Evergreen Artists Association celebrates its 50th

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By Sara Miller

On the afternoon of April 24, 1958, 19 members of Evergreen’s artistic community met in the back room of a shoe repair shop downtown. The purpose of the meeting was to talk about the advantages of forming a local art association “to help artists network, nurture new artists, and provide opportunities for established artists to build reputations with our community.”

The enthusiasm generated at that meeting was the genesis for the Evergreen Artists Association. Fifty years later, the EAA is stronger than ever. Over the years, hundreds of local artists have found colleagues and camaraderie, inspiration and education through their membership in the EAA.

The newly formed group had no permanent exhibition space and no money with which to pursue one. The members relied on the kindness of local business owners to provide ad-hoc gallery space for them to display their art. Local hosts included bank lobbies, concert venues and even the Evergreen post office.

By far the most colorful host was the Green Bear Gallery. The gallery, which became the first permanent display space for the EAA, was located in a one-story dance hall that hung precariously over Bear Creek behind what is now Creekside Cellars. Members and guests accessed the “art center” via a rickety bridge that was suspended over the creek. Eventually, much of the land beneath the building was washed away by the creek. The gallery was sold and eventually torn down.

In August 1966, the charter EAA members gathered on Evergreen’s Main Street and created a festival at which they could sell their art and educate the community about the breadth of artistic talent blossoming in Evergreen. The Evergreen Fine Arts Festival, as it became known, has taken place annually ever since. The show soon outgrew its humble beginnings and moved to its permanent home at the Grove near Hiwan Homestead Museum. Now ranked in the top 200 of national arts shows, the Fine Arts Festival attracts artists from all over the world.

Throughout the rest of the year, members gathered monthly at diverse meeting places throughout Evergreen. The Old Evergreen Hotel and the Public Service Co. building on Highway 74 played host to a variety of speakers and EAA social events. Since 1958, more than 450 speakers and artists have demonstrated their skills and shared their artistic knowledge with the EAA.

“At our monthly programs, ideas are exchanged, suggestions made and encouragements given,” says past EAA president Kathy Beekman. “Attending our programs and being involved with the EAA motivates us as artists to keep moving forward with our artistic lives.”

In recent years, the nomadic group of artists has found a more permanent home at the Center for the Arts Evergreen. Incoming president Paul Koentges organizes an EAA gallery in the front room on the west side of the center.

“The EAA is using it as a rotating gallery,” says Becky Guy, director of programs and planning for the center. “We really wanted an ongoing presence of local artists at the center. Having this gallery is a way to have constant representation for our mountain artists.”

With or without a “home,” the members of the Evergreen Artists Association have never had trouble standing out in our community. Tom Ware, a charter member of EAA, helped establish Arts for the Mountain Community, which made the annual Evergreen Sculpture Walk a reality. Members Kate Loomiller and David Cuin brought the Open Door Studio Tour to life in 2002. Several active members teach classes at the Center for the Arts, and four active members have worked as public school art teachers in addition to their own artistic careers.

These teachers, as well as the rest of the artists that make up EAA’s membership roster, recognized the need to nurture artistic pursuits with Evergreen’s youth community. The Jackie Miller Memorial Scholarship was founded with an endowment of $300. Today, the scholarship has grown to $3,500, and annually mountain area high school seniors submitted portfolio presentations to be considered for this coveted art award.

From its humble beginnings, the Evergreen Artists Association has grown in stature and reputation and now celebrates its 50th anniversary. Today’s EAA still has the same ideals as it had in 1958: stimulating art interest and enabling Evergreen artists to keep in close touch with one another as well as the patrons and art lovers who continue to support their artistic pursuits.

For more information on the Evergreen Artists Association, visit www.EvergreenArtists.org or call 303-679-1609.

Sara Miller, a freelance writer and a resident of Evergreen, lives with her husband, two children and a dog.