Saturday, September 16, 2006

Salmagundi Club

If it weren't for New York's Salmagundi Club (founded 1871), our Palette and Chisel would be the oldest art club in America -- and it might have even been the best -- but I'm afraid this venerable institution has us beat on most (but not all) counts.

The histories of both institutions run parallel:

*beginning in a sculptor's studio
*some friction with the prevailing authorities (S. Club members helped establish, and first taught at, the Art Students League)
*Served primarily as a men's social club, with on-site food service and recreational activitees
*Peaked in the first decades of the 20th Century -- including both distinguished artists and distinguished patrons as members.

And they certainly had their share of famous members:

William Merritt Chase, Thomas Moran, and Elihu Vedder, Gifford Beal,Childe Hassam, John LaFarge, Augustus Saint-Gaudens, Louis Comfort Tiffany, N.C. Wyeth, Joseph Pennell, and George Inness -- more recently, Daniel Greene and Frank Mason -- and including, BTW, Ralph Blakelock whose palette hangs in on our wall -- as well as on theirs!

Frank Desch (1873-1934)"Reflections" 1919

The club has quite a collection of these famous members -- and incidentally, it's currently on tour, for the first time ever, making the rounds of small, Midwestern museums.

If we still had the Terra, it might have come here -- but now the closest it comes will be Muskegon MI (Dec ’06) and Neenah, WI (Mar ’07).

Charles Chapman

The official website is not all that forthcoming concerning the details of membership, but from what I've gleaned from other sites:

*membership: 600
*dues : $125 / quarter (for NYC residents)
*open drawing workshops / week: 2
*classes: 2 drawing, 2 painting
*private studios for members : zero
*private exhibitions for members : in the library
*educational lectures on art history : yes -- they still have them.
*food service: a Culinary Institute-trained chef serves Steak Diane and Ahi Tuna for members every weeknight. (and other fine food as well)

So it looks like members are mostly paying for the priveleges of a clubhouse -- and participating in certain exhibits -- but even then, many of these exhibits are juried -- and some of them include non-members as well.

There is also apparently some value in adding club membership to one's resume, but from one first-hand account, the organization, like ours, seems to be more interested in building membership than in being exclusive.

It's hard to tell, but I think that our two buildings are roughly the same size - if we add in our coach house -- but they devote much more space to exhibition areas -- as well as a library that is a serious collection.

What they don't have, however, is the incredible array of open figure workshops offered by the Palette and Chisel -- and if you look at the artists included on the links page, almost all specialize in landscape, and hardly anyone appears to be painting from live models.

Nor do they have the variety -- or I think -- the quality of instructors that we have . For example, there are no examples on the internet for any life-drawings made by the life-drawing instructors. (One of them does geometric-abstract painting, the other paints wildlife from photographs.)

Their official motto now reads:

"A Museum for Living Artists"

....while the P&C would be more like:

"A studio/workshop/classroom for Living Artists"

(...and I'm quite happy about that difference.)


Ilene Skein, a current member, has given us a further description as follows:

Dues are $125 per quarter for resident members and 1/2 that for non-residents (50 miles outside of NYC). Resident members have minimum 'house' charges, but non-residents don't have minimum house charges.

There are two other classes of membership: scholarship -- to outstanding young artists and junior, to young people (artists & non-artists) intested in the arts.

The Salmagundi "Museum for Living Artists" has an unfortunate sound to it (I
hate it) -- like we're all walking around like zombies. Many people object to that tag line and I don't know how long it will be used. It used to call itself, "A Center for American Art" but the 20th century passed it by, as you rightly indicate.

There are a number of shows for Salmagundi members: the annual, the spring auctions, the non-juried summer show, the graphics, the fall auctions and the thumbbox. In addition there are various theme shows, and a show for and by the junior & scholarship members. The curators have a show each year highlighting gems in the Salmagundi collection and the library stages continual small shows which have involved indivdual artists. There is a non-members' show which functions as a fund raiser and to recruit new members.

All these shows are juried except for the non-juried summer show.

In addition, national organizations like the Audubon Painters, the American Watercolor Society, and others, stage their annual exhibitions at our location at 47 5th Ave.

There are 2 open studios (life drawing, quick poses) Monday & Thursdays. Instruction is available if requested, but they are not teaching classes. There are so many teaching classes and studio opportunities in NYC, that one more class in the Salmagundi is not necessary. However, Richard Pionk, our president, used the Club on Sundays during this summer to teach his ASL students while the League was closed. The painting classes do have instruction.

The food is very good at the Salmagundi and of course we have more to eat than just steak diane and ahi tuna.

The house is 45 feet wide -- a triple width brownstone and the last surviving brownstone on lower Fifth Avenue, (built in 1853, and occupied by the Club since 1917). It has 4 stories above ground, a diningroom slightly below ground, an underground kitchen and then a sub basement. Only the main gallery and the lower gallery are public spaces. The library, on the second floor, is for members and guests only and the two upper floors are for tenant organizations and the curators storage rooms respectively.

From its very founding, the Salmagundi Sketch Club, as it was originally called, was always more about fellowship and finding kindred souls in this great big lonely city of ours. And in this respect, it most lives up to its initial intent. Some of our non-resident artsts come into the city once or twice a year (especially during the big, annual show) and they catch up on old friendships, etc. because the Salmagundi is a home away from home.

This year, for the third or fourth year in a row, some Salmagundi members and friends traveled together to exotic places to tour, draw and paint. This summer was Russia, last summer, I believe it was France.

I have been a member of the Salmagundi since 1999 (and drawing there since 1989), so I guess you can say I'm hooked on it.

(by the way, Ilene runs an online "art of the nude" website that is free and open to everyone who wishes to show their work. A different curator each month then selects 30 pieces to make a monthly calendar. Works include: drawings,paintings, sculpture)


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