It was one of those great ideas that could so easily fail: To celebrate a century of existence, Washington’s most prominent social club devoted to the arts and artists would hand out 100 blank canvases and solicit paintings to be sold at a fundraiser. Starting last fall, 100 eight-by-six-inch stretched swatches of pure possibility were duly dispatched to arts circles in the region and beyond.
And then, at the Arts Club of Washington, the waiting began. Was it too much to hope that 100 small but meaningful acts of creativity and color would rebound back to the club?
Within a few months, the little packages started to arrive, sporadically, maybe two or three in a day. Nichola Hays, the club’s gallery manager, unwrapped each unique surprise. “It was really fun,” she said.
In fact, sending pieces to support the Arts Club became such a thing that people wanted more canvases, and, in the end, 110 new works of art were created. Eric M. Ernst, grandson of the late surrealist Max Ernst, even sent one. It’s a Cubist riff.
Hays and Patricia Quealy Moore, a club member who came up with idea, framed and hung the art in the club’s performance salon. The exhibit opens at 6 p.m. Friday at the historic clubhouse, 2017 I St. NW (where James Monroe once lived), and quickly goes on sale.
The club devised a savvy sales scheme to move the merchandise: From 6:30-7 p.m., each work will cost $250. From 7-7:30 p.m., the price drops to $175. From 7:30-8:30 p.m., the rest go for $100 apiece. If multiple buyers want a single work, they can try to outbid each other.
Most of the pieces are by artists or amateurs with a connection to the club or to Washington, including Anne Bouie, Jack Boul, Rebecca Clews, John Crowther, Andrew Krieger, Wayne Paige, Chris Siron, Helen F. H. Smith, Eve Stockton, Dick Swartz and Jeffrey Wilson.
The proceeds will establish a fund to conserve the club’s collection of hundreds of paintings and drawings. The collection of works by mainly Washington artists dating to the early 20th century may not be trendy. Those more or less traditionalist artists eschewed abstract experiments. But it’s important enough.
“We have a large collection of early 20th-century Washington painters, many of whom also were in the Corcoran [Gallery of Art] collection, which is no longer able to be viewed [intact] by the public,” Moore said, referring to the demise of the Corcoran and the transfer of its collection to the National Gallery of Art and possibly other destinations.
Admission to the exhibit and sale is free. The evening will be lubricated with complimentary “centennial cocktails” involving a tasty blend of champagne, vodka, ginger and some other ingredients, plus a raspberry and a sprig of mint.
With 240 members, the Arts Club is one of Washington’s more improbably enduring institutions — a haven for aesthetes in a political town, a financially stable private club in an era when some other clubs are closing. It was one of the first such domains in Washington where women played a leadership role from the beginning. The public can visit and see art five days a week; there are public exhibit openings the first Friday of every month; and Fridays at lunchtime there are public music performances.
The year-long celebration of the centennial includes a plan to revive the Bal Boheme, a costume ball that used to be a signature social event of the nation’s capital, said club president Judith Viggers Nordin.
The outpouring of canvases to support the club was a good sign for the next 100 years, said Lars Etzkorn, a member.
“It speaks to the place of the Arts Club in our community,” he said.