The San Diego Art Association was organized in January 1904 and incorporated August 19, 1904. Its first President was Daniel Cleveland. The purpose of this organization was stated to be for “The study and encouragement of Art in all its higher branches; to establish and maintain art schools, to erect, own, equip, and maintain works of art, to erect, own, equip, and maintain buildings for the purpose of this Corporation.” The articles further declared intentions to purchase and lease lands and buildings and in general set itself up as a corporation to deal with all financial aspects necessary to carry out its purposes.
Numerous leaders of the San Diego community became members. Records of the functioning of this organization after 1911 seem lost, but by 1915 the group had ceased to be active.
From the old Artist Guild minutes, it appears that many members of this old association, plus newly interested people, gathered together on September 15, 1915 in the Club Room of the Hotel Barstow to reorganize themselves. This time they called themselves the San Diego Art Guild. There were twenty people present, and thirty-one listed as charter members in the Treasurer’s Ledger and Cash Book.
The Art Guild held its first meeting in the “B” Street School on December 16, 1915, with its first president, Henry Lord Gay, presiding. This group, still interested in “The study and encouragement of Art in all its higher branches” was now primarily designed to offer activities for the producing artists of the area. The Guild sponsored various classes (some in the Museum of Man, some elsewhere) and held exhibitions of members work in miscellaneous places in and beyond San Diego County.
In 1916 Rebecca Rogers, Secretary of the Art Guild wrote to Mr. Cleveland, President of the old Art Association, in an effort to call a meeting of the old association. The purpose was to create a union between the two organizations. Mr. Louis Blochman, the Association’s Treasurer, still had funds on the books, but other officers could not be located. Consequently, later that year, the Art Guild dropped its efforts either to unite with the association or incorporate. There were then one hundred members and a few dollars in the Art Guild treasury. However, the Art Guild, still seeing needs for the welfare of art in the community, continued working in ideas, particularly on that of building a gallery to house fine arts exhibits.
In 1920, the House Committee of the Art Guild met with Miss Louise Darby to plan the promotion of a lay organization to be called Friends of Art. In 1921, the Friends of Art wrote to the Guild, thanking them for their assistance and declaring they were ready to work and to govern themselves. Their objectives, similar to those of the old Art Association, were directed toward bringing traveling exhibits to San Diego, and in particular, to get a gallery for these exhibits and possible acquisitions.
Through the efforts of this group, and through the generosity of Mr. and Mrs. Appleton S. Bridges, the building of a new gallery in Balboa Park was begun. In March, 1925, Mr. and Mrs. Bridges proposed that the Friends of Art combine into a larger organization for the purpose of operating the then nearly completed Fine Arts Gallery, and that the name be changed from Friends of Art to Fine Arts Society. The proposal was unanimously accepted. On December 10, 1925, the engagement of Reginald Poland as Director of the gallery was announced.
The completed Gallery was donated to the city of San Diego by Mr. and Mrs. Bridges as their gift. On February 27, 1926, the new Gallery opened, and shortly thereafter, the Art Guild moved in with the Fine Arts Society.
In 1928, a special meeting of some members of the old San Diego Art Association was held. This group, representing the now defunct organization, voted to dissolve the corporation and donate the $300 balance of the old treasury left in the care of Mr. L.A. Bochman to the Fine Arts Society as a start for a permanent endowment Library fund.
The Fine Arts Society and the Art Guild, though related, functioned as separate organizations with separate officers, by-laws, and elections. With the passing of years, and with each new Guild administration, the relationship of the Guild and the Society became confused, until, in 1937, a study was made for the purpose of clarifying this relationship.
As a result of this study, a proposal was made in 1938, and accepted by both organizations, that the Art Guild become a committee of the Fine Arts Society, and as such, consist of working artists who would be responsible for organizing and hanging their own shows. This plan was put into operation in 1939, at which time the Guild had grown to 224 members.
