The Frederick Art Club began in 1897 as a small students’ art league, a group of inquisitive women from Frederick County, Maryland, who liked to draw and paint. The league evolved into an organization of women with the broader intent to inform, enjoy, and promote the arts, which remains our mission today. It was one of our nation’s earliest art clubs.
Intelligent, Strong, and Spirited Women
Initially, the group met once a week. They focused on painting and drawing, organizing outings to paint the old mills and other picturesque spots in Frederick County and becoming early plein air artists. As the club’s membership grew, its definition of art also grew. Interest in drawing and painting expanded to include sculpture, theater, poetry, architecture, cultural influences on art, and decorative arts, encompassing rugs, silver, china, ceramics, lace and needlework.
At that time, the role of women focused on running homes (complicated and time consuming)…raising children (even more complicated)… contributing time and effort to local churches, hospitals, and other public projects (expected)… and, as circumstances permitted, developing an enjoyable social life for themselves and family members (also expected).
Most women did not hold paid employment. They were expected to be the repositories and transmitters of education and culture to their children. While difficult today because of complex schedules and responsibilities, this was especially challenging then because news and information about current regional or national events, discoveries and trends, and cultures of other countries were not easy to come by. Activities provided new ideas and opportunities for personal growth, which remains one of our strengths today.
Members of the young club represented the active social and cultural life of our county and time. Many of their names are still visible in the Frederick County scene, including Baughman, Birely, Bjorlee, Clapp, Delaplaine, Etchison, Hood, Kemp, Markell, Motter, Nicodemus, Randall, Schley, Trail, and many others. Early leaders included Miss Doub, Helen Smith, Bessie Clapp, Louise Doty and Margaret Scholl Hood.
Through the years, the club jumped hurdles with determination and without defeat. At the beginning, dues were $5 per year. One challenge was maintaining a meeting and workspace. At first the women met in Miss Doub’s home and studio, then in members’ homes and in rented rooms on upper floors of buildings in downtown Frederick. Later, the club found spaces in Rose Hill Manor and the Frederick County Historical Society, among other sites.
Some locations were dangerous because of primitive heating arrangements, rickety stairs and faulty locks in old buildings. Club members developed and illustrated a scrapbook that noted these difficulties from 1897 until 1900.
Another challenge was the attitude of the men in the members’ lives who didn’t have much faith that the women could successfully establish and operate an organization, particularly with regard to finances. Dedicated to their cause, the members carried on.
Lack of faith in women in the arts was not limited to husbands and fathers of club members. Although there were a few renowned female artists, such as Mary Cassatt and Berthe Morisot, women were not seen as a force in the art world. Their efforts were often diminished to the point of invisibility. The Frederick women believed that their club, and others like it, was an avenue for increased public appreciation of women’s artistic talents, knowledge and efforts.
In the 1920s the club sent representatives to the American Federation of Women’s Clubs. Concerns and events were reported back to the club in great detail. This contact did much to keep the members involved in national and international women’s issues, under the heading of “Women and Home.” Among them were the kindergarten movement, the importance of voting, prohibition, child labor laws, and the need for a national gallery of art. During this era and political climate, the club provided a social network that fostered the growth of community activities. This opportunity for collaboration on projects for the public good, whether carried out by the club as a whole or a few like-minded members, was another of
the club’s strengths.
Education and Outreach
The Frederick Art Club revered learning about all aspects of art. During the years of World Wars I and II, it focused its attention on the effects of war on art. Members looked at commemorative art such as monuments, arches, columns, and paintings or illustrations of battlefield activity and heroes, frescoes in public buildings, and posters.
During other eras, members selected a concentration that became the basis for a year’s programs. Members researched topics, and prepared and presented papers for discussion. The club’s program book from 1933–34 lists Italian Art as the year’s focus, with individual presentations on Etruscan and Roman Art, Italian literature, music, primitive art, and Renaissance art, specific centers of art, and Italian artists. The papers’ authors subsequently worked with editors to publish their presentations in the local Frederick newspaper of the time, addressing their mission to inform others and generate a greater awareness and appreciation for art.
In the early 1920s, when “modern art” surfaced, one member delivered a paper concluding that “art without charm cannot persist.” An emerging acceptance of modernism was a signal that young American artists were no longer looking to Europe for inspiration; they were looking to their own imaginations. Revealing adaptability and changing times, a few years later another paper urged members to exercise tolerance and understanding for modern art. It concluded that modern art “is an expression of the artist’s vision of beauty, not that of our creator.” In 1923, the question of “photography as art” was debated, and a few years later, members considered “the menace of motion pictures and what to do about it.” Club members continued studying and learning—then as we do now at monthly programs.
The women enjoyed outings to beautiful panoramas in Frederick County and to schools, homes and churches that displayed art. This continues today with field trips to local and regional art museums and other venues that celebrate art in all its forms.
A Legacy to Celebrate
The Frederick Art Club’s 120th anniversary celebration and exhibit in September 2017 included a retrospective collection of paintings, artifacts and other creative endeavors. At a private reception, members beautifully executed an artwork of blooms using colorful felt-tipped pens. One member speculated on when the club might have a program about the use and products of evolving 3-D pens, exploring what these techniques will do for art. While Miss Doub didn’t have a chance to consider these new techniques, she urged her students and club members to keep an open mind—and that is yet another strength of the Frederick Art Club.