Susan and Earl Bowick | Caretakers of Art: A Native American Collection

By Rose Glaser Frederick

John Nieto's Native American Gothic
Rose Medallion Tea Basket by A.C. Lindner

From the deck of Susan and Earl Bowick’s Vail, CO, home, a pair of hummingbirds try in vain to taste the nectar of jewel-colored glass flowers suspended in a kinetic wind sculpture by Andrew Carson, an artist the couple discovered at the Cherry Creek Arts Festival. Clearly annoyed, the birds trill, then move on as the wind picks up and spins the sculptures.

“We can’t put out hummingbird feeders because of the bears,” Susan explains, recalling the day shortly after they bought the house three and a half years ago when two black bears came ambling toward them. With Gore Creek rushing through their back yard, mountain peaks and ravines surrounding them, and the golf course in the flats just beyond, the Bowicks are totally immersed in one of the most idyllic natural settings Colorado has to offer. “I have to pinch myself, it’s so beautiful,” said Susan, scanning the vista. After Earl’s years of teaching on the university level and Susan’s 70- to 80-hour work weeks as a vice president at Hewlett Packard, it’s also the best location for decompressing and letting their creativity flow. For the Bowicks, that means creating a home for their decidedly modern Native American art collection.

Earl and Susan met at Colorado State University and started collecting art soon after they married in 1975. “We started with posters,” said Susan, “and if we were lucky it was a signed poster.” Four years into their marriage, Susan was transferred to Seattle, and Earl became, as he affectionately calls himself, the trailing spouse. Despite the many moves across the country over the course of their careers, the Bowicks kept a condo in the Colorado Mountains and spent their Thanksgivings in Santa Fe. “We always looked at the art,” Earl recalls of their travels to New Mexico in the 1970s. “That was when some of the really modern Native American artists—[R.C.] Gorman, [Fritz] Scholder, and [Earl] Biss—were taking off. We just loved it.”

In the beginning they were not, however, able to collect original works by these artists they so admired. Their first original piece of art? “A little alabaster sculpture by Robert Shorty for $150,” they say with a laugh between themselves. “It took us two days in Santa Fe going back and forth, asking ourselves, ‘can we afford the $150?’” says Susan. “We started out very modestly, but if you have the heart for art, you can find a way to start collecting things you really like.”

Since their first purchase together, the Bowicks say they have had an affinity for Native American subjects, especially those works that push the colors and take a contemporary look at a familiar subject. “We’ve always really liked modern work,” says Susan. “We lean to the avant garde and to bold, bright colors.” Says Earl, “Indian art for me indicates a trail of persecution and the obliteration of a culture. There’s a feeling in each one of the artists that we’ve met that this is a part of them. There seems to be some spirituality connected with them.”

Primarily gut-level collectors, the Bowicks trust their instincts when it comes to making purchases…

Featured in August 2007

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