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Taste of Conshohocken

Apr 01, 2018 12:14AM ● By Yaniv Aronson, Chair of the Conshohocken Plymouth Whitemarsh Rotary Club

This is a continuing column highlighting individuals, businesses, and charities that work to better our community.

Eileen McDonnell is president of the Conshohocken Art League, which is located at the historic Mary Wood Park House, 120 E. 5th Avenue.  The Conshohocken Art League (CAL) has been serving the community since 1923, establishing itself as the first fine arts organization in Montgomery County.  Today, CAL instructors teach classes to adult and junior residents of Conshohocken and surrounding communities, showcase local visiting professional artists, and provide exhibition opportunities to artists in the area.

 The Conshohocken Art League evolved shortly after Mary H. Wood, widow of Alan Wood, Jr., bequeathed her home and property to the borough of Conshohocken in 1918. Bordered by 5th and Harry, and 6th and Hallowell, the Wood property was set aside as a “public park or playground for the recreation and enjoyment of the public.” The open space quickly became a hub of the community, attracting residents to musical concerts and outdoor family events.

 After World War I, the home itself became a regular meeting place for the Red Cross, the Visiting Nurse Association, the Women’s Club of Conshohocken, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, and the Conshohocken Rotary Club, whose early history was written here during weekly meetings. Today, the Park House hosts several organizations’ meetings in the main meeting room and is the primary home of the Conshohocken Historical Society and the Conshohocken Art League.

Early CAL programs featured major noted Philadelphia area artists’ presentations in Conshohocken, including Violet Oakley, Samuel Fleisher, Henry Pitz, and Walter Condit. Affiliations with the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, The Philadelphia Museum of Art, The Philadelphia Sketch Club, The Plastic Club, the Barnes Foundation, and the Samuel S. Fleisher Art Memorial ensued. CAL’s most recent visiting artist presentations have featured artists Joe Winter, Kathy Winter, Jim Victor, Chris McDonnell, Moe Brooker, and Stanley Bielen.

The league’s membership fluctuated in the 94 years since inception, especially during World War II, when gasoline shortages reduced the number of teachers and students to readily attend classes. Another wane was felt in the late seventies, when the major sources of community employment shut down, forcing many families to seek work and community involvement elsewhere. It has survived, as have most artistic organizations, through the determined attendance of even the smallest band of dedicated artists.

The Conshohocken Art League has always provided its members an opportunity to initiate and pursue interest in the traditional fine arts through its classes and visiting artist programs. The curriculum maintains the core essentials of composition, value, color theory, and gesture – be it for the beginner or returning student. We have just begun a complete beginners’ class for adults, as some adults pursued other careers but always wanted to give time to their otherwise truncated art education. Our junior/teen classes exist for “seriously motivated” young artists with hands-on education in almost every fine art medium. Our classes tend to be small and intimate, so CAL’s instructors are able to fully focus on students’ work, keeping with each student’s specific strengths, medium preferences, and individual pace.

The future of CAL is bright with a commitment of maintaining classic theories, materials, and techniques as the quintessential art foundation for artists of every persuasion. Although technology and computers enhance the choices artists have with which to create, the springboard from which to experiment with these modern mediums should be first grounded in traditional fine art.  CAL will survive primarily with the participation of our community, as their artistic curiosity and attendance fuel the instructors’ commitment to making a difference, even to just one student. Some adults have been hesitant to approach or afraid to reenter the art world and CAL welcomes those individuals especially.

It would be wonderful for the community to continue to promote and support us, as so many already have. As a public charitable organization, our relatively reasonable tuition fees are a direct result of generous monetary donations, with particular thanks to The Corson Foundation, The Florence R. Collins Family, and the Borough of Conshohocken. We hope to see you at the Mary Wood Park House sometime soon! 

Eileen McDonnell

President, Conshohocken Art League