For the past century, the Athens Art Association has served as an evolving community coalesced through a shared desire for creative camaraderie. Founded in 1919 under the leadership of artist and educator Laura Blackshear, the nonprofit organization was established to promote the production and visibility of the local arts. Today’s members carry on that legacy through various activities not limited to hosting lectures, volunteering at events, taking field trips and donating materials and grants to educational programs.
In celebration of its centennial, the AAA will host a total of four distinct exhibitions. Retrospective shows at both the Lyndon House Arts Center and Georgia Museum of Art opened earlier this summer and will close within the next week, while a new show in the Athens-Clarke County Library’s second floor Quiet Gallery will be unveiled this weekend. The series, which involved a two-year planning process, will conclude at the State Botanical Garden this fall.
Currently, the group meets the first Thursday evening of every month at the Lyndon House, where artists gather to share ideas, lend support and learn from each other. After a short business meeting to cover any upcoming opportunities to participate in exhibitions, enroll in classes or make plans for plein air outings, a classic “show and tell” portion allows members to receive feedback on paintings, drawings, sculpture, pottery and more. Often, speakers are invited to present special programs, such as William U. Eiland, director of the Georgia Museum, who will speak on “Seeing the Spiritual: How to Look at Sacred Images” on Oct. 3 at 7 p.m.
“Personally, I believe that to fully understand a plant, an insect, animal, even a person, [you should] draw it, thereby increasing your observation skills, becoming more sensitive to all that you observe,” says board member and scientific illustrator C. Olivia Carlisle. “As several other of our members have said, it brings joy and peace to our inner being. What a wonderful experience to learn more art skills from so many giving people, who also open their gardens for us to enter and create art. How cool is that?”
In addition to finding out about new exhibitions to apply to or attend, members benefit from belonging to a network of artists who eagerly cross-promote and cheer for each other’s endeavors. Many of the artists also choose to create works through a separate organization, Plein Air Painters, which was established 24 years ago by AAA member Claire Clements. These outdoor meet-ups, held the second Thursday of the month, visit interesting nature destinations around town for artists to independently paint, draw or photograph whatever catches their eye while in the company of like-minded individuals similarly looking to capture the beauty of the world around them.
“Most of us place great value [on] our community… listening to our discussions and engaging in the dialogue,” says Carlisle, who has memories of the AAA that date back to attending high school and college in the late ’50s and early ’60s. “Then there is the opportunity for people to acquire our art for their lovely homes, their business—even public art, such as Harold Rittenberry or Bob Clements’ outdoor sculptures at the ACC Library, Georgia Museum of Art, LHAC and Oconee Cultural Arts Foundation’s sculpture garden in Watkinsville.”
Kicking off with an opening reception and artist talk on Sunday, Aug. 11 at 2:30 p.m., the library’s “Bridge to the Second Century: The Athens Art Association, 1919–2019” will shift the series’ focus from historical pieces to those by currently active members. Curated by Christine Langone, a professor emerita in leadership education at UGA, the exhibit includes works by 45 artists, including Connie Flynn, Alice Pruitt, Harold Rittenberry, Yvonne Studevan and Hildegard Timberlake. During the artist talk, Langone will be joined by Margaret Agner, Karl Enter, Robert Clements and Carlisle for a presentation on the organization’s history and to offer individual perspectives.
“Our Town and Beyond: Works by Early Members of the Athens Art Association” at the Georgia Museum is on view through Aug. 11, while “A Century of Art: The Athens Art Association, 1919–2019” at the Lyndon House Arts Center remains up through Thursday, Aug. 15. “Bridge to the Second Century” will be on view at the ACC Library Saturday, Aug. 10–Saturday, Oct. 5, and the exhibition at the State Botanical Garden will follow in November and December.
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