IN JUST one short decade two Americans, Susan Kasen Summer and Robert

D Summer, have made their name as the biggest collectors of contemporary

British, and particularly, Scottish, art. Bob Summer is president of

Sony Music while his wife Susan, having triumphed in a first career as

floral designer, is currently establishing a world lead in another:

hi-tech 3D image generation.

With two children each, several houses and so much to do in their

careers, how do they find time to collect art? In suitably transatlantic

fashion, they are both dedicated, passionate -- and focused.

''When Susan and I came together she had a small collection of the

better-known contemporary American artists like Frank Stella, de

Kooning, Hans Hofmann and Noland while I had Latin American works,''

explains Bob. ''I had travelled there quite a bit and was attracted to

their figurative folkloric narrative style. They were artists

well-schooled in their craft of painting -- it was the same mind at work

that eventually led to our British collection.''

The Summers' British focus began in 1988 when they exhibited their

then quite disparate collection at Duke University in North Carolina

under the title Fable and Fantasies. Faced with their melange of Latin

American, British, American, Italian, and German art, the curator hung

Scottish pictures by Wiszniewski, Howson, and Campbell on one wall. ''We

then made a discovery. The Scottish paintings were by far the most

exciting. So there and then we decided this was the way to go. From then

on we concentrated entirely on British art.''

Now they have more than 500 British pictures ranging from Sickert's

turn-of-the-century oils via Gertler, Matthew Smith, Kossoff, Auerbach,

and Hockney up to today's new graduates from Glasgow and London's Royal


Their first Scottish acquisition was a picture by Adrian Wiszniewski

called Nuclear Fission which Susan first saw through the window of

Nicola Jacob's Gallery in Cork Street in 1985. ''I was in a business

meeting. She called to say I had to leave the office before 6pm. She'd

found a picture we just had to have.'' It now hangs in their Manhattan


Their next brush with Scottish art happened by fluke. The Summers came

to Scotland in 1987 because their old friend John Mauceri, then director

and principal conductor, was doing a new production of Aida at Scottish

Opera in Glasgow. In the afternoon they visited Glasgow Art Galleries

where, unusually, there was a room showing the four young Glasgow Boys

including Peter Howson.

With their usual persistence they managed to track down the one they

liked best, Howson, and asked him to dinner after the opera. Howson

brought his friend, the painter Ken Currie, and later they all went to

their East Campbell Street studios in the Barrows. Bob Summers

remembers: ''We were enthralled. We liked the strong social content of

their work. We looked at many pictures and talked and talked. We were

still there at 2am. Collecting decisions are always made jointly.

Eventually we bought Howson's very moving oil, A Wing and A Prayer.''

The Howson shows one of his characteristic bullet-headed dossers on

his knees praying under a wall, unable to make it -- physically,

socially, or spiritually -- to the nearby church, glimpsed round the


I remember meeting Howson just after this visit. He was full of

excitement about his new American collectors. They soon became great

friends, with the Summers flying in for all Howson's big London

exhibitions, and his Glasgow wedding.

''The next piece of the puzzle came at Steve Campbell's London show

when we bought a picture titled The Man who Gave his Legs to God. Steve

is a great guy!'' Both the Summers say they have much enjoyed their

meetings and friendship with the artists. ''Collecting has turned out to

be one of the most rewarding pursuits of our lives.''

During the late 1980s the Summers bought in depth: adding English

works of the same generation to the original Scottish nucleus. ''Then we

decided to cast a wider net, and we gravitated to the work of young,

developing artists,'' says Bob. ''Soon 25% of our collection was coming

from art schools.'' They especially favoured the Royal College where I

met them in action on several occasions.

''We like being on the cutting edge,'' says Susan, ''we are not

after-the-fact collectors.''

In 1991 they provided a studio for an ex-Royal College student, Ansel

Krut, in a house near their Connecticut home overlooking Lake Waramaug.

Another British artist, Hugh O'Donnell, lived nearby. He had emigrated

to the US a few years earlier and his abstract work was seminal to the

Summers' collecting. He also provided their first British painting.

O'Donnell was knowledgeable about properties in the vicinity and advised

on the multitude of vacant mills and industrial buildings in the valley

ideal for conversion to studios. The next artist, Sandy Guy (ex-Dundee

1980-84 and Royal College 85-87), benefited from a new studio loft in

New Preston.

Guy arrived in New York in June 1992 with #40 in his pocket. The

Summers paid for a Fifth Avenue hotel where he lived a kind of Crocodile

Dundee existence while he found his feet. Once ensconced in his

Connecticut country abode, Guy saw the Elvis Presley anniversary

celebration on TV, visited Graceland -- and his subject was set: a

series of oils on Elvis's star-spangled costumes. Alison Watt also

experienced the Summers' overwhelming generosity on a trip to New York.

''They were kindness personified.''

This involvement with people, with the artists themselves, is what

makes the Summers stand out from other American collectors. After

college, Susan herself had been unable to have a break to take stock

before throwing herself into earning a living. She regrets this lack of

space away from the pressures of financial worries and had the idea of

providing an alternative route for young artists. ''We decided we wanted

to do more than just buy.''

Gradually Susan's vision took shape. In 1992 she set up the Kasen

Summer Studio Fellowships at the Royal College. The first two award

winners joined Guy that autumn in Connecticut.

By 1993 two larger groups of Royal College graduates were installed in

the new Bantam building. The studios provide generous working space,

great facilities, a productive atmosphere -- and free food! At the

weekend the Summers organise visits and dinner parties with guests from

the New York art world. The first Scots to enjoy Bantam are Jenny

Saville and Paul McPhail. ''The studios are quite isolated so you can

get on and work, but are near enough to New York to go there for

research and to see all the exhibitions,'' says Jenny. ''It has been

absolutely marvellous for us. Fantastic! Susan has the most amazing

contacts and can arrange anything and Bob is really great to talk to

about one's work.'' Now Glasgow School of Art, too, is to benefit from

three scholarships each year.

The Summers' current show, An American Passion (a selection of 100 of

their 500 pictures), at Glasgow's McLellan till March 5, then at

London's Royal College in the autumn, has stripped their walls of some

favourites. But, says Bob: ''We have rehung our houses with more

contemplative, reflective works. The result thrills me.'' Meanwhile, he

is happy to say that their chosen artists continue to develop

artistically and do well in their career. ''And I have tired of none of

the paintings.'' Back at the Bantam studios things continue to ''boil''.

''We watch each artist move from tentative start to explosive, creative

productivity. We see their personal growth and, not least, we enjoy

their company.''