In 1953, after a home town art exhibit in Saugatuck Village Hall, newspaper illustrator and fine artist, Nat Steinberg, who had recently moved to the area, suggested that the group represented in the exhibit continue their work together. The group met on September 4, 1953 and named Jean Goldsmith the first president. She, May Heath, and Marguerite Bainbridge were among the officers named at that first gathering. These three women pulled together an art club that winter of 1953, and Goldsmith began teaching a class in pottery and painting attended by local villagers.
By the next summer, in1954, on a chicken wire and wood rack, the members began to hold annual art shows on the grounds of the Saugatuck Village Hall. In 1955, the display turned into what is now famously called the “Clothesline Art Shows” in which artists would display their works by hanging them from clotheslines strung between trees and ladders in the side yard.
The art exhibits held by the Art Club were originally designed just for members of the Club to showcase their work. Exhibitions were held at the Red Barn Theatre, Saugatuck Village Hall, and the Woman’s Club. But by 1956, the Clothesline Art Show was staged in the park near the Butler restaurant and had expanded to twenty-one artists (including seven members) all of which were showing and selling their work.
Believe it or not, this was the first show of its kind for artists in western Michigan. The concept caught on, and even Cora Bliss Taylor had a clothesline show for the students in her childrens’ art classes at the end of each summer.
Over time these shows evolved into the two annual juried art fairs that we have today, The Waterfront Invitational Art Fair which is held in Cook Park on the Saturday closest to the fourth of July and the Village Square Art and Fine Crafts Fair which is on the last Saturday in July. These two events help support all of our giving.
For several years, the club hoped to use the money it raised for a meeting space, an open studio space. In 1971, when school budgets were shrinking and art programs across the state were disappearing, the club shifted its focus. Horrified that the school board might consider cutting the art program in the Saugatuck and Douglas schools, the Art Club began to make public its support. We began to earmark funds to supplement art supply budgets and programming for both the elementary and high schools. By 1980, we initiated a formal program to award scholarships to Saugatuck High graduates majoring in the arts at degree-granting institutions.
Someone once asked me if why our students were so good, and I decided it was a chicken/egg thing. Are they that good because our village supports them, or do we support them because they are good? I don’t know. What I do know is that in Saugatuck an artistic sensitivity seems to be bred in the bone and our supportive community is one heck of a great place to grow up if you are an artist.
Our scholarship kids have gone off to work in product and industrial design for Amway, Rummermaid, Coleman, Merrill, Herman Miller, Threadless, Pandora, The Big Next Sound, and Conde Nast. Among them are graphic designers, industrial designers, architects, photo stylists for Target, fashion designers for Anthropologie and Interior design consultants for Ethan Allen. Some have made a career in video editing, as cinematographers, in medical illustration, and projection design, while others have started their own design agencies. Many make a living as sculptors, painters, printmakers, and gallery directors, and quite a few are art teachers. A few more are quite successful in marketing nationwide their own lines of fashion and decor items.
This is a partial list, yet all of these, once local, young artists got their start at Saugatuck schools and all benefited from the generosity of SDAC. Through its support of the art program and our scholarships, we have been a seminal influence in the lives of so many young people.
They went off to school, they changed their world and ours, and we were part of it.
Today the scholarship program is directed by the Saugatuck High School’s art teacher, Danielle Hanna. The scholarship recipients are given $4,000.00 scholarships, $1,000.00 per year for 4 years. The scholarship is not based on need, portfolios, or academic brilliance, it is given with love to support any of our local kids, SHS graduates, who are enrolled as a full-time art major at a degree-granting institution.
In 2014, we calculated that over a quarter of a million dollars in scholarships had been awarded since the inception of the program, and obviously we have added to that amount in the last five years. This academic year, 2020, we expect as many as seven new students to apply for scholarships.
Since its founding in 1953 the Art Club has donated more than a hundred thousand dollars to the community in its mission to support and enhance arts education in the Saugatuck-Douglas area. It did so by broadening its reach of support to area organizations such as Chamber Music Festival of Saugatuck, Lakeshore Arts Alliance, the Art á Loan program, the Saugatuck-Douglas District Library and the Saugatuck Center for the Arts among others. The Art Club also commissioned the sculpture in memory of Saugatuck puppeteer Burr Tillstrom which now stands in Village Square Park. A volunteer-run organization, we raise all of our money through our art fairs, and we spend it all locally.
The Saugatuck Douglas Art Club does make a difference, in the lives of our students, in the life of our community, and in our own lives as participants.
Back 1953, the Saugatuck Douglas Art Club’s goal was "to stimulate and encourage the creation, study, and presentation of the performing and creative arts.” Since its inception, this group has shown a spotlight on our area's rich cultural heritage, supported freedom of artistic expression and has served as an incubator, sponsor, and supporter of both artists and arts organizations in its artistically vibrant hometowns.