This year marked the 125th anniversary of the founding of Winona’s Women’s Art Class. Current members and guests celebrated the event on December 3 at the Winona History Center.
Founded as the Ladies’ Art Class in 1890, it was organized for the purpose of studying art. The 12 charter members were friends from “privileged backgrounds,” according to the late Lucy Youmans, a long-time member and author of a 1990 paper celebrating the group’s 100-year anniversary. Using Lubke’s “History of Art” and other art reference books, they planned each year’s subjects and even tested members on them! They met twice a month on Thursdays at 10 a.m., in the homes of members. In 1898, for reasons unknown, the word “ladies” was changed to “women’s.”
A new plan for presentations began in 1905, organizing art study by country with travel as the theme. In 1913 the group turned to the study of music and opera, making use of guest artists and a recent innovation, the Victrola. In 1916 they returned to art study, taking advantage of a lecture series by Austin Willard Lord at the library.
By 1918, support for the WWI effort had involved and exhausted many members. There was serious discussion of disbanding the group. However, a plan was agreed upon whereby no set program would be followed and each member could choose her topic for presentation. It was hoped that one paper on art should be given each year to justify the group’s name.
Topics for papers in this period reflect the times, among them several about the effects of war, the League of Nations, Bolshevism, immigration, and prohibition. The first history of the group was presented in 1925 and in the 1930s travelogues were common. The year 1940 marked the Art Class 50th Jubilee which was held at Briarcombe with members wearing period clothing.
In 1942 the war effort once more occupied members, and another change was made. Twice monthly meetings were cut to one per month and eventually summer and January meetings were dropped, creating the schedule that has continued to the present. The wide variety of topics that have been researched and presented include Alexander the Great, Egyptian monuments, the Bauhaus, composer Gabriel Faure, how to conserve energy (1981!), climbing Mount Rainier, carousels, ancient Mayan culture, the industrial revolution, Vaclav Havel, suspension bridges world-wide and the arts and crafts movement (which was also the Art Class theme from 1902-1905).
Technology has allowed presentations to be more dynamic, and in recent years, many meetings have been held at the Winona County History Center. Current members include teachers, professionals, artists, writers and others who enjoy expanding their knowledge in a wide variety of areas. Members continue to decide on their own subjects, and present once every two or three years. Papers given