In a few years the war began and the US Navy moved temporarily into the Fine Arts Gallery. The Fine Arts Society and the Art Guild moved to 2324 Pine Street in 1944 and then to Sunset Boulevard in 1945. In 1946, the Navy released the Gallery in the Park and the Fine Arts Society and the Guild moved back. By this time, and during the next few years, the Guild instituted numerous changes, all designed to improve the caliber of membership, organization, and exhibits. A credentials committee was formed to pass on Guild applicants; a limit of one year for each presidential term was voted; stricter juries for exhibits were urged. For many years, the Art Guild had held two juried shows, one in the fall and one in the spring. A third show, an all member non-juried show around Christmas time was abandoned as too uneven in caliber and not proper as an exhibit in the Fine Arts Gallery.
Each succeeding president of the Guild attempted, with the approval of his board, to get the finest professional juries for their shows, alternating one man juries with two and three man juries, in order to present exhibits demonstrating varying philosophies in art. There was a strong desire among many to encourage the Guild to become even more selective in its membership acceptances and in its shows, while at the same time offering more opportunities of exposure of members’ works.
Numerous exhibits where works were combined with community merchants’ campaigns and other groups were tried. Among these were the Benbough Company’s “Accent on Art” shows begun in 1959; Marston’s windows and other exhibits, 1960; World Trade Mart, begun in 1959; Channel 10 Shows begun in 1957; Spanish Village Shows; an exchange with the Santa Barbara Museum of Art; Design Center; Deems-Martin Associates; College Grove; Home Federal Savings and Loan Shows in 193; Festival of Art and Art Guild Fairs at Mission Valley Center; Lloyd Furniture Store, a traveling show for the city and county schools; a show to travel the Museum circuit; numerous panel discussions and lectures along with special evenings, such as Shivaram dance program, 1960; the Charles Eames Program, 1961, presented jointly by the Guild and Education Committee of the Fine Arts Society for high school students, and many other activities too numerous to list.
In 1956 the Guild Corner was originated, a revolving monthly exhibit in the Fine Arts Gallery, consisting of juried work. This gave every Guild member a chance to submit during a ten-month period. On November 13, 1959, the first Art Guild Auction, then called the “5 to 50 Auction,” was held. This idea was repeated for five years as a money-raising event for the Fine Arts Society. The funds were used for prize moneys and show of the Guild’s Christmas parties, and were given free, open to the public. Large attendances were drawn, as the parties were gay and colorful.
On October 12, 1963, the Guild conducted the “Art Collectors and Studio Tour” through four distinguished homes where many arts were used with interest and beauty. This tour was accepted as one of the most gracious and successful events in the community that year.
In 1960, the first California South Show was held. Artists were invited from Santa Barbara to the Mexican border to submit to a juried competition. Non-Guild members were charged entry fees. This show was repeated each succeeding spring, and invariably stirred the community with interest and controversy. The Guild, giving up its membership spring show to make space on the calendar for the California South, felt that a larger show has proven extremely valuable to the community.
The Art Rental and Sales Gallery was begun in 1965.
The Art Guild celebrated the 200th Anniversary of San Diego in 1969 with their annual California South 7 Exhibition. To mark this occasion, Dennis Davis, Mary Ellen Long, Dixon Fish, Myrna Nobile, Joan Thorburn, Kay Whitcomb, and Rossi Wade each designed a 10-foot banner, which was sewn by Lilli Hill. The Banners were hung in the Fine Arts Gallery Rotunda during the exhibition. Art Auctions, as fund raising programs, have been held since 1959 with gay party themes to finance Guild exhibitions. A Moulin Rouge Ball and two Home Tours, including Art Collections and Studios, have also been held. Illusion 68, an art auction-psychedelic party-cybernetic light show-fashion show-body painting, craft booth proved to be “one of the most unusual events of the season” (San Diego Magazine, Dec. 1968).
Members of the Contemporary Artists of San Diego, a group consisting of Art Guild members formed in 1929, pose with their wives and other family members at the foot of the grand staircase of the Fine Arts Gallery (currently the San Diego Museum of Art) on the occasion of their first exhibit at the gallery in 1929.
Photograph courtesy of the San Diego Museum of Art Archives.
Donal Hord studies a 3 ton block of diorite.
Photo courtesy of “The Lapidary Journal” June, 1956