Dateline: November 20, 2003

Speakers address fate of Bugbee legacy

By Roger Estlack, Clarendon Enterprise

The fate of the legacies of Harold and Olive Bugbee is in the hands of the Panhandle-Plains Historical Society, and a large group of people gathered in the Bairfield Activity Center last Tuesday to speak out on the subject.

At stake is a 358-acre ranch northwest of Clarendon; a vast collection of art, furniture, and personal property belonging to Harold Dow Bugbee – one of the greatest Western artists of the 20th century; and a historic home virtually unchanged since its construction.

Bugbee, whose works are in collections everywhere from local homes and businesses to the Smithsonian Institution, died in 1963 and left everything to his widow, Olive Vandruff Bugbee, and to the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum (PPHM) in Canyon.

Mrs. Bugbee – an acclaimed artist in her own right whose patrons included President Lyndon Johnson and Governor Dolph Briscoe – carefully maintained her husband’s estate, kept detailed records on everything, and then also bequeathed all her belongings to the PPHM when she died in January of this year.

Now, the board of the Panhandle-Plains Historical Society, which owns the PPHM’s collection and oversees its programs, is faced with a decision of what to do with the Bugbees’ estate, which PPHM Director Walt Davis says is valued at just over $1 million.

Davis says Mrs. Bugbee’s will allows the Society to retain or dispose of her property as it shall deem advisable at its sole discretion; but at last week’s meeting, people spoke up for keeping that property intact and for preserving it for future generations.

Seth Davidson, president of the Panhandle Tourism Marketing Council, urged the Society to take its time to consider all the options.

“Take a moment – a year, two years – to decide the proper course,” Davidson said. “Olive Bugbee died. Olive Bugbee left this bequest to the museum. She intended this to be conserved and stewarded for as long as human beings conserve things.”

Davidson framed his remarks in the large context of the future of the PPHM itself and said that the museum must find new constituents and that the Bugbee Ranch offers it a unique opportunity to do just that by offering visitors art, history, culture, and wildlife. In his view, a properly developed Bugbee Ranch would help capture the attention of nature and heritage tourists and point them in the direction of the “big museum” in Canyon.

Representatives from the US Fish & Wildlife Service, the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service, and Texas Parks & Wildlife Department also addressed the meeting and spoke of cost sharing and easement programs which could assist the PPHM in improving the ranch for the purposes of habitat restoration, nature conservancy, and outdoor classroom possibilities at little or no cost to the museum.

“I see all of these parts just waiting to be put together into a beautiful thing,” said TPWD’s Gene Miller. “It just gets richer and richer. Let us help you.”

Don Robinson also spoke and offered his assistance to the Society.

“I knew Olive Bugbee better than most anybody,” said Robinson, who has leased part of the ranch for agricultural purposes for many years. “We would do her a great injustice not to carry on as she had done. She used to say to me, ‘Do what you want to, but don’t change anything.’”

Robinson said it was clear to him that Mrs. Bugbee “was going to walk out of that house with it the exact same way it was when she walked into it.”

Jerry Woodard, a member of the Clarendon Economic Development Corporation Board, also urged the Society to deliberate carefully regarding the future of the Bugbee property.

“This was a partnership,” Woodard said. “It was not just Olive Bugbee; it was Harold Bugbee also.”

Woodard said he felt the future of the Bugbee property shouldn’t be in question since it was obvious what the couple’s wishes were.

“It was already set up,” he said. “These people didn’t only preserve these physical assets, they also set up the funds to take care of it.”

The Society board met last Thursday, and Davis reports that action on the Bugbee estate has been tabled until the board’s next meeting on December 11. In the meantime, museum personnel are compiling a list of funding opportunities mentioned at last week’s Clarendon meeting and are seeking funding sources to undertake a feasibility regarding the property.

“There are two decisions to be made,” Davis said. “First, comes the decision on doing a feasibility study. Then comes the decision on what do we do with the Bugbee house.”

Davis said he couldn’t speak for the society board, but he believes the board is two months away from deciding on the feasibility study and potentially “multiple months” away on deciding the fate of the property.

In the meantime, the PPHM continues to catalogue and appraise the Bugbee bequest. The most valuable items from the estate have been moved to Canyon, and a security system has been installed at the ranch.



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