had just moved to Houston. Her baby is
two years old, and now she is returning to
painting seriously. Where can she go with
her work? Before the call is over, Trudy
has arranged for the woman to come over
and bring some of her paintings. "If I
like her work, I'll see what 1 can do to
get her some exposure. If not, well,
maybe there'll be some strengths to talk
The work of putting creative people
in touch with one another is not a recent
addition to Trudy's life.
"Six or seven years ago, I was introduced to the public relations person at
the Houston Grand Opera and we became
friends. At the time, covers for HGO's
programs were being done mostly by ad
agencies and very often had no
connection with the programs themselves.
Well, I love opera and here was a great
opportunity for a Houston artist: to
design a program cover that would relate
to the opera, and in the process, reach an
audience that would number in the thousands, an audience of people who were
already art buyers," Sween says.
Now Performing Arts magazine, the
pooled playbill of the opera, ballet,
Society for the Performing Arts, Alley
Theatre, and Theatre under the Stars,
uses work by Trudy Sween and other
Houston artists exclusively for program
Who is this woman who busies herself
bringing art to audiences and artists to
each other? At her graduation in 1967
with a B.F.A. from the University of
Houston ("the only game in town at the
time"), she was having her work shown in
a major juried exhibit at the Contemporary Arts Museum (CAM). Most of the
people ("mostly men") she'd been
working with for ten years at CAM had
grown used to thinking of her as the
"kind of artistic committeewoman." I
went back to school because I wanted to
be taken seriously as an artist, and that
wasn't going to be possible, particularly
for a woman, without the educational
background," Sween explains.
Pittsburgh-born Sween's "education"
prior to her UH degree included modeling
in New York and a stint in the theater
("the casting couch does exist"). She left
New York to visit friends in Dallas- and
stayed to get married. Sween is her ex-
"After I got married, I lived in Dallas
five years and then moved to Houston 20
years ago. I had to search for what culture there was here," Sween says.
"I felt like one of the Outcasts of
Poker Flat. So what I got busy doing
was trying to augment the scene there,
you know, but helping any way I could.
I joined a lot of committees."
Although she painted, it was "an
adjunct, not a major serious moment
every moment. You just sort of do these
little things and that's what you're good
at doing. I really never felt that they had
great value at the time," Sween says.
"Then I began to think that these
things I was good at might be valuable, to
me personally, at any rate, and that I
was missing a career. That's what I felt.
I think everyone gets to-a crisis area time,
when they feel that it's time to really
make a commitment to something other
than marriage and motherhood. I'd tried
those, and they didn't fulfill me," Sween
"I'd been brought up to think that's
what you look forward to as a woman.
Now if you're brought up to think that's
your role in life, that's what you think is
going to fulfill you.I bought that dream,"
More dreams have come true in recent
years. Paintings by Trudy Sween are in
the permanent collections of Shell,
Mitchell Energy, Exxon, Esso and Exchange Bank. She's listed in Who's Who
in American Art, as well as in Who's Who
of American Women. She's an active
member of Artists' Equity, and since
1969, her work has been shown in galleries from Barcelona to Brussels, from
Tyler to La Paz.
She can entertain a listener for hours
with tales of wonder at the celebrations
of her work in Bolivia. The Bolivia pieces
were collages. She had begun experimenting with adding small poems to her
collages, and these appealed to her South
"I'd been scribbling out these little
poems for years, but never before had
used them in my visual art, because I'd
never been certain they said things to
other people, Sween says.
Then she offered one along with her
cover art for the program for the ordination ceremony of Houston's first woman
Episcopal priest, Helen Havens. Encouraged by being understood after all, the
artist and the poet got together in collage.
The translations of the poems that hung
beside her framed works at the National
Museum in La Paz were successful
enough, apparently, to make the Bolivians want to take them home-which
many managed to do, despite the guards
at the 18th century palace.
Sween's whole experience in Bolivia-
diplomatic receptions, television specials,
local recognition of all sorts- showed
this hardworking partisan of the rights of
the "local" artist just what celebrity can
mean outside of one's hometown. The
works shown in the Bolivian exhibit will
be included in a book, Innerspaces, her
first publishing effort, which is now in
The phone rings. The woman at the
other end was walking through the lobby
of Exchange Bank and was moved by the
Trudy Sween tryptich on the wall. Could
she come over to see some others? She
has this big blank wall she's been trying
to fill . . .
"See? She's from New York. They're
used to the art scene, they know that artists are people too, that they paint for
a living, that they'd probably appreciate
it if you came to see their work. Even if
you don't buy anything the artist will be
happy if you'd just mention her/his
work to somebody else. That's how it's
done. If artists are not in a gallery—or
even if they are-their work is generally
in a back room, and has to be asked for
specifically." Sween explains.
"We can't just sit here in Houston and
watch the buildings get higher. We've got
to be sure the cultural life of the city
grows as well as the rest of it."