Vive le North Shore Art League

Gazette Article by: Cindy Fuller
Appeared in the Gazette: Fall 2000

Vive le North Shore Art League

If a picture is worth 1000 words, then the colorful history of the North Shore Art League would fill volumes. In November 1924, “Chief” J.W.F. Davies (one of the founders of the Winnetka Community House) and Mrs. John Vennema (wife of the Consul General to the Netherlands) invited a few “friends of art” to meet them in the Camp Fire Room at the Community House. The formation of an art league was planned and the name North Shore Art League was adopted.

Known as NSAL, the North Shore Art League’s stated purpose was “…for the formation and exhibition of objects of art, that it may develop a higher appreciation of art in the community.” The first annual art exhibit presented by the North Shore Art League took place in Matz Hall at the Community House in 1925. More than 40 artists displayed their work. Membership in the league at that time numbered 200, drawing members from throughout the North Shore. In 1926, George Oberteuffer, an associate of the Salon d’Autome in Paris, was hired as the first teacher for the NSAL. Dudley Crafts Watson of the Art Institute of Chicago became a regular lecturer for the NSAL. In opening the 1927 annual NSAL art exhibition, Watson’s lecture was titled “The Fast-Approaching Renaissance for which the North Shore is the Vanguard.”

The league was suddenly without a home when in December 1930 a disastrous fire destroyed most of the original Community House. League Members and friends raised $10,000 that was earmarked for a studio room to be permanently allocated for the use of the league. Dedicated on March 13, 1932, this is still the primary studio used for NSAL classes today.

Fame and recognition continued to knock on the league’s door. Nancy Counsman Hahn, noted sculptor, joined the league in 1931 and served as a guiding light for more than three decades. Winnetkan Anita Willets Burnham lectured and exhibited with the league and Ivan Albright exhibited at the league’s gallery in 1934. The league also mounted an exhibit at the 1933-34 Century of Progress Fair held in Chicago. In 1952, Winnetka resident and sculptor Abbott Pattison joined the league as an instructor in sculpture and painting. He remained for almost 30 years. Hallmarks of the NSAL have always been exhibits and art shows that attract a national audience.

The league continued to flourish during the 1960s and 1970s; the quality of its instructors was of the highest character, drawing primarily from the Art Institute and the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts. Membership swelled to an all time high of 1,000.

Following a quieter period during the 1980s and 1990s, the league is now experiencing a renaissance. Under the leadership of President Susan Underwood and a very energetic board, adult and children’s classes are again growing in attendance. In October, the league hosted the benefit “Vive L’Art!” The money raised for the league will be used to maintain the high standards that have allowed the NSAL to paint a very artistic picture on the North Shore for over 75 years.

We gratefully acknowledge the late George Brodsky, author of This House Is Ours – The Story of the Winnetka Community House. This article is based on information contained in Chapter 3, “The North Shore Art League.”

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