The artist in her bedroom, with a portrait of her paternal grandmother, who was from Cuero, Texas, dressed as a Spanish contessa. Over the bed, a work by Houston painter Kristen Cliburn.
In one nook in the living room, a wood-and-marble table grounds a beautiful vignette. Vintage print by Trudi Blom, gifted to Cusack by her mom, Barbara Hill; the image records people of the vanishing Lacandon Rain Forest, Chiapas. Underneath, one of Cusack’s sculptures features charred wood from her “Campfire Stories,” exhibited at Koelsch Gallery, 2009.
The front-of-the-house sitting room mixes decades and attitude in a polite, polished design dialogue. Holding pride of place: a languid mid-century modern sofa by Folke Ohlsson for Dux, a find from Reeves Antiques. Flanking the sofa, graceful European chairs from Antiques and Interiors on Dunlavy (now at the Pavilion). Slate-and-chrome coffee table and a mod stool, both from Metro Retro. Cowhide rug from Heights Antiques on Yale.
The ethereal "Three Wishes," 2013, combines an antique christening dress with a diminutive hanger from Hôtel Lotti, Paris. It was exhibited last fall in “3” at Cusack’s long-time hometown dealer, Koelsch Gallery.
A tiny stool contrasts with the carved console that typifies the Victorian epoch in Mexico. Of the stool, Cusack says, “I loved it too much — but it almost became an art supply.”
In the dining area, another beguiling mise en scène spans centuries, mixing a grand baroque canvas with a pair of humble stools. Hall table with classical columns gleaned from a Heights antiquarian. The allegorical painting, a 19th-century reproduction of an earlier master, was literally rescued from a trash bin. Rustic stools from Kuhl-Linscomb, while the upright chairs came from the press room at the Rice Hotel, via an estate sale. Bronze angel from a Brazilian flea market. To its right, a macumba shrine, also from Brazil, where Cusack traveled to visit her mother in the 1980s.
Mod 1960s chrome chairs upholstered in cowhide, from Houston’s Fabulous Flea
In one corner of the sitting room, an homage to Cusack’s late husband, musician Tim McGlashen — the singer’s hat and guitar. To the left, the artist’s assemblage "Paint by Numbers," 2013.
The artist’s assemblage "Paint by Numbers," 2013
The master bath is all about sculpture, beginning with the imposing Victoria & Albert-era mirror from Kuhl-Linscomb. Tub from Westheimer Plumbing, sink and cabinet IKEA. Ligne Roset table provides the final chic motif.
Cusack’s study is an exercise in refinement. Note, “Campfire Stories” series sculpture, Embers, 2009
Studio time. All sorts of discoveries from times gone by, always well-used and well-worn, stand ready for transformation into a future sculpture.
In a shelf in the guest bath, a lineup of favorite images holds court, including, far right, Cusack’s paternal grandmother in fancy costume dress.
A window niche holds the artist’s trove of pottery, alongside handmade arrow sculptures by Fredericks + Mae, a gift from her sister.
Schwinn bikes circa 1950s line the back deck to the studio.
An expanse of studio. What more could an artist ask for? Cusack had her first party here in May 2012, to celebrate its completion.
The studio, a temple of calibrated organization.
Tools, drawers and her dad’s cigar boxes line a work cabinet.
On the southern wall of the studio, a sculpture (center) will soon be delivered to a couple for their new house. It gracefully combines two unlikely items, a delicate vintage shawl and the rusted bottom of a 55-gallon barrel.
Cusack’s muy sassy Back at the Ranch boots, hand-made, circa 1990, were specially donned for this photo shoot.
A pedigreed 1917 bungalow, refreshed for the 21st century, is filled with reclaimed treasures (including the owner’s own art), all imbued with the perfume of the past. Around every airy corner is a sculpture, a painting, an assemblage or furnishings that represent a delightful moment of sleuthing. Assiduously and lovingly culled from locales as far-flung as Paris, Rio, West Texas and, closer to home, Montrose and Heights antique and junk shops, this dwelling serves as a testament to the talismanic power carried by objects across time, and the exquisite mystery that a piece of art can hold.
Cue Claire Cusack, a Houston artist who has been honing her minimal craft of assemblage for more than 20 years. She’s one of the stalwarts and stars of gallerist Franny Koelsch’s stable. The pair met years ago when Koelsch was a high school student and worked part-time at Cotton Club, which Cusack helped manage. Cusack first became known for her sculptures of crosses that combined the sublime and polished with the rustic and authentic. Crystal shards encircled by rough-hewn bundles of barbed wire and charred chunks of campfire wood pierced by a perfect bolt of glass are among the memorable combinations.
Prior to becoming an artist, Cusack worked in the fashionable ranks of some of Houston’s most forward retailers. Besides the aforementioned Cotton Club, she also did stints in buying and management for Tootsies (her expertise: women’s European sportswear) and for Barneys New York, where she managed and also merchandised the former Houston Galleria store. While the art world won out, her foray into fashion is reflected in her enduring, iconoclastic style, which may find her switching out an impeccable pair of Prada sandals for striking Rocketbuster boots from one of the collections she lovingly tends and often wears.
Then there’s her lineage. Her mother, Barbara Hill, is a Houston-based designer, protégé of Dominique de Menil, and early art dealer who championed talents ranging from Donald Judd to Sol LeWitt; she was known for cutting-edge installations. Segueing into the design world, her celebrated projects included the Dwell-featured interiors of the Row development in the Heights and, most famously, her own house in Marfa, which appeared in The New York Times. It also captured the eye of Nate Berkus and is recorded in his book The Things That Matter. Hill’s design point of view has definitley been inherited by Cusack, who also gravitates to the pared-down, reductive aesthetic that pervades this bungalow.
How did she and the house meet? Looking for a life change after her husband, Tim McGlashen (musician/frontsman for The Buddhacrush), passed away, she sought out a new scene and began searching for a classic Montrose bungalow. This one was love at first sight, not because of its handsome interiors (pristinely restored and updated by the previous owner), but because of a ramshackle little structure out back. Cusack recalls, “When I looked through and saw a crumbling shed, I instantly knew: There was my future studio. No one else wanted the house because of that building — but for me, it was perfect.”
Cusack, who sometimes shares clients with her mother, also works as a personal organizer for a select handful, relentlessly clearing interiors of detritus that is detrimental to inspiration, and forfeiting all clutter. Nowhere but here in her own domicile is Cusack’s gift for stripping bare the nonessentials most evident. This home is a perfect calling card for the beauty of less and loving what you have more.
Yet, this artist’s casa is not just a monument to austere minimalism. For within its pristine spaces, objects lovingly culled from places near, far and family, vibrate with power. “My sources for treasures,” the artist says, “are fleas, estate sales, travels, antique shops and City of Houston heavy trash days.”
[This article first appeared in the September 2014 Houston issue of PaperCity Magazine.]