The Brownwood Art League was founded on Feb. 22, 1927 by Mrs. W.R. Roberts, the first president of the organization that later changed its name to the Art Association. For 90 years the group has supported the arts and artists throughout Brown County and fostered some nationally-renowned talent.
On Thursday, March 2, the Art Association will celebrate its 90-year anniversary with a “Roaring Twenties”-themed gala inside its comparatively new home at 215 Fisk Ave. The event will feature door prizes, antique cars, music, a costume contest and a photo booth — a party big enough for another successful 90 years.
But first, it’s worth looking back at the ones that came before.
On Feb. 16, BAA past president Roger Levesque gave a brief presentation about the association’s history at the Art Center. “[Roberts] got a bunch of the artists together to kind of formalize getting the local artists active and involved in doing different things,” Levesque said. “What they did is, they would bring in a lot of national artists.”
The Brownwood Art Association website mentions artists like Adele Brunet, Harry Anthony DeYoung, Xavier Gonzales and Dwight Holmes as a few that came to town.
“They would come to Brownwood and conduct workshops, teaching, and have exhibits and talk about different things,” Levesque said. “It was part of the idea that they were going to make Brownwood … the major art center in Texas.”
Levesque said the exposure to talent helped foster a generation of very talented Brownwood artists. “Pearl Stallings … was not only an artist, but she was a world traveler,” Levesque said. “I found an article in the Brownwood Bulletin from 1929, where she did an around-the-world trip in 84 days.”
Stallings’s granddaughter, Nancy Lee, eventually gifted the 215 Fisk Ave. property to the Brownwood Art Association.
Later BAA members continued the tradition of national excellence. Charles and Maurine Stewart led the art department at Howard Payne from the 1940s to the ‘80s, and the BAA met on campus during that time. “They were very, very supportive of the arts and the community,” Levesque said.
“Another name that you are probably familiar with is Gaitha Browning,” he said. “Gaitha did a lot of paintings in New Mexico.”
Browning served in World War 2 and wrote a journal about his experience in the Pacific, which he published after the war. Many of Browning’s paintings depict the American West and Native American themes.
Browning is perhaps most famous locally for designing the reliefs on the Brownwood Coliseum.
Levesque also discussed the history of the Art Center itself. The building that became the Art Center was constructed at the turn of the 20th century and served as the offices for the nearby granary.
“Brownwood was a prime location as a major stop for the Santa Fe Railroad in the first part of the 20th century,” Levesque said. “It contributed greatly to the development as a grain processing center for Texas.”
Later, the 215 Fisk Ave. location became an office for TXU Energy, a restaurant and a flower shop. Lee donated the property to the Association in 2005, and the building is dedicated to her grandmother Stallings.
The BAA became a nonprofit organization in 2002. After renovating the Art Center space, the organization today boasts an active membership of over 100 local artists and holds multiple events each month, including its First Thursday reception, Muse & Merlot and the open mic A.M.P. event.
Levesque said the organization continues its mission to get people involved with the arts. “That was the goal, and it’s still the goal today,” he said. “That’s what the Art Association is all about, is to promote the arts and have a place for artists to work, and to establish a relationship between the artists and the public.”