Story’s End: Herman Hugg

Artist, teacher, storyteller Herman Hugg dies at age 92

If one had five minutes to spare, one did not pop by Herman Hugg’s house. However, if one had an hour to spare, popping by Herman’s was a very good idea.

That five minutes would turn into at least an hour anyway. Herman would start on a story and the time would just drift away as that story led to another, which led to another. It wasn’t a question of not being able to get away. It was a question of, “Where else would I rather be?”

Herman was an excellent artist and hugely influential teacher who inspired hundreds of children throughout a long career at South Park High School. His passion for art — for all the arts — shone through in his conversation. He was proud of the various projects he designed to encourage his students to play and find the possibilities of their creativity. His house was filled with photocopies of newspaper articles, photographs, aphorisms — he was a hoarder, but in a really cool way.

He was also an evangelist. He didn’t preach the traditional gospel, but he was always in the pulpit of the church of art. Rarely a conversation went by when he would not, at some point, rail against the paucity of arts coverage in the media — especially as it compared to sports coverage. He would pull out the newspaper and start counting pages and column inches from the sports section. “Now,” he would say, “let’s count how much arts coverage there is.” Of course, there was little, if any, in that day’s paper.

I was grateful that Herman appreciated the ISSUE. He loved that there was a place that promoted not just the visual arts, but the arts in general.

Visitors to “the church of Herman” were always amazed at what they found. I loved taking friends there. I would take them in, introduce them and then stand back as Herman worked his magic, leading them through the piles of paintings, sculptures, found objects, and boards on which he had written quotations that inspired him.

His house was a delight. Part art museum, part junk yard — with something interesting to see at every turn — the house was also a monument to the power of creativity.

And each object had a story, or would inspire him to tell a story about something else.

Herman also had an eye for a pretty girl. I took a friend of mine to visit him for the first time and at the end of the two-hour visit, she thanked him and gave him a big hug. Herman then talked for another few minutes before he asked if he could have a hug. I could tell my friend assumed that Herman, being 88 at the time, had simply forgotten the hug of only a few minutes previous. She stepped over and hugged him again. Herman looked over her shoulder at me and I laughed at his grin and the large twinkle in his eye — clever old dog.

I would always smile when I knew a story was coming. It normally started with something like, “Let me tell you, back nineteen and fifty seven, old Herman Hugg was….” And as he told the story, he would wander around and pick up objects, transgressing from the main thread, sometimes losing it forever. It didn’t matter. The telling of the story was another side of Herman’s art.

I think that probably was Herman’s great gift. He was an accomplished artist, but for me, it was the telling of the story — the story of art, the story of the artist, the story of the teacher.

Herman died Oct. 2 at the age of 92. He was born on Jan. 19, 1921 in Strawberry, Ark. He got his bachelor’s at West Texas State and a master’s at Stephen F. Austin. He was married and had two sons.

He was a Navy Seebee in the Solomon Islands in WWII, and there were stories about that.

The stories remain in the memories of those who met him. The lessons remain in those he taught — whether they are in the arts or not.

Herman was a small man, though strong (he had been a body builder as a young man), but in his influence on the arts in Southeast Texas he was a giant. And as a storyteller, he was simply wonderful.

Whatever you believe about the afterlife, one thing is for certain: if there is one, Herman is telling a story — and there is a host of listeners hanging on every word.

Andy Coughlan
ISSUE Contributor

COMMENTS

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  • comment-avatar
    Sue Bard 4 years

    Wonderful, Andy. I’m pleased to say I met Herman and heard many stories when I visited his house.

  • comment-avatar
    Sarah Hamilton 4 years

    Herman was the best! He was the kindest man ever who was such an important artist. I am so happy I could meet him while he was still in Beaumont. I hope his art ends up in a wonderful place where people can enjoy him forever.

  • comment-avatar
    Linda Waggoner 4 years

    This is lovely!

  • comment-avatar
    Miriam Cade Nichol 4 years

    SPHA would like to have a copy of the cartoon .

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