In 1968, a small group of artists was house-hunting in Alexandria. The Art League, founded in 1954, needed more space for its growing school and gallery, and an old tobacco warehouse on Cameron Street fit the bill. 60 years later, this group’s contributions to Alexandria’s then budding art scene would inspire thousands of artists to come.
Upstairs, prominent artists in the Washington Color School started teaching workshops. This group of painters, a local branch of the larger Color Field movement in American art, explored color and shape with large-scale abstract paintings — and, in the early seventies, celebrated Color School artists Gene Davis, Paul Reed and others taught right here in Old Town Alexandria.
In 2014, The Art League is celebrating its 60th anniversary, and to mark the occasion, has partnered with the Northern Virginia Fine Arts Association (also celebrating an extraordinary anniversary) to tell that story with a special exhibit in the historic Athenaeum building.
As the name of the exhibit suggests, “Influence and Inspiration” shows the impact The Art League’s artist instructors have had on each other and on Alexandria’s creative community over six decades. Starting on the west wall, you can trace the abstract painting program’s origins with the Washington Color School, represented by artists Sam Gilliam and Lou Stovall. In all, 57 artists have artwork here, with other teachers and students sharing their experiences on video: painters, ceramic artists, sculptors and more.
Image by George Miller
The Art League has called Alexandria home since the move to Cameron Street. In 1975, it became one of the first tenants in the waterfront Torpedo Factory Art Center, which didn’t exist until the year before. Marian Van Landingham, Art League president and future Virginia State Delegate, had convinced the city of Alexandria to experiment with leasing the unused factory as artist studios.
Today, The Art League continues to operate its supply store, gallery and school there, with more classes and Summer Art Camp in a renovated space on Madison Street. If this exhibit sparks your creative side, many of the instructors represented at the Athenaeum can also be found in the catalog of Fall classes, which start in September for adults and kids ages five and up.
“Influence and Inspiration” at the Athenaeum (301 Prince Street) is open Thursday, Friday and Sunday from 12-4 p.m. and on Saturdays from 1-4 p.m. The opening reception is Sunday, September 7th at 4 p.m. The exhibit is open through September 21st.
Header image by George Miller