Art in Melrose seems to be a sometime thing ...

... but it was our group that initiated the Melrose Art Show ...

from Don Norris

Author's note: I have been three or four different people over the past 80 years. The significant parts were growing up in New Jersey (and finishing at Melrose High), Tufts University and subsequently a couple of years with the Marine Corps, then some twenty or thirty years as a journalist.

But I always have been an artist -- yes, even in the Corps, I painted, I drew, I photographed my platoon -- and got serious about this art in later life. There was a lengthy time, in the '70s, when I was one of a group of some twenty Melrose artists who strove to make a living with their skills. Some were teachers, some made it as artists with support of a more affluent spouse, and some just went in an opposite direction.

It was this group of twenty (or so) artists that started the annual artists' show at Memorial Hall, which, at that time, was clearly for Melrose artists -- no outsiders allowed, you had to live or work in Melrose to qualify for a show that was quite successful for, uuummm, some half-dozen years.

What happened was that, while Melrose residents were wealthy enough to support the annual show, they didn't have enough bread to share with these starving artists.

The show did well enough to stir broader interest in painting, and there became a group of some twenty budding artists to join a new class, held weekly in the basement of the First Baptist Church. The class was successful in that, for some five years, they not only studied painting, but they travelled as a group to museums all over New England. Norris was the teacher, organizer, leader and chauffeur for the group.

Eventually the group grew older, and retired, or passed away. Suddenly, there was no annual art show at Memorial Hall, for quite a long while. And when it was revived, participation was made broader by admitting artists from other communities.

Earlier, during the early years of the art show, there was an official group of interested folks, appointed by the mayor, to support fine art in Melrose -- called the Melrose Arts Council. Norris applied and won $200 for a two-week excursion around New England, following the path of famous Gloucester artists, camping in his Volkswagen van, cooking dinner over an open fire and sleeping in his bus. His route took him to Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine -- even one day in Canada, following the path of the great artists.

"I made a lot of sketches during that trip," he said, "enough to supply me with work for the next year. And while my paintings were good, the price I asked was beyond what supporters wanted to afford. I kept going to Boston-area shows, and people said my stuff was outstanding -- but they couldn't afford the prices he put on them.'

Eventually Emil Gruppe died -- as did the Melrose art association. Our group fell apart, lost interest, switched interests, became good bridge players and golfers .... and hardly picked up another brush.

And the annual art show at Memorial Hall died. Suddenly there was no one with interest enough to produce it, much less participate. And the Baptist Church went through some re-organization, the painting group lost it's home, and everything in art just went to pieces. No more lessons at the Baptist Church, no more art shows at Memorial Hall.

Until a couple of decades later. At some point, a couple of ladies got the urge to renew the old art show at Memorial Hall --- only it wasn't restricted to local artists. Apparently some of the new organization objected to home-town requirements, so the invitation went out to area artists.

So far their plan has worked, and the old show is renewed. Whether it is profitable remains to be seen, although its continuity these past few years is encouraging.

Well, good for Melrose and it's ambitious organizers. Good for them. We wish them well. It keeps Melrose on the map of fine art.

June 3, 2016

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