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Thursday, Feb. 24, 2005 07:42 pm

Remembrance of things past

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Erika Fitzgerald, executive director of the Springfield Art Association (left), and Amanda Lampert, curator of collections, examine one of the association’s works, “News from the Front” by Caleb Arnold Slade (1882-1961).
Photo by Job Conger

The Springfield Art Association shows off part of its outstanding collection of early-20th-century paintings at a special exhibit that continues through March 19.

The show includes the first painting purchased by SAA, “Sardine Boats, Brittany.” The work by C. Arnold Slade, an internationally known artist at the time, was among several paintings displayed in the association’s first exhibit, in 1914, a year after the landmark Edwards Place was donated to the group.

Works by Springfield-born artists Ethel Mars (1876-1956) and Clementine Stuve (dates unknown), Tallula-born Richard Epperly (1891-1973), and Springfield High School art-department head Helen Knudson, an active association member in 1916, also are part of the exhibit. The oldest painting in the collection in the show is “The Smugglers”by George Morland (1764-1804). Probably the most famous artist in the gallery is George Peter Alexander Healy, known worldwide for his painting of Abraham Lincoln in which the 16th president is depicted with his chin resting on his hand. Healy’s portraits of George and Lucy Judd are among the paintings on display.

“These early American paintings are part of our permanent collection,” says Amanda Lampert, curator of collections. “We also have works on paper, the decorative-arts collection, the Pearson toy collection, and a small African-art collection as well. Every year we try to showcase part of it.”

The almost total absence of paintings of Springfield scenes may be a surprise to visitors, but it shouldn’t be. “During the turn of the century, even Springfield artists went to work and study art in Europe,” Lampert says. “There was much more patronage for artists there.”

The paintings were collected during the early life of association when it was actively purchasing paintings and featuring internationally known artists. The gallery, which originally comprised several parlors in Edwards Place before the additions were constructed, opened new exhibitions every three weeks or so. In 1945 the association exhibited paintings by Monet and Picasso.

“Today’s SAA members are part of a very different world today than in, say, 1930,” says Erika Fitzgerald, the association’s executive director. “Today, members are interested in our art classes. They also join to use our library and be informed of our receptions. In 1930, everyone volunteered. Today we have a professional staff and seven separate structures. One reason we don’t collect today is that we don’t have space to expand our collection in the climate-controlled rooms where it’s maintained. It is still our major interest to bring art to the people.”

SAA Collects: An Exhibition of Paintings from the Springfield Art Association Permanent Collection runs through March 19 at the Springfield Art Association Gallery of Art at Edwards Place, 700 N. Fourth St.; 217-523-2631. Hours are 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Mon.-Fri. and 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Sat. Admission is free. At 2 p.m. Saturday, March 12, Amanda Lampert, curator of collections, delivers a lecture on the collection. Admission to the exhibit, as well as the lecture, is free.

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