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History of the Lexington Arts and Crafts Society, Inc.

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1935 - 1946
Written by S. Lawrence Whipple, Past President 1959-1960

On December 31st, 1934 an all-Lexington Exhibit of Arts and Crafts, conceived by a group of Lexington residents, was held in Cary Memorial Hall and was a great success in spite of a bad storm. Inspired by this exhibit, thirty people gathered at the Old Belfry Club on Sunday, February 24th, 1935 to form an organization “with the purpose of bringing together for a community project all townspeople who are interested in Arts and Crafts.” Two of the artists with a vision of a future Arts Society were Margaret Kimball and Archibald Giroux. Other founders included Suzanne E. Chapman, Margaret Ormond, Lucille Chapman, Andrew Dreselly and Bernice Parsons.

On March 10th, 1935 the Society became a reality with a constitution formally accepted by the charter members present. (Charter members were those who had exhibited in Cary Memorial Hall in December.) Dues were three dollars and the object of the organization was “to foster in the community a more active interest in Arts and Crafts: to encourage higher artistic standards in the handicrafts and to develop a market for the products of the artists and craftsmen.” Officers were elected at a special meeting on March 24th, 1935.

Mention is made in the records of a fine piano recital by a talented member at the April monthly meeting after which the following Guilds were formed – Painters and Sculptors, Metalworkers, Woodworkers, Illustrators, China Painters, Stage Craft, Music, Photography, and Needlework.

At the Annual meeting in May, 1935 it was voted to reduce the dues to two dollars. Seventeen members paid dues at this meeting. It was voted to have each Guild in turn responsible for a monthly meeting, also to hold a general exhibit in Cary Memorial Hall in December and four smaller exhibits by individual Guilds at intervals though the year, in the Old Belfry Club.

By October, 1935 the Society was in full swing with regular monthly meetings, and the first Guild exhibit of paintings and woodwork, drawing three hundred guests was held in the Old Belfry Club.

An exciting venture was a retail sales room in a Lexington Center store which was open daily from November 14 to December 24, 1935. This was manned by members, and the work of members sold, twenty percent going to the Society.

December 8th, 1935 was the date of the second exhibit in Cary Memorial Hall. This was open to all Lexington residents but the work of Arts and Crafts Society members was so designated.

It was now felt there should be an official seal and in January, 1936, a competition for a design was announced. This was open to all members.

A Reserve Fund (later the Permanent or Building Fund) was first started when an amendment to the Constitution was made in April 1936 whereby “at the close of each fiscal year, the Treasurer shall transfer to the Reserve Fund any money in the General Fund in excess of twenty five dollars.” As a result of this amendment there is a record on May 1st, 1936 of a deposit of $65.32 placed in the Reserve Fund. Three Trustees were appointed to control this Fund.

Monthly meetings were transferred to Masonic Hall on March 14, 1937 and continued there until the Arts Center was ready for occupancy in 1954. As early as this there was talk of Incorporation by the seventy-five dollars it entailed was voted too much of an expense at the time.

Lexington Masonic Hall

Lexington Masonic Hall

During that spring, plans were made for a Medieval Fair and Exhibit to be held the next December. To finance this Fair an auction of hand-wrought articles donated by members, preceded by a Harvest supper was held at Masonic Hall in October, 1937. This was fun and a great success. From its inception the Arts and Crafts Society and good food have been synonymous terms. The menu for this first supper was roast sirloin of beef with fixin’s – tickets 35 cents, half a pound of beef per person.

Harvest Supper 1937

The Medieval Fair was held in Masonic Hall on December 4, 1937. Castellated walls and battlements were constructed and painted in a member’s garage and placed in Masonic Hall to give the illusion of a Medieval Town Square on Fair Day. Craftsmen in Medieval costumes worked in booths from two to nine p.m. The stage was converted into an Inn where food was served to the hungry. Between six and seven hundred attended. A quote from the local paper says, “From two to nine p.m. people drifted in, filling the hall to overflowing at times, thrilled at what they saw and marveled at the ease with which these things grew under the skilled hands, trained eyes, and steady nerves of the craftsmen”. Beginning in 1938, annual exhibitions were held in Masonic Hall also.

A Society picnic, the first of several, was held at Willard Wood Reservation on June 16th, 1938. It was a gay affair; prizes for games were craft articles made and donated by members. Again the food – quantities of the best, enough so that some stayed for supper. Will anyone ever forget the delicious fish chowder made with halibut and cream?

A second harvest supper and auction was held at Conwell Hall in the Baptist Church in 1938. Reports of the first supper had spread and many attended. It was even hinted that the supper drew as many as the auction. Total profit from the auction was $180.15.

By this time committees were being appointed to locate a place to rent where classes could be held. Nothing could be found and the Painters Guild began meeting in a member’s basement. Other guilds were meeting and exhibiting in homes of members or in other community buildings.

Perhaps the most outstanding of the places investigated as a home for the new arts and crafts society was the Taylor Estate on Bedford St. The twenty five room house, with mahogany paneled ballroom seemed ideal for classes and monthly meetings. The nine acres of landscaped grounds could have been sold in part, but even the purchase price of $9,000 was thought too much for the Society at the time, and it was passed up.

Over a thousand visitors attended each of the spring exhibits in 1939 and 1940 in Masonic Hall. By this time proceeds from all auctions were being added to the Permanent Fund. By 1941 classes in Painting, China Painting, and Rug Hooking were being held in the homes of members.

The Auction in October, 1942 looked bleak because of gas rationing. The day was saved however buy a decision to purchase War Bonds with all proceeds for the Auction, with the Society matching Bond for Bond from its Treasury. The advance dale of door tickets was high and a thrilling and successful evening was spent. Grand prize, the first of many given, was a hooked rug made by twenty members with an estimated four hundred hours of work.

Voluntary classification of members was established in April 1944, these to be Master Craftsman, Craftsman, Associate Craftsman and Associate Member, the last being a sustaining member. By this time, hand addressing the Society mailing list was a burden to the Secretary and stencils were made.

In February, 1945 the Society was seriously considering constructing a model doll house, to be designed by an architect, with all Guilds contributing. Two committees were busy at this time - one searching for a suitable place to rent to construct the doll house, and the other for site for a permanent Society home. Unfortunately the doll house venture did not materialize and neither committee was successful in this search.

The tenth Anniversary was celebrated on April 5th, 1945 at Masonic Hall. One hundred thirty members and guests were present. The catered chicken dinner was a big treat as in the war days chicken was a name only. The program consisted of remarks by the President, and former Presidents, a male quartet sang a song written by a member, and the Theatre Guild presented a one-act play “The Rummage Sale”, which brought down the house. A committee was still looking for land but finding nothing available.

The first recorded contribution for the Art Center was $5.00 in May, 1945. The need for an Art Center was stressed strongly at the 1945 Auction and a substantial sum was placed in the Permanent Fund for that purpose.

As we close the records of these first years, mention should be made of the constructive but sometimes hilarious and lengthy Board meetings held in the homes of members. The secretary’s reports usually read “Meeting adjourned at 11:30 p.m. after which the hostess served delicious refreshments of pecan; pie, fancy cakes, coffee, etc. to members (who went home in the wee hours).

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