|A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE WASHINGTON SOCIETY OF LANDSCAPE PAINTERS*|
FROM ITS ORIGINS IN 1913 TO WORLD WAR II
The Washington Society of Landscape Painters, one of the oldest active art organizations in the greater Washington metropolitan area, traces its origins to 1913 when Charles Seaton and Winfield Scott Clime met one Sunday while painting on location. This chance meeting led to additional weekend painting excursions there were joined over the next four years by a number of other artists who also had an intense interest in painting out of doors. Most of these artists were government employees who could only paint on weekends and holidays, but despite the time constraints they painted on location almost every week. Trolley car was the favored early mode of transportation by which a variety of landscape scenes could easily be reached. One did not have to go far from "downtown" Washington to be literally in the countryside.
First Organized as the "Ramblers"
By 1916 the group had become known as the "Ramblers." Unfortunately, there is almost no record of their earliest activities. The first written account of their painting jaunts is contained in the Log Book of the Ramblers, a fascinating handwritten chronicle of painting excursions between April and July 1917. In its opening chapter the Log Book describes how the Ramblers, now numbering nine, came to be. Of particular importance, it set forth the basic philosophy that motivated the group in its artistic endeavors and that continue to underpin Society activities today.
Charles Seaton wrote: "Man is a gregarious animal, and not withstanding a popular belief to the contrary, so is the artist. Like some fish, he runs in schools. Standing more or less aloof from the great mass of practical humanship, he yet craves the comradeship of the select few who understand, and he flourishes best when he forms a coterie of earnest workers ready with their sympathy, friendly criticism, and generous rivalry. This I believe to be the fundamental cause, the raison d'etre of the Ramblers."
Record of Landscape Club Begins in 1919
The year 1918 remains lost to the record, but in 1919 it is known that the Ramblers took on the more formal name of the Landscape Club of Washington, D.C. That year also marked the opening of a "permanent" headquarters and studio at 1221 Fifteenth Street NW in the wing of a private residence occupied by Senator Fletcher of Florida. Meetings were held at this location and art work was regularly displayed. However, for reasons not recorded, the headquarters were given up in the late 1920s.
Among the early Ramblers were August H.O. Rolle and Benson Bond Moore, who would later become prominent in Washington art circles. In 1919 Rolle was elected president of the Landscape Club, and there seems little doubt that he was a driving force in organizing and promoting Club activities. In October of that year the Club held its first exhibition of members' work (at the Fifteenth Street headquarters, and for the first time Club activities began to be reported in local newspapers.
There are a number of references to Rolle as one of the founders of the Landscape Club. However, if one looks at the events preceding the name change from the Ramblers to the Landscape Club of Washington, D.C., then the true founders of the group were clearly Charles Seaton and Winfield Scott Clime who had met on location in 1913. However, Rolle's very substantial influence on the course of Club activities continued for many years. Except for the year 1925, he was the Club's president from 1919 to 1932.
Activities Include Frequent Shows, Annual Banquet
A notable activity during the 1920s and early 1930s was the Club's participation in traveling shows, primarily to cities in the eastern United States but also to locations as far away as Louisiana, Texas, Arizona, and Wisconsin. At times as many as 100 paintings were sent to other cities. The Club's historical records describe many of these shows, which continued until 1935.
Train and automobile became popular modes of transportation in the mid 1920s and 1930s, facilitating painting trips away from the immediate environs of Washington, D.C., to locations such as Waterford, Va. and Harpers Ferry, W.Va. Many of these trips were two- or three-day events. Accounts of them are informative and entertaining yet serious in calling attention to the camaraderie of the outings and the infectious enthusiasm generated by painting together on location
This enthusiasm carried over into the displaying of members' work. The 1930s were particularly marked by the frequent exhibitions of members' work in the Washington metropolitan area, and these were regularly reported in the press. From 1930 to 1937 there were at least three shows each year, and in 1935 six exhibitions were held. Almost every year featured a show (commonly referred to an "the annual show") at the Arts Club of Washington, D.C., with the Mt. Pleasant Branch of the D.C. public library system a popular alternative space for displaying work. Shows were also held from time to time at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, the Ambassador Theater, Howard University, the Silver Spring public library, the Northwestern and Georgetown Branches of the D.C. public library system, and the Alexandria public library. There were also several one-person shows by Landscape Club artists.
In 1927 the Landscape Club held its first "annual banquet" at the Arts Club of Washington D.C. Members appeared in formal dress to honor the occasion, an event that continued until World War II started in the early 1940s. By 1927 the membership had grown to 39 and now included a number of such noted individuals as
Originally for Men Only
It is not known when the Club's first constitution became effective but in 1928 a document presented as a revision of the constitution appeared in the historical record. Of particular note is Article III which stated: "The membership shall consist of active and honorary artist members, all men, the active membership to be limited to 40." The rationale for excluding women is said to have been centered on the rigors of painting on location and the difficulty of traipsing over the rugged countryside, which were deemed too arduous for the fairer sex!
Received Extensive Press Coverage
During the 1920-1940 period, local art activities received extensive press coverage, and Landscape Club events were often the subject of newspaper stories. The Club made a special effort to collect these reports for the historical record. In addition, exhibit programs, circular letters, and other records of Club activities were also collected regularly and, together with newspaper clippings, pasted into large scrap books.
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