Wright S. Ludington

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Wright Saltus Ludington (1900–1992) was an art collector, aspiring artist and one of the founding members of the Santa Barbara Museum of Art.

Ludington in Court 1941 Opening Reception Cropped

Early life and education[edit]

Born in New York City on June 10, 1900 to Charles and Ethel Ludington. He had two brothers Charles Townsend Ludington who was born in New York City in 1896 and Nicholas Saltus Ludington born in Philadelphia in 1904.

Ludington was exposed to art at an early age - his aunt Katharine Ludington was an accomplished portrait painter, his mother was a collector of impressionist paintings and his father was a collector of pre-Columbian and Asian art. He attended the preparatory boarding Groton School in northern Massachusetts before moving to Santa Barbara with his family where he attended the Thacher School in Ojai, California. It was here that he first met Lockwood de Forest, Jr., who would go on to become a renowned landscape architect and lifelong friend of Ludington who would also design the gardens at his estate, Val Verde, located in Montecito, California. After his time at Thacher, Ludington went to Yale to study architecture; however, after one year he dropped out to pursue the study of art. He enrolled at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and later the Art Student League in New York but his studies were interrupted with the passing of his mother in 1922.

Mid-life and philanthropy[edit]

At the request of his father and possibly as a distraction from his grief over his mother, Ludington was sent on a “grand tour” of Europe and was accompanied by his good friend Lockwood de Forest. Ludington and de Forest particularly spent a great deal of time in Italy and Paris – visiting the ancient Roman sites that likely influenced the gardens and landscaping at Ludington's first home, Val Verde. In 1927, Ludington officially settled in Santa Barbara after the passing of his father, inheriting the estate Dias Felices which Ludington rechristened Val Verde. It is said that the gardens and the reflecting pools at this home were loosely adapted from features found at Roman Emperor Hadrian's Villa at Tivoli. A pinnacle of Lockwood de Forest's achievements, the gardens at Val Verde completed in the late 1920s have since been designated a national treasure by the American Society of Landscape Architects as well as a national, state, and county landmark. A few years later Ludington would acquire the statuary that once adorned that 2nd century villa including the Lansdowne Hermes and Lansdowne Dionysus (once part of the 18th-century London collection of the Marquess of Lansdowne) and now in the permanent collection of the Santa Barbara Museum of Art. It was also during Ludington's grand tour that his collection of art commenced with the purchase of early 20th century modernists, including his first purchase, a small portrait by André Derain in 1924 as well as a still-life oil painting by Georges Braque, bequest to the museums' permanent collection in 1993.

Given his interest in the arts and his already impressive and growing collection, Ludington was instrumental in the formation of the Santa Barbara Museum of Art. After the old post office was purchased from the Federal Government, the Museum Association was formed in 1940 where Ludington was part of the building committee, responsible for hiring the renowned Chicago architect, David Adler, to remodel the post office into a museum. As a memorial to his father, Ludington donated funds to convert the original lobby of the post office into a sculpture court of classical Roman and Greek pieces, The Charles Henry Ludington Court. Ludington also served as the museum's first vice president a position he shared with fellow philanthropist, Katharine McCormick. After his service in World War II teaching camouflage painting to the troops, Ludington continued to take on leadership roles at the museum first commissioning de Forest to redesign the landscaping and later becoming the institution's president in 1951. After the untimely death of the museum's first director, Donald Bear, Ludington hired one of the first woman art museum directors in the country, Ala Story. Throughout his 50-year involvement with the museum as a donor, board member, and president, Ludington donated nearly 400 objects to the museum's permanent collection.


  • Santa Barbara Museum of Art (2016). 75 in 25: Important Acquisitions at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, 1990 - 2015. Santa Barbara Museum of Art. ISBN 978-0-9972492-8-6.
  • Ludington, Nicholas, Jr. (2012). A Ludington History.
  • Wright S. Ludington, interviewed by Demaris Lee, Santa Barbara, CA, December 1981. Santa Barbara Museum of Art Archives

Further reading[edit]