Carrie Wissler-Thomas recounts the history of the Art Association of Harrisburg

HARRISBURG, Pa.Sunbury Press has released Carrie Wissler Thomas’s As the Paint Dries: The History of the Art Association of Harrisburg. The author is the association’s president.

atpd_fc_3About the Book:
This history of the Art Association of Harrisburg is both a factual accounting of the story of the region’s most venerable fine arts organization, and also an often-amusing romp through the personal reminiscences of author Carrie Wissler-Thomas. The Art Association was founded by cultured civic leaders who were passionate about the visual arts, and it has continued to survive and prosper throughout eight decades due to the dedication and support of both artists and committed patrons. The history of The Art Association in many ways mirrors the history of Harrisburg, reflecting the vicissitudes of the City’s economy and development, the Renaissance of the 1980s and ‘90s, the construction of the Hilton and other prominent downtown buildings, the re-development of Reservoir Park, and the emergence of Restaurant Row. The Art Association was founded during the heyday of The City Beautiful Movement, and like The Harrisburg Symphony and Theatre Harrisburg, the organization continues to provide cultural enjoyment and opportunities for art-lovers and practitioners of all ilks.

As the Paint Dries is a phrase coined by the author’s husband Scott Thomas as the humourous title of the on-going AAH daily soap-opera. The Art Association of Harrisburg is a family, a reality show, a visual feast and a very human comedy. The AAH story is a rich tapestry, filled with serious episodes  punctuated by incredible-but-true anecdotes. Most of all, the AAH story is the story of the people who have made it what it is today, and who continue to guide it into the future.

"Lady in Black" by Lavery

Excerpt:
(From the chapter AAH Exhibitions Through the Early Years: 1926-1954) … As has been noted in the section of this book on the early origins of The Art Association of Harrisburg, Homer St.Gaudens, director of the Carnegie Institute of Pittsburgh, was instrumental in the creation of the organization. Even after the charter had been accepted and the Articles of Incorporation finalized, Mr. St. Gaudens retained his abiding interest in the wellbeing of AAH. It was he in February of 1926 who arranged for a major show of paintings by Sir John Lavery, R.A., of England, as the first exhibition to be presented under the AAH auspices.

According to an article in The Patriot dated February 15, 1926, Harrisburg was chosen instead of Palm Beach as one of the few cities for exhibition of Lavery’s paintings. Apparently, the AAH exhibition committee, chaired by Mrs. Lyman Gilbert of 203 N. Front St. had met to discuss the exhibition, with Homer St. Gaudens planning to arrive the next day to confer with the committee on the location for the show. St. Gaudens had planned the exhibition’s circuit, with it originally including only Boston, New York, Pittsburgh and Palm Beach. It seems that the “difficulty of transportation has made it impossible to take the collection of paintings to Palm Beach, and Harrisburg was chosen instead.”

The article explained that Sir John and Lady Lavery had been spending time in America, traveling with the collection of 46 portraits, interiors, and landscapes selected by the artist himself. An Evening Newsarticle from February 11 had called the paintings one of “the most unusual one-man collections ever exhibited in America.” Sir John Lavery was a member of the Royal Academies of London, Edinburgh, Dublin, Rome, Milan and Stockholm; of the Society of French Artists, Beaux Arts Society of Paris, Society of Spanish Artists in Madrid and of the Secessions of Berlin, Vienna and Munich. The article extolled the fact that Lavery had been knighted by the King of England, by the King of Italy and by the King of the Belgians, and had been awarded the degree of doctor of laws by Queen’s University, Belfast. At that time, Lavery was represented by paintings in the permanent collections of 38 public galleries and museums throughout the world. Obviously, having this collection come to Harrisburg as the premier exhibition of the new Art Association was a real coup, and a testament to the value Homer St. Gaudens placed on the organization he had worked so diligently to create.

The Patriot and The Evening News enthused over the exhibition, running excited articles as the paintings began to arrive. On February 25, 1926, The Patriot announced the arrival of two additional paintings and stated that the Lavery exhibit would open at the Civic Club at 11 AM on February 26 for a ten-day run. The two paintings that arrived were “The Silver Dress,” a portrait of Lady Curzon, and “The Red Hammock,” a portrait of Lady Hazel Lavery reclining in a hammock. The article explained that for each day of the ten days of the exhibition there would be a hostess on duty at the Civic Club to answer questions. The hours each day would be 11 AM to 1 PM, and 2 PM to 10 PM during the week, and 2 PM to 10 PM on Sunday. One hundred and fifty people were expected to attend the pre-showing, with “each trustee of the Art Association given the privilege of inviting 5 guests.”

It was noted that the club’s lecture room had been transformed into a “real art gallery,” with electric light reflectors installed over each painting to “give just the proper amount of light to bring out the rich colourings of the pictures.”

On February 26, The Patriot noted that Dr. C. Valentine Kirby described Lavery as “primarily a portrait painter” when he spoke about the collection at the show’s preview the evening before. The collection of paintings was valued at $100,000, an astonishing sum for 1926. Dr. Kirby explained, “The paintings of Sir John Lavery have something in them that shows he paints for the love of painting and not because he had to. Dr. Valentine was the director of art in the State Department of Education, and had been invited to give his informed comments to the elite group assembled at the Civic Club for the show’s “pre-showing.” Dr. Valentine further said that in Lavery’s interiors and outdoor scenes, the artist almost always included a figure “which seems to fit into the surroundings exactly and belong there.”

Art Association of Harrisburg by Jim BarberBook Release Event:
The Art Association of Harrisburg will be hosting an event to celebrate the release of As the Paint Dries on Friday December 5, 2014, from 5 pm to 8 pm at the association’s headquarters at 21 North Front Street, Harrisburg, PA 17101.

As the Paint Dries: The History of the Art Association of Harrisburg
Authored by Carrie Wissler-Thomas with Michael Barton
List Price: $29.95
ISBN: 978-1-62006-501-3
B&W 6 x 9 in Cloth w/Jacket
196 pages
Sunbury Press, Inc.
BISAC: Art History / USA / Pennsylvania

For more information, please see:
http://www.sunburypressstore.com/As-the-Paint-Dries-9781620065013.htm

For more information about the Art Assocation of Harrisburg, please see:

http://www.artassocofhbg.com/index2.htm