IN THE 1940S, Charleston was finally pulling out of an economic slump, giving the many artists living here the freedom to create again. Renowned painters, such as Elizabeth O’Neill Verner, took advantage of the uptick to carve out a living for themselves by illustrating books and selling landscapes and portraits to tourists. By the 1950s, Charleston’s art community was ready to come together to put the city on the map as a world-renowned art destination. In 1953, seven artists, including Verner, William Hirsh and Alfred Hutty, founded the Charleston Artist Guild as a vehicle for connecting with other artists and promoting art awareness within the community.
Almost 70 years later, the Guild is going strong with nearly 700 members. Artists still join the Guild to connect with each other, but the organization has broadly expanded community outreach in creative ways that would make the founders proud.
For the last 16 years, the Charleston Artist Guild headquarters has been a retail gallery. The gallery displays work by 73 artists in mediums that include watercolor, pastel, oil, acrylic, photography, ceramics and fiber art. Artists rotate displays frequently, so there’s always something new.
“There are many wonderful art galleries in Charleston, but the Charleston Artist Guild Gallery is the premier gallery in town. We’re really proud of it,” says Linda Weber, president of the Guild. “If you’re looking for local art, it’s the place to go. We have a great selection of locally produced art and a vast variety. We’re open seven days a week and are entirely staffed with artists, so you’re going to hear the stories behind the art.”
While the gallery gives members a place to show and sell their work, the Guild’s
real purpose is community outreach. For example, Guild members foster art programs in local schools where art classes are underfunded or nonexistent. The Guild also sponsors a high school seniors art exhibit every year to recognize young artists and encourage them to continue honing their talent in the future. The exhibition is open to all high school seniors enrolled in an art program in the tri-county area, including seniors who are homeschooled.
“We’ve been hosting the high school exhibit for 30 years now,” Weber says. “We give cash prizes and awards, including five scholarships, to encourage young artists to continue creating throughout their higher education.” Volunteers also manage art programs at Pattison’s Academy, a charter school that serves children with severe and multiple disabilities. Another outreach is Art for Alzheimer’s, a program that takes art-making opportunities to Alzheimer’s residential facilities throughout the tri-county area. “Our volunteers take supplies and work with residents in memory care units. It’s amazing to see what art stimulates in the brain that can’t otherwise be verbalized,” Weber says.
The Guild is always looking for creative partnerships with other local programs and businesses to bring art to places you wouldn’t normally expect it, like animal shelters. This year the Guild invited its entire membership to submit works featuring a pet. The winning artwork will be featured on a T-shirt sold as a fund-raiser for PetHelpers, a local adoption center and low-cost spay and neuter clinic.
Nearly 70 years after the Charleston Artist Guild was founded, the enthusiasm for Charleston’s artists and community hasn’t waned. “We want to inspire artists; we want to inspire youth; we want to inspire people who are considering dabbling in art; we want to teach; we want to share; we want to strengthen art in our
community,” Weber says.
Robin Howard is a freelance writer in Charleston. See more of her work at robinhowardwrites.com.