100 Years Ago: The Emergence of an Art Colony

Nearly one hundred years ago, on the evening of January 18, 1924, twenty artists and authors gathered at the historic Ximenez-Fatio House on Aviles Street, and founded the Pen and Brush Club. This organization would eventually become the St. Augustine Art Association. The goal of the Pen and Brush Club was to provide a space for creative individuals to meet and exchange ideas as well as exhibit their work. Not long after the Pen and Brush Club was created, its founders reconvened on the 22nd of January, 1924 to rename the club “The Galleon, a Palette and Pencil Club.” To them, the galleon was a symbol of “advancement,” one that paid homage to the Ancient City’s colonial past.

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Art Association painting and sketching at Castillo de San Marcos.

Interest in the Galleon Club declined towards the end of the 1920s, however, and it soon became nothing more than a social group. In 1931, Hildegarde Muller-Uri, one of St. Augustine’s most prominent artists, painter J. Dexter Phinney, and fellow principal members of the obsolete Galleon Club formed the St. Augustine Arts Club. On November 13, 1931, members such as J. Dexter Phinney, Adele Barret, and her husband, Arthur B. Barret, persuaded the City of St. Augustine and St. Johns County to grant them permission to use the former Waterworks Building as a formal residence and exhibition gallery for the club.

By early 1940, the club had grown to nearly sixty members, and was in dire need of a larger space for gatherings. The club petitioned Mayor Fraser and city authorities for a spot in the Hotel Alcazar, and was eventually granted joint use of the northeast grillroom and kitchen alongside the St. Cecilia Society. These rooms were transformed into an exhibition space, and the club’s first art show was held there on March 3, 1940. Over five hundred visitors attended, making it one of the largest Arts Club events in years, according to The St. Augustine Record. Prominent artists, and even journalists such as Alice Lawton (Art Editor for the Boston Post) and Clarence Off (art critic for The St. Augustine Record), became ardent supporters and members of the St. Augustine Arts Club during this time, making 1940 a landmark year for the group.

In late 1941, the Arts Club had to vacate the Alcazar due to an expiration of the city’s lease on the building. Discussions amongst the group ultimately led to a decision to lease a room at 230 Charlotte Street, before eventually ending up back at the Alcazar in 1948. During the hardships of the Great Depression and World War II, the club endured mass frustration at attempts to grow and maintain its membership. As the war ended and the economy recovered, however, the Arts Club replenished its funds and re-leased the newly renovated Charlotte Street gallery for the next two years. Despite this, members of the Arts Club were eager to begin searching for a property of their own. In December 1945, the club purchased the plot of land at 22 Marine Street, where the Art Association is currently. The property was previously owned by the parents of Hildegarde Muller-Uri, who were enthusiastic supporters of the club. As such, they sold the property for a below-market price.

In the following years, the Arts Club hosted various events to fund the building project that included painting and crafting demonstrations as well as various social events. Significant community engagement and support from art lovers and connoisseurs alike resulted in the Arts Club officially changing its name to the all-inclusive St. Augustine Art Association. On February 26, 1949, the group hosted its first annual Beaux Arts Ball at the Hotel Alcazar casino, open to all. Each ticket purchase supported the Art Association’s building project. This ball was named for the annual masquerade ball held by the students of the Académie de Beaux Arts in Paris, France. Locals attended in their finest ballgowns and masks to celebrate St. Augustine’s arts and culture.

The St. Augustine Art Association will be celebrating their one-hundred-year anniversary in 2024 with none other than a Beaux Arts Ball. The ball will be held at the Lightner Museum on Friday, February 23, 2024. To purchase tickets and show your support, please go to the Art Association’s website linked below. From all of us at SAHS, we say congratulations on one hundred years!

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Ribbon cutting at Opening of the St. Augustine Art Center.

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SAAA at 22 Marine Street

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Link to purchase tickets:https://www.staaa.org/beaux-arts-ball/.

Written by Shelby Fox

Edited by Robert Covert

Resources:

Torchia, Robert Wilson. Lost Colony: The Artists of St. Augustine, 1930-1950. St. Augustine: Lightner Museum, 2001.

“History.” St. Augustine Art Association. Accessed December 15, 2023. https://www.staaa.org/about/history-2/.