Parting Shots

Jane Fudge fools around with local photo history on her way out the DAM door.

It was a couple of years ago that Jane Fudge, at the time an assistant curator at the Denver Art Museum, came up with the idea for Colorado Masters of Photography, the exhibit currently on display in the Merage Gallery on the DAM's first floor. But the show, which is more interesting than impressive, was overshadowed on the eve of its June opening by the news that Fudge, after more than ten years of serving in various capacities at the museum, not only was leaving, but was being pushed out the door early.

Here's what happened.

Last summer, Fudge's elderly mother, who was living in a nearby nursing home, died after a long illness. Then, in a perverse twist of fate, Jane's husband, John Fudge, a respected Colorado painter, died unexpectedly just a few weeks later of a massive heart attack. Fudge dealt with her tremendous grief by throwing herself into her work. But she decided last winter to move to Portland to join her daughter and her family. "I always regretted that I couldn't get my mother to move here until she was quite old and it was too late for us to enjoy each other," says Fudge. "I didn't want to make the same mistake with my own daughter."

"Vino: ‘Hal-o-gram,'" by Hal Gould, photogram.
"Vino: ‘Hal-o-gram,'" by Hal Gould, photogram.

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Always the straight arrow, Fudge dutifully informed the DAM in January that she intended to leave on June 15, just a week after the opening of Colorado Masters. In retrospect, she should have just given them two weeks' notice.

Everything went on normally for a while: Fudge carried out her duties and was always ready to aid the museum and promote her department, to which she was fiercely loyal. (She wouldn't allow anyone -- including the likes of me -- to criticize the department or its policies in her presence. Not, at least, without a rousing defense.) She was always ready to give walk-throughs to students, the press and other interested groups. And her scholarship was consistently outstanding.

But in early April, she was mysteriously summoned to the office of the DAM's deputy director, Joan Troccoli. "This was weird," says Fudge. "Joan and I spoke all the time, and suddenly I was called to her office. I had no idea why -- which was also strange, since ordinarily, the topic of a museum meeting would be known to the participants before hand.

"I got to Joan's office earlier than she did, and I was sitting there waiting for her," Fudge continues, "and she pops her head in the door and says she's going to get a drink of water first. And then when she does come in, she starts watering her plants. Poor Joan, she obviously didn't want to do what she'd been told to do. She even avoided looking at me. Finally she told me what was up -- the museum wanted me to leave not in two months, as I had requested, but as soon as possible." Fudge was shocked. "I couldn't imagine what I'd done to deserve being treated this way. Couldn't they have waited? They knew I was leaving soon anyway."

No explanation was given, either by Troccoli or, later, by DAM director Lewis Sharp. But Fudge believes it was her boss, Dianne Vanderlip, who made the decision.

The powers that be at the DAM are closemouthed about the situation, and they say they are concerned that media interest in Fudge's leaving might cast negative aspersions on her, which would harm her chances for future employment. But the truth is, it isn't Fudge who needs to worry about looking bad in this story. It's the DAM that's been soiled by this sordid mess.

The museum's administration has made it clear to me -- by phone, fax and in person -- that Fudge wasn't fired. And they're absolutely right. She was paid her full salary through June 15, the date she herself had chosen for her departure. She was also given a generous bonus on her retirement.

But just as she was bringing Colorado Masters to fruition, Fudge was tossed out of her office, losing access to the museum's computers and other office equipment, and she was ultimately forced by these circumstances to give up on the show itself, handing final arrangements over to Blake Milteer, the department's newly hired special-projects assistant, who had previously served as Fudge's intern.

Unfortunately, the show has some problems, not all of which can be blamed on Fudge's early departure.

For instance, it lacks a Rocky Mountain flavor, since Fudge decided to disconnect the show from Colorado as a place. I think that was a mistake and would rather have seen Colorado as the subject of these local talents. But according to associate curator Nancy Tieken, who helped Milteer install the show, "Jane intentionally chose photos taken outside of Colorado, because she didn't want the show to be dominated by the local landscape."

Although I disagree with it, the move is typical of Fudge, who has always explored a wide range of expressions as opposed to establishing a tight central theme.

Another problem, which can't be blamed on anyone, is that two of the four photographers -- Fudge selected Myron Wood of Colorado Springs and Ferenc Berko of Aspen -- died within months of one another, after plans for Colorado Masters were well under way. Fudge had intended the show to highlight living artists only.

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