W. traveled to various ranches and oil fields. “She would go out there with him and sketch all kinds of things,” says Whitehurst. “When I met her, she was doing very realistic paintings. Then at some point she started doing more abstracts. I watched her do that and grow. In the process, she met so many artists along the way. She knew so many people.”

Those artists were often acclaimed painters and sculptors from across the U.S. and around the world. Crouch displayed their work in her gallery, and often brought them in to teach and interact with the artists working at Sunset. David Corbin says that was one of her most significant gifts to the art community. “She put so much time into local artists and her other artists she brought in,” he says. “It was helpful for some of the other artists [at Sunset] to see that work and grow from it. New artists may need a little motivational push.” Crouch gave them that motivation by exposing them to the techniques of some of the best working artists in the United States.

“People learn in lots of ways besides reading or listening to lectures,” says Dickerson. “With visual art, if you watch somebody do something, you’re going to learn pretty quickly. Seeing what other people do, a lot of times you’ll think, ‘Oh, I can do that.’” Crouch’s willingness to bring in established artists to show painting or sculpting techniques gave Sunset’s artists opportunities that otherwise would have required travel to art meccas like Santa Fe, Scottsdale or Denver. “It was an amazing contribution to people.”

Corbin says Crouch’s advocacy and generosity gave dozens of artists the initial push they needed to grow in their craft, find an audience, and build careers. That’s why losing her so suddenly in January sent such shockwaves through the community, from the artists working in Sunset Center to others throughout the city. A quick burst of uncertainty about the Crouch estate and whether Sunset Center would survive caused a few artists to depart in the weeks and months following her death.

“Everyone handles their grieving differently,” says Whitehurst. “In the beginning, right after Ann died, there was a lot of dissent and that came from grieving people.” Whitehurst says those who have remained at Sunset are still hopeful about its future. “There’s a lot more positivity growing now. I think it’s going to be a little time and we’ll all be back on our feet.”

Crouch’s Sunset Art Gallery is temporarily closed. The complex Crouch estate – The Galleries at Sunset Center is just one of multiple real estate holdings – is currently in the court-supervised probate process. Whitehurst speculates that her friend would have made it clear to attorneys that she wanted Sunset to be a legacy that outlasted her. She hopes it will remain open, perhaps managed by a foundation, after the estate probates.

Dickerson feels the same way. “I choose to be an optimist,” she says. “Lawyers and wills – it takes time. But if they follow her wishes, this place ought to continue to grow and hopefully become a big stop on Route 66 or I-40. She really wanted this to become a place on the map. We already have people who stop in here several times a week, people from all sorts of places.”

After her death, Crouch’s CPA, Ashley Ware, became the temporary emergency administrator of Crouch’s business entities. He says he can’t predict when the probate process will end. What he does say is that Ann was “a very giving person” who wanted Amarillo to become another Santa Fe, “a place for art and local artists to show their art to people.”

At Sunset Center, Ann Crouch definitely accomplished that for dozens of artists. Right now, the future of her creation is unclear, like a blank canvas waiting to be painted. In the meantime, the art community of Amarillo has pinned their hopes on Saint Ann to make sure her creative, generous impact far outlasts her 84 years of life.

Amarillo Little Theatre and the ALT Academy

Amarillo Museum of Art

Saint Ann of Amarillo

Chamber Music Amarillo

Friends of Aeolian-Skinner Opus 1024

Lone Star Ballet

Amarillo Opera

Amarillo Symphony

by Jason Boyett

Jason has written more than a dozen books and is the host and creator of “Hey Amarillo”, a local interview podcast. Visit heyamarillo.com and jasonboyett.com.
blog comments powered by Disqus
recent stories

Nooks for Books
The Nat owner Kasey Tam shows how to create a cozy reading nook for children.

Amarillo’s Medical History
Nursing then and now

Recognizing Panhandle Nurses
Now in its second year, the annual Panhandle Great 25 Nurses will honor another set ...

Municipal Health
Nursing education in Amarillo, then and now

@AmarilloMag