The Oak Park Art League was founded after World War One when interest in art was said to be at a low ebb. In 1919 Carl Krafft, our first president, and other local artists began meeting informally in Krafft’s home and formally founded the Art League in 1921. Many of the original and early members were well known artists, which helped to establish what was then known as The Austin Oak Park and River Forest Art League and make it a mecca for artists and art lovers. Early meetings were frequent and featured demonstrations and lectures not available anywhere else.
Our current building, located just down the street from Frank Lloyd Wright ‘s Home and Studio, at 720 Chicago Avenue, was purchased in 1937, after a massive fund raising effort. Originally designed as a carriage house and stable in 1901 by architect, E. E. Roberts; it was then redesigned for the Art League’s use by E. E. Roberts, who was at that time an artist member himself. For a time the building was also used as a private school and the dance studio of famous choreographer Doris Humphrey.
The Oak Park Art League’s rich history is not only something we are very proud of but makes us who we are. Here are more highlights from our past 90 years.
- In 1932 the League becomes a tenant of the newly completed 19th Century Women’s Club, renting the top floor.
- In 1936 the Junior Art League was formed to attract a younger group of people who would feel more at home with the professional group of the parent organization.
- In 1937 the League buys the property at 720 Chicago Avenue, designed and built by League members E. E. Roberts.
- In March 1938 the League opened it’s new home at 720 Chicago Avenue. The exhibition was artwork donated by members, and all sale proceeds went to the building fund to help pay off the costs of remodeling the building.
- Mrs. John M. Meyer and Mr. Allen O. Pearl, Sr. presented the League with a gold leaf palette mounted on black with the League’s name and address on it.
- The League had a Gay Nineties party for members. Games, costumes, dancing, cards and food were all a part of the enjoyment. Members of the Junior Art League performed a one-act play.
- At the annual dinner in 1938, guest speakers included Elmer Forsberg, Consul to Findland, and Fabins Kelly, Assistant Director of the Art Institute of Chicago.
- To celebrate the 1 year anniversary in the 720 Chicago Avenue building, the League presented an exhibit of work by Carl Krafft. 200 attended the opening reception.
- The spring exhibit had 11 pieces of art valued from $14 to $400.
- Mrs. Adler Scott Boyer, wife of perfumeur Boyer of Paris, gave a talk at the monthly supper about laces.
- At the 1938 Garden Party, the theme was Flag Day, with hostesses dressed in red, white and blue. Tickets were $.75, garden corsages were sold, prizes were given to Bridge tournament winners, and door prizes of donated paintings by League members were given out. This annual event funded the League’s scholarship program
- The League published the Art League Book, a history and collection of works by Art League members.
- Sunday night suppers were discontinued, but the afternoon teas were kept.
- The League began a picture rental program. For $12 a year ($1 month) one could rent an oil painting or sculpture for their home. They could exchange it every 30 or 60 days if they chose. If they wanted to purchase it, the rental would go towards the sale price.
- Paul G. Dallwig, a lecturer from the Field Museum, gave a talk about sculpture by Malvina Hoffman whose work was in the hall of Man in the Field Museum.
- In celebration of George Washington’s birthday, a colonial costume party was held.
- The League showed work by Eugene and Elisabet Kormendi, Hungarian artists, in the United States because of the war.
- An auction of art by League members was held to raise money to purchase a piano.
- The annual Garden Party and Bridge Tournament was held at the Oak Park Country club. League members donated original art works to be given as prizes to the Bridge tournament to raise money for the League’s scholarship fund.
- The League began monthly tours of exhibitions. The public was invited to visit the gallery and receive a guided tour of the shows.
- Carl Junge designed a book plate to be used in art books donated to the Public Library in the names of deceased League members.
- At the annual dinner, a talk on Chinese art and culture drew several hundred attendees. The dinner was held at the First Presbyterian Church House in Oak Park. Tickets were $1.35.
- Hilarity Without a Hangover was the New year’s Party theme. Dancing, games, fortune tellers, palm readers, an auction, prizes, midnight snacks, and costumes were all part of the evenings festivities.
- Richard Epperly gave a portrait demonstration.
- The Austin family donated a complete kitchen and upgraded the electrical system as a memorial to Edna Austin.
- Karl Plath, Artist Member and curator of birds at the Chicago Zoological Park and Brookfield, had a special one day showing of his collection of bird skins, and gave a talk about his recent expedition to Australia in search of rare birds and animals for the Brookfield Zoo.
- Hugh Edwards, assistant curator at the Art Institute of Chicago, spoke on the history and development of printmaking.
- Color Slide Event – Judges from the Chicago Color Camera Club viewed color slides of travel, vacation, land and seascapes submitted by members of the League.
- David Mink, nationally known artist, showed his work and talked about them.
- The League had a sale of oil and watercolors. Over 300 were on display, and sold for between $5 and $50.
- Afternoon tea – a talk on the artist’s approach to composition.
- Mr. and Mrs. Wayne Hansen give a talk about their work with children through the YMCA in this country and abroad.
- Robert F. Barnard showed the film he made about his trip to India and as proof of his hunting trip while there, he brought his tiger skin to show.
- L. Raymond Jones showed his watercolor illustrations for a new edition of the Bible.
- Cornelia Hayes gave a lecture on the use of various plastics, particularly plexi- glass in her artwork. She showed examples of her work and demonstrated modeling, carving and drilling.
- George Buehr, painter, teacher and member of the lecture staff at the Art Institute of Chicago, gave a talk and demonstration of various watercolor techniques.
- Mrs. Howard Van Zandt lectured on The Lure of Japan from Feudal Times to Modern Woman.
