The Morro Bay Art Association has always been more than paintings on the wall. Sixty years ago, the founding members understood tourism would be the economic engine that would allow working artists to live and work in paradise.
Current President Flo Bartell said Charles Robinson was the first professional artist to relocate and promote Morro Bay as an artist community.
His associates continued his dream by starting the art association on Sept. 17, 1951, with 17 dues-paying members who met in Ruth Pasko’s home.
In time for the group’s 60th anniversary, Bartell received a call from Francoise Lucier’s family. They’d found historical scrapbooks, which were Lucier’s basis for a booklet she’d written depicting the association’s first 37 years.
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Highlights include pictures from the former Morro Bay Sun and Telegram-Tribune newspapers, meeting agendas and documented speeches.
After the first Main Street property the association purchased was destroyed by fire, members met in a variety of places, including the old Justice Court building, studios, the elementary school, the county library building, St. Peter’s Episcopal and the Fireside Room of the Presbyterian Church.
They raised money for their dream facility on El Cerrito Peak “to house all the arts — music, drama, dance, sculpture, as well as painting and crafts — a really utopian dream for a small group,” Lucier wrote.
“Art exhibitions are the heart of the art club,” Lucier continued.
The first exhibit in 1952 featured 23 paintings and six artists. The association held shows in schools, on patios, in stores and along fences and sidewalks.
In 1954, E.C. Benson suggested an art festival “to attract people from other communities. In 1959, the city fathers and the promotions organizations took it over, renaming it Rock-O-Rama.”
It was the forerunner to the Morro Bay Harbor Festival. Soon after, the association created Art in the Park, held each Memorial Day, Fourth of July and Labor Day as the group’s premier fundraising effort.
Bartell continues to promote those goals in her fourth term as president of the association.
“Gary and I moved here from the Carolinas to be near our daughter and grandchildren. I had a background in fabric art, teaching and writing, yet I had to discover the Art Association through (the local) Newcomers (group),” Bartell said. “When I accepted the presidency, I hoped to polish our image and then tell everyone we’re worth a visit.”
The association has produced a new brochure and website — www.morrobayartassociation.org — and continues to improve the gallery established in 1971 at 835 Main St.
Rotating art shows sell and showcase members’ art, special shows hang in the Virginia Russell Gallery, and the group intends to expand its youth programs and teen scholarships.
Reach Judy Salamacha at email@example.com or 801-1422.