Having lived in the Philadelphia area for most of my life, I’ve long been acquainted with two of the oldest independent artists’ organizations in the U.S., The Plastic Club and the Philadelphia Sketch Club. I know them both from attending drawing workshops and participating in exhibits at each of the clubs.
The Philadelphia Sketch Club is, as far as I know, the oldest continuing arts club in the country; started in 1860 by students from The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, the nation’s oldest art school.
I know those in Europe will look at Americans quizzically when we act as though things from a century and a half ago are “old”; but bear in mind that we are a young country, and age is a matter of perspective.
There are other American arts organizations that trace their origins to the latter part of the 19th Century, the Salmagundi Art Club in New York for example; and many of them have had some of the country’s finest painters and illustrators among their membership.
They often have colorful histories and origins that delineate patterns of dissatisfaction among artists with the artistic establishment of the time, or the desire to practice life drawing from the nude when such practices were frowned upon.
I was delighted to find out recently about another such artists’ organization, which dates as the second oldest in the U.S., The Charcoal Club of Baltimore.
Organized around classes nude figure drawing, and for 20 years the only institution in Baltimore offering life drawing sessions, the club was intended to encourage art appreciation, the sharing of techniques and the promotion of local artists.
The club also became a bastion of civic pride as the sponsor of at least two Salon des Refuses in the 1920’s and 30’s when the Baltimore Museum of Art bypassed Baltimore artists in its juried exhibitions of Maryland artists.
The club, like the other arts clubs I mention, carries on its traditions of promoting life drawing sessions, the sharing of information, techniques and resources among members and the promotion of local artists.
There is a gallery on the club’s site, from which I’ve picked a few member artists whose work struck me and who happen to have web sites displaying more of their work.
[Suggestion courtesy of Ray Ridenour]