What was the St. Genevieve art colony? – St. Louis Magazine

Posted: December 19, 2021 at 6:39 pm

In the 1930s, two St. Louis artists, Aimee Schweig and Jessie Beard Rickly, rented the Mammy Shaw House across the street from the Felix Vall House in Ste. Genevieve. The pair had spent several previous summers at an artists colony in Provincetown, Massachusetts, where they studied with painter Charles Hawthorne of the Cape Cod School of Art. They eventually grew tired of traipsing to New England and decided to start their own art colony. Rickly told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that one reason was the Depression. The other was a conviction that there were enough things worth painting in the Middle West, particularly at Ste. Genevieve, to make it worthwhile.

At first, the townspeople stood around in a curious staring group when Rickly set up her easel in the town square and began to paint, and marveled the more, as who would not, on discovering she did most of her painting with a putty knife, and not a brush. But all reservations melted away once they were asked to sit for paintings. The barber who posed for Paper Roses held up the proceeding to shave himself, don a necktie and slick back his hair, the Post noted.

Rickly and Schweig convinced other St. Louis artists, including Bernard Peters, Frank Nuderscher, Joe Jones, and Thomas Hart Benton, to join them. There was a vision: Although all had a deep familiarity with contemporary art produced in New York City and Europe, they aimed to create more honest art that reflected who and where they were. Many of them were also radicalized by the Depression, Jones in particular. At first, no one paid attention to the art colony, Melanie Owen, who helped rediscover the art colony decades later, told The Daily Journal in 1980. Then people began referring to it as the Mecca of Midwestern art. It really was a big deal.

Throughout the 1930s, the artists slingshotted between St. Louis and Ste. Gen. In the city, they showed canvases depicting tenant farmers encampments, lime kiln workers, sharecroppers, and gravediggers. In Ste. Gen, they brought in as many painters as they could to capture a world that was quickly disappearing in an increasingly industrialized America. Although the colony flourished in the 1930s, it had dissolved by the end of the decade, as the cultural zeitgeist shifted at the onset of World War II.

The colony was largely forgotton until Kansas Cityborn artist Robert Dick rescued a carriage house worth of paintings, documents, and photos in the early 2000s. He spent two years writing An American Art Colony: the Art and Artists of Ste. Genevieve, Missouri, 19301940. I didnt realize there were these kinds of people in the state of Missouri, he told the Belton Star Herald. It was a shock.

Jessie Beard Rickly was a member of The New Hats, a group of St. Louis painters so progressive that members got kicked out if they didnt produce new work on a constant basis. The name was a statement that the artists were rejecting anything old hat. They often showed at Noonan-Kocian Gallery on Locustno shabby thing, considering one of Arthur Kocians best friends was Paul Durand-Ruel, the Paris art dealer who discovered the Impressionists. The Post noted that Rickly, a founder, insisted that a New Hat was always a painter, never an artist. To call oneself an artist is presumptuous, she told the Post. This group anticipated the present movement in artand decided that the organization of such a group would help to acquaint St. Louis with contemporary art, she continued, adding a caveat: the use of the word contemporary rather than modern is preferred. Why? Because so many atrocities have been committed in the name of modern art.

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What was the St. Genevieve art colony? - St. Louis Magazine

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