The Woman’s Art Club of Cincinnati is the oldest existing woman’s art club, dating to 1892, operating without interruption in the United States.  President Dodie Loewe doesn’t know of any other clubs nationally similar to this one.  She showed up at a WACC meeting several years ago.  “I was just there to see what it’s all about,” she said.  But she was asked to become more involved and serve as president.  “I had never been a leader before,” she added.

The mission, then and now, is to encourage members’ greater engagement in their work and increase a general interest in art.  Members agree that the club offers not only art guidance, but also mentoring and camaraderie.

Loewe added that she is trying to make the club a clearing house for women artists in the city by providing them with information about area classes, exhibitions and juried shows.  She said, “Women  get together to network, paint and commiserate while making their avocation better.”  In addition, the club offers a credit card service on the internet for members to pay their dues.

WACC offers three exhibitions annually, workshops, a bi-monthly book club, social activities, a monthly newsletter, and a merit-based scholarship for a female artist pursuing art education.   In addition, it sponsors art instruction and donates funds to Cincinnati’s ArtWorks Summer Apprentice Programs.

Upcoming is “Composing and Painting a Still Life,” a workshop taught by artist MaryBeth Borders Karaus from January 17 – 18, 2020 from 9:30 am to 4 pm.  Two shows are upcoming:  The signature show from January 17 – 29, 2020 and the juried show from March 31 – April 26, 2020.

Nineteen women artists, including Dixie Selden, Caroline Lord and Kate Reno-Miller, founded the club in December 1892 in response to Cincinnati Art Club’s refusal to include women.  In April 1893, the four-month-old club held its first show at Closson’s on Elm Street.  On November 8, it held its first annual exhibition, which became a long-standing tradition still in existence today.

Woman’s Art Club joined the State Federation of Women’s Clubs in 1908.  Two years later, it was invited to become a member of the American Federation of Arts. Members met in artist’s homes or studios, from 1892 to 1992, a span of one hundred years.  In 1992, the club moved to its first permanent home at Pendleton Art Center in Over-the-Rhine.

The historic Resthaven Barn, 6890 Cambridge Ave. in Mariemont, was designed by New York architect Hubert E. Reeves and built in 1924.  Resthaven was used as a tree nursery and stables during the construction of the new village of Mariemont.

The Harrison family took over the management of the farm in 1934.  Carl Lindner, Sr., leased and operated a small milk plant, Lindner Quality Milk Company, now known as the Barn.

It was saved from demolition in 2000.

According to WACC’s website, “The Woman’s Art Club of Cincinnati Foundation was formed to purchase the Barn, oversee the transformation and manage its operation and further development as the Woman’s Art Club Cultural Center.”

WACC contributed approximately $60,000 for a $1 million plus restoration, an ongoing project.

The WACC does not own or run the Barn, but it has meetings there as well as rents office and exhibition space.   Many club members teach classes or hold workshops contracted directly with the Barn.  Club members support the Barn with time and money.

WACC has a deep infrastructure consisting of several chairs of committees ranging from membership, programs, newsletter, hospitality and a book club.  Loewe says she has a strong board, but works to stay up with all the club’s activities.  The president’s term is two years; then, at least two years as an advisor, a role former president Mary Beth Thompson Dowlin, who joined in 2009, now fills.  She continues to be a working artist as a contemporary realist with an emphasis primarily on oils as well as is Loewe, a member since 2007, who does commissioned portraits.

Dowlin said, “I don’t think many Cincinnatians know the great history of art that this city has.”  It drives her nuts.  “At the end of the 20th century, there was the Cincinnati Art Museum, Art Club and Woman’s Art Club in addition to the Art Academy of Cincinnati.  We attracted so many people regionally.  We were the mecca for artists,” Dowlin said.

Whether it’s Frank Duveneck, Edward Potthast or Bessie Hoover Wessel, several artists from Cincinnati have made a name for themselves locally, regionally and nationally.

Dowlin said she has her best ideas in the shower.  She thought the club needed to sponsor a mural.  So, it did.  Chosen to commemorate the 125th year in 2017, local artist Tina Westerkamp designed the creation of a mural entitled Emerge located on 12th Street between Race and Vine Streets in Over-the Rhine.  Local teaching artists Paul Loehle and Bailey Dowlin worked with a team of eight local youth apprentices to paint and install this mural.

Dowlin said she could have been happy as a theater set designer, although she received her B.A. in art and interior design from the University of Mississippi.  A long-time Symmes Township resident, she started painting in 2001.  In addition to memberships in several other arts organizations such as the Oho Plein Air Society, she designed and painted two pigs for the original Big Pig gig.

“I met some people who suggested I join the WACC.  There’s nothing I would rather than do than paint, other than be with my family,” she said.  “If I am in a wheelchair, I will still paint.”

Former president Diane Kilfoil, a member since 1992, said her biggest challenge was considering the move into the Barn because of the financial commitment it entailed.  “It took all the money in our savings,” she said.

Loewe’s introduction to art began with a degree in fashion design from Design Architecture Art and Planning from the University of Cincinnati where she graduated as valedictorian.  Twelve to thirteen years ago, she took up painting in oils and pastels.

Membership is open and available at $55 annually (July 1 – June 30). Anyone can join.  Three levels of membership are available:  associate, signature and honorary.

Members can attend monthly meetings, which include a business agenda, refreshments, socialization and an artist demonstration or educational program.  Last year’s programs included demonstrations by Mary Lou Holt (painter), Richard Luschek (painter) and Robbie Porter (fiber artist). Meetings are held on the second Saturday of the month from September through May.

Approximately 300 members are from the Tristate region.   Demographics center on women artists in their 40’s and 60’s, in particular, who specialize in many media.  “It is always a struggle to bring in younger women to the club,” Dowlin said because of their work schedule.  Many have been members for a number of years; one goes back to 1961.

–Laura Hobson

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