By JEANNIE WILEY WOLF
The Findlay Art League started off 2020 by looking to the past.
A show honoring 15 founding and longtime members who have made significant contributions to the development of the organization was held in January.
“The people selected for the show are not all founding members,” said Janealla Killebrew, show chairwoman and president of the art league. “But all of them are people who really gave a lot to maintain the art league.”
FAL is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to support, promote and advance the knowledge and enjoyment of the visual arts. The organization offers art classes, programs and workshops for adults and children, and hosts a variety of exhibits throughout the year.
Killebrew came up with the names for the founders show by searching scrapbooks filled with newspaper articles, photographs, show programs and lists of artists. The eight albums were kept by FAL member Judy Dennis and date back to the beginning of the organization in 1948.
In addition to Dennis, other FAL members honored in the January show were Virginia Ayers, Ruth Balcomb, Alexander Baluch, Jeanne Butler, Phil Gerstner, Dolores Hailey, Dorothy Hedlund, Dan Lerma, Harry Melroy, Leni Mueller, Winifred Ream, Scott Sherman, Miriam Sowers and Madonna Wagner.
Killebrew explained that the art league was organized as an outgrowth of an adult education program. Baluch and John Jenkins are credited with starting the group.
“When I was a little girl, he (Baluch) was the elementary art teacher in Findlay,” Killebrew said. “He came around to all the classrooms about once every six weeks, so I remember him.”
Later, Killebrew would do her student teaching with Baluch, who then hired her as an art teacher.
“I taught for 38 years, and I used, until my retiring day, the things that he taught me,” she said. “He was just an amazing man.”
The group orginally met weekly in members’ homes and at the electric company and YMCA. Dues were $2.
The first newspaper article about the league appeared in August 1948 and reported that the first show was held at the Y and included over 100 works of art.
In December 1953, the art league worked with Findlay College to reestablish its art department. The program had been dropped from the curriculum in 1916, said Michaela Monterosso, who helped Killebrew research the history of the group.
A member since November, Monterosso won Best of Show for “Reeling” at the Fall Show.
“The Findlay Art League is the reason why they restarted their art program,” she explained of the college.
“It was because the art league was having their meetings in one of their rooms that eventually became a classroom when they needed more space,” added Killebrew. “And having the art hung around, people got interested and wanted to have art.”
The following year, annual dues were raised to $5. Artists were still meeting weekly, either attending a business meeting or sketching and enjoying demonstrations. Many times during drawing and sketching sessions, members themselves would model.
The courthouse lawn was selected as the site for an outside exhibit in 1955. Another show was held on the courthouse steps in 1960.
A new meeting place was found in 1958 at 1105 Tiffin Ave. The following year, the art league was incorporated as a nonprofit.
When Findlay celebrated its sesquicentennial in 1962, FAL members joined in the festivities by hosting live demonstrations and displays of members’ works in an area called Gaslight Alley.
By the mid-1960s, exhibits were held at various places around town such as the Findlay-Hancock County Public Library, Imperial House and Fort Findlay hotels, RCA and Blanchard Valley Hospital. A show titled “Picnic in the Park” was held in a shelterhouse at Riverside Park in 1970.
The art league moved to its present location at 117 W. Crawford St. in 1972.
Members put their talents to work by painting the bottom of the swimming pool at the Imperial House Hotel in 1977.
The first photo show was instituted by Gerstner in 1979.
There were times early on when members didn’t know how they were going to find the money to make next month’s rent, he said. Ream, who joined FAL in 1956, would make wind chimes and sell them in the Little Gallery. Sales from her art brought in funds to keep the organization going, said Killebrew.
Members also took bus trips to museums in Chicago, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Columbus and Detroit. Several also took a Vincent van Gogh tour of Amsterdam in 1990.
Gerstner said he learned a lot from the other artists. He owns two pieces that were done by Balcomb during a demonstration.
“In front of everybody who was there, she just starts painting. And she had a coleus in a vase and she had a poinsettia. And I could never do that and talk at the same time about the technique in doing this, that and other thing,” he said. “She was just an excellent teacher.”
While she could be critical, he said, Balcomb always found something good about your work.
“She would point out how things could be improved, but she always came up with something to compliment, always,” said Gerstner.
“They were such wonderful people. I can’t say enough about the old people,” he said. “We had our ups and downs like every family, but we were damn close. It was quite a group.”
Monterosso, 24, said she’s glad to have found a place at the art league.
“To see some of the photos where they’re just figure sketching, utilizing models and just serving as this community where they could lean on each other, not just familial-based conversation, but like drawing, that kind of artistic pursuit is so lacking nowadays,” she said.
Killebrew said January was a good time to look back because the organization has been making a lot of changes. A ceramics studio was added next door, there’s new lighting and air conditioning, and one of the galleries was painted. There will also be a new sign for the front window and a new logo.
But despite the changes, the purpose of the art league remains the same: to encourage an appreciation for the arts.
“When Ruth (Balcomb) was teaching and different people were teaching, people were really interested in learning how to make art. They wanted to have those skills,” Killebrew said.
There’s been a transformation in recent years in the way things are done.
“Instead of wanting to take a lot of time to do something, people just want to have it now. So I think that’s the change we’re seeing. And our problem is struggling to try to get people to slow down so that we can teach them those basic things,” she said.
Meetings are held once a month, and drawing classes are held every Monday evening when there’s not a business meeting. Killebrew also teaches a home-schooled art class, and pottery classes are held on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday evenings.
Gallery shows change monthly.
“Not a single show ever spoken about in that scrapbook or even today has there ever been an admission charge,” said Monterosso. “And they make sure to say that in every single article, because art is for the people.”
The league currently has about 80 members. Anyone can join, “and we love people who just love art,” said Killebrew. Annual membership dues are $40.
“I’m really happy for the past, and I’m really happy for the way that we’re moving ahead, really excited about some of the changes we have made,” she said. “And we have more ideas of things that are going to happen, so the art league will continue.”