Kat Cudney (on left) welcomes visitors to Colibri Art Studio and Gallery, located in the former Patagonia Visitors Center. Photo by Robert Gay

The building formerly housing the visitors center in Patagonia welcomed a new tenant this past August. 

Katherine Cudney, an award-winning artist specializing in oils, acrylics and watercolors, now occupies this historic little structure where she displays her art for sale and paints in a studio located in the building’s rear portion. 

This building was always a special place for Cudney, a longtime Sonoita resident. One day, not long after the space had become available to rent, Cudney was gazing in the window when the building’s owner happened by. He opened it up for her to see inside and she said, “I’ll take it!” before even knowing what the rent was. “It all seemed to be kismet,” she said. 

And so the Colibri Art Studio and Gallery was born, named after the Spanish word for hummingbird. (Cudney is an avid birder, and wanted her gallery’s name to be a nod to Patagonia’s reputation as a birdwatching mecca.) Colibri opened for business on Sept. 1 and had a very successful open house on Oct. 5. With the addition of hummingbird and butterfly friendly plants in the outside area and a bench on the porch, this small corner has become a bit of a sanctuary, welcoming passersby, both avian and human, to stop and set a spell. 

It’s taken a while for Cudney herself to stop and set a spell. Former stunt woman, professional singer and mixed medium artist, the Hoboken, NJ native possesses so many talents that settling on which to pursue has been a challenge. 

Growing up in an orphanage in New Jersey was a difficult beginning for Cudney, but she found solace in her art and music. Always a good student in school, she could have earned a scholarship to higher education through the orphanage, but left the facility at age 17 which, unbeknownst to her, disqualified her. “It felt like they found satisfaction in depriving me of my continuing education,” Cudney lamented, as the orphanage was a very controlling atmosphere to grow up in. 

Her initial dreams of becoming a medical illustrator dashed, Cudney used her talents as a singer to earn a living, working with big bands and country bands, even having her own small ensemble for a time. 

When the economy got rough, Cudney, now based in New York, found work as a stuntwoman in film and TV productions. Her specialty was falling down stairs – a dangerous stunt she was particularly adept at. “I got to use the experience I got as a kid playing with my sister on the stairs at my grandfather’s house,” Cudney said. “We would roll down the stairs. Sometimes my sister would push me too soon. It was basic survival skills I learned early on.”

Music, art and stunt work were all unpredictable sources of income. With no family to fall back on, Cudney found herself homeless and living in her car for six months. After finding steady work as a barmaid, she was able to afford an apartment. Throughout this chaos, Cudney continued honing her skills painting and selling her art.

In the early ’90s, Cudney married her husband, Cliff Cudney, a stunt coordinator and professional stunt driver (or: “wheel man”) who worked on such films as “The French Connection.” He trained Cudney to do stunt driving – yet another skill she mastered. Her marriage enabled her to settle down and focus on her art. In 1998, the couple welcomed their son, Clifford Loftin into the world. The family settled in the Sonoita area in 2006. 

Cliff passed away in 2020 after a long illness, leaving Cudney with decisions to make about her future. Cliff was her biggest supporter in her art, once saying, “If you have something to fall back on, you will, so keep following your bliss.” Having obtained a BA in human development and a master’s degree in transformative arts, Cudney considered a career as an art therapist, but she chose instead to focus on Colibri as a way to share her artistic talents. 

“Even now I feel like I continue to grow,” she said. “I don’t feel there is a final destination in my artistic journey. I am constantly learning.”

Colibri is open to the public by appointment and Thursday through Saturday from 11a.m.-ish to 4p.m.-ish. Cudney has a website, www.katherinecudney.com as well as an art page on Facebook that details her many juried awards in art and her memberships in prestigious art organizations. 

She is so grateful to the community for their warm welcome and feels at home in her new “digs.” She looks forward to visits from anyone to stop by for a chat and to view her paintings displayed in the freshly updated gallery.