- Mable Torrey, a student of Lorado Taft, an internationally known sculptor, gave a demonstration and talk about her work.
- The Austin Oak Park and River Forest Art League shortened it’s name to the Oak Park Art League in 1970.
- The League celebrated its 50th anniversary in 1971 with an exhibition of works by famous members and redesigned the logo.
- February 1979 – The League’s furnace caught fire and was destroyed, causing the pipes, radiators and toilets to freeze. Repair work was done, but the League canceled all events for January and February. To recoup some of the money that was used to pay for the repairs, the League held a White Elephant Sale in June.
- A special presentation of art movies was given at the League. Films shown included Meaning in Modern Art, American Realist – Part 1 and Part 2, Henry Moore – The Sculptor, Painters of America – Peter Hurd, Norman Rockwell’s World, and Shape, Movement and Symmetry. Also shown were Alberto Giacometti, This is Ben Shawn, The Meaning of Modern Painting and Watercolor.
- To encourage the public to purchase original art at affordable prices, the League held an auction of Member’s works. Members were encourages to donate two framed works, and the auctioneers were Lou Kousins and Walt Mazeski.
- Come Today and Rest Manyana was the theme for the League’s annual Artist’s Fiesta and dinner party. Latin American dance lessons were given and costumes were encouraged.
- Jean Mary Norman, associate professor of art of Loyola, presented a lecture and slide presentation on understanding and enjoying art.
- Ted Smuskiewicz, a well-known artist, presented an oil painting demonstration with a live model.
- Emily and Philip Mundt gave a pottery lecture and demonstration.
- David Coffman gave a watercolor demonstration. He had work in the Art Institute of Chicago’s rental and sales gallery.
- Pat Koutney gave and acrylic demonstration. She applied thin, transparent layers of acrylic paint followed by oil applied virtually the same way.
- Harriet Rein gave a batik demonstration.
- Irving Shaprio, president, director and instructor at the American Academy of Art, gave a watercolor demonstration
- In1981 a new roof was installed, thanks to money raised by league members.
- In 1988 the League celebrated 50 years at 720 Chicago Avenue with an exhibit of works by its founding members.
- The League presented Artists in Action, a show of work by Artist Members of the League. At the reception, artists were given the opportunity to demonstrate their technique.
- Color ’86 was a juried show held at the League and was open to Chicago area artists. Over 600 entries were received and 83 artists were included in the show. Judges.
- In celebration of the League’s 65th anniversary, a ball was held which included wine, cheese, dinner and dancing.
- In a special two day exhibit, the League showcased Celebration in Stitches, nearly 20 pieces of handiwork created by the Creative Needlers Guild of Oak Park.
- The League received $750 for from the Illinois Arts Council to publish a membership brochure.
- The League sponsored a juried show of work by members of art leagues affiliated with the West Suburban Fine Arts Alliance.
- A judged show of work by women artists of the League was shown. Following the reception, movies on Picasso and Surrealism and Dada were shown.
- The annual art auction was held.
- Barbara Aubin gave a slide lecture on creative art work in miniature postcards.
- Jane Strasma of Pot Bound gave a lecture and demonstration on the art of pottery.
- Lyman Shepard gave a slide lecture on Frank Lloyd Wright’s fascination with Japanese art.
- The League presented the Still Life and Interiors show, the Moods and Emotions show,
- Specific shows were given to Artist Members as well as Lay members.
- Lois Rosio, award winning American Academy of Art graduate, gave a watercolor portrait demonstration.
- In 1990 the League featured an exhibit of Carl Krafft, our founding president. The show featured paintings, photo albums and memorabilia loaned by the artist’s family.
- In 1998 the League hired its first paid Executive Director, Jessica Mackinnon.
- In celebration of the League’s 75 anniversary, funds were raised to landscape the front of the League’s grounds. A new flower garden was planted and a new sidewalk was installed.
- The Tea and Talk series was inaugurated in 1997. Tea and a lecture on various topics was started by Christine Vernon.
- Palette & Palate showcased work inspired by the Palette & Palate trip to Tuscany, Italy.
- Eleanor Madden was honored with a retrospective showing of her work at the League during the Festival of the Arts exhibit.
Exhibitions at the Art League included:
- Day of the Dead
- Hemingway Show
- Carl Krafft Show
- Garden Show
- Teddy Bear Tea Party
- Children’s Art Show
- Painted Furniture Auction
- Catalyst 1995 – 16 Contemporary Oak Park and River Forest Artists
- Holiday Lights Studio Tour
- 7 Deadly Sins, Member’s Shows
- Festival of Arts Exhibit
- Awakenings Show
- Bizarre Bazaar
- Wreath as Sculpture Benefit
- September 2000 the League opened it’s satellite gallery at 149 Harrison Street.
- The League hired Sarah Coffey as gallery manager of the Harrison Street gallery, and Christi Dallam as the League’s assistant director.
- Alexandra Dymowska was hired in early 2001 to replace Sarah Coffey as the gallery manager for the League’s Harrison Street Gallery.
- The League will hire it’s first full-time Executive Director in fall 2002.
- Semi-solo shows were held at the Harrison Street Gallery. These shows included work by Cherie Salerno, Jonathan Franklin, Rich Smith, Beth Ryza, Brenda Watkins, Robbin O’Harrow, and Mark Sharp.
- The League has had judges also give critiques for Artist Member shows. Recent judges have included Del Klaustermeier, Janet Schill and Cindy Guilboard.
- The League has collaborated with Sarah’s Inn and Community Response for a fund raiser and silent art auctions to benefit each organization.
Exhibitions at the Art League included: