The West Seattle Art Club visitor register contains names going back to the early years of the last century. The group celebrates its 100th year next Sunday, Apr 11 with a tea at the West Seattle Library. Click the image to see a page from the guest register and a photo of the club members.

West Seattle Art club celebrates its centennial year

Sunday Apr 11 at West Seattle Library

With its official flower—the daffodil—in full bloom, the West Seattle Art Club will celebrate its 100th year with a centennial tea next Sunday, April 11th, from 2-4 pm at the West Seattle Library. Thirty members strong since 1910—and limited by charter to that small number—the group continues a legacy of art education, support of the arts, and community activism.

The second oldest art club in the state owes its existence to the foresight of one Katherine B. Baker who, after moving from Chicago in 1909, felt that Seattle's cultural scene needed a bit of a boost. In April, 1910, she and several friends gathered in the Palm Avenue home of Mrs. J. Walter Hainsworth to create the West Seattle Art Club.

Though current members meet only once a month, the charter members gathered twice monthly in each others' homes for study, lectures, the occasional guest speaker, and luncheon. Then, as now, each member selects a topic a year in advance and provides an oral presentation to the assemblage. (For example in October of 1930, Mrs. Daniel Ragan spoke on “Art in Relation to Flower Gardening,” while in May, a Mrs. Graham took on the subject of totem poles.) In this centennial year, topics include Picasso (to coincide with the Seattle Art Museum's Picasso exhibit), modern glass, Himalayan art, and botanicals.

More than simply “ladies who lunch,” the West Seattle Art Club's civic contributions have been notable. From its beginnings in 1933 in Volunteer Park, the Seattle Art Museum has benefited from the generosity and taste of West Seattle Art Club members. From 1925 through 1984, the club awarded the Katherine B. Baker Memorial Prize to a deserving Northwest artist, purchasing the winning item for $100 and donating it to the museum in the club's name. These 59 works include early pieces by such legendary artists as Morris Graves, Mark Tobey, Guy Anderson, and Viola Patterson. (Thanks to inflation, the $100 yearly prize—while insufficient for purchasing a work of art—is currently used to enhance the museum's library collection.) In 1985, the West Seattle Art Club celebrated its 75th anniversary by donating $1,000 toward the construction of the museum's new downtown location.

Cultural shifts are easy to trace throughout the club's history. Hats and gloves were de rigueur through the middle of the 1960s, as was the custom of being addressed by married name--even in club minutes and publications. When it came to the monthly presentations, speakers had to rely on their expertise, as reliance on notes was prohibited. Just how tough was this artsy crowd? In 1932, members decided to establish a grammar guardian, electing Mrs. Graham (the aforementioned totem pole expert) as “Critic for Correct Punctuation.” And lack of attendance (missing even one of the twice-monthly meetings over the course of two years) was grounds for dismissal. However, this rule was relaxed (and meetings canceled) for two months in 1918 courtesy of the worldwide flu epidemic.

Keeping in step with the times and with community needs, the West Seattle Art Club has found ways to lend a hand and to make its voice heard: In 1916, a committee worked on the beautification of Admiral Way; during WWI members helped establish a downtown soldier's and sailor's club, sold Red Cross stamps, and even picked over sphagnum moss to be used as surgical dressings. In 1928 the membership voted to support the Kellogg-Briand Pact and “condemn the recourse to war for the resolution of international controversies.” In 1925, the group decried the custom of tipping in restaurants, and 1932 found the members—true to their artistic roots—encouraging Henry Ford to decorate his new building on East Marginal Way with murals.

It could be said that art club founder Katherine B. Baker also held true to her artistic roots. In 1924—fourteen years after founding the West Seattle Art Club—she died in Los Angeles while giving a lecture on modern art. But her legacy lives on—one hundred years later--and you're invited to join in the celebration as the West Seattle Art Club members raise their collective teacups for a centennial salute.

The Art of Buying Art

Minutes from the June 5, 1929 meeting of the West Seattle Art Club note how some of the members raised the requisite $5 for that year's Elizabeth B. Baker prize:

one sold junk
one gave a party and auction
one sold a lamp shade
one saved from budget
dressmaking
bread baking
one “felt she was entitled to draw a check”
one said “it was hard to write a check because she felt poor”
sold an old suit
worked at election polls
saved her pennies
denied herself shows
pressed suits
baked 6 cakes
“dug down” for it
sold a kitten

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