Ninety years ago, eight ladies met in the salon of Mrs. Ann Massey’s two-story yellow brick home at 926 Victoria St. in April of 1933 during the thick of the Great Depression.
While gentile ladies of that era usually gathered to sip tea and listen to piano music, the purpose of this meeting was to form an art club. They named their group the Creative Sketch Club. Membership was limited to 20 artists, and they met in their homes. They charged $1.50 yearly dues and contributed to the community by teaching free art classes to 27 under privileged children on Saturdays at the Chamber of Commerce.
As the Great Depression tapered off and World War II began, the sketch club changed its name to the Abilene Creative Arts Club.
The club welcomed new members, among them Mary Motz Wills, who had moved to Abilene from Maryland after the early death of her husband, Col. Will Dunbar Wills of the U.S. Army. Mary had studied art at the Art Students League in New York with William Merritt Chase, Frank Vincent DuMond and John Henry Twachtman. Shortly before her death in 1961, Mary published 257 paintings in Roadside Flowers of Texas. The wildflower paintings are especially significant because many are endangered species, and some have completely disappeared from the Texas landscape. Today, many of her delicate watercolors are housed for safekeeping in Austin’s Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, San Antonio’s Witte Museum and Abilene’s Grace Museum.
During the post-war years, the club blossomed. The club started mounting annual member art shows and inviting well-known artists to speak and instruct the membership.
The first member show in 1941 posted 39 paintings from about 20 members. It was held at the Abilene Fine Arts on N. 3rd Street (which later moved locations to become The Grace Museum). Nationally known Texas artist and art educator living in Dallas, Olin Herman Travis, was a monthly educational speaker to the club members. In addition to his paintings, Travis was largely known for several public murals in Dallas and for co-founding the Dallas Art Institute. The largest collection of Olin H. Travis paintings can be found at the Dallas Museum of Art, which holds 12 of his works in their permanent collection.
These days, the club meets September through May (except for December) on the second Saturday from 1:30 to 3 p.m. at Legacy Gallery, 909 N. 13th St. The club still follows a similar format for meetings established so long ago, having annual solo and member exhibits, an annual professional workshop, monthly educational programs and showing art in the community. The club’s 90th Anniversary Member Exhibit is Feb. 9 to March 25 at the Center for Contemporary Arts.
Doris Kinney, a member since 2011, said she enjoys getting to know other artists through the club.
“Each meeting, we have a different artist do a demonstration or presentation, and you learn about different techniques and mediums. Even if you don’t do that particular style of art yourself, it helps you know about it and be able to talk about it with someone who might do that.”
Contributed By The Creative Arts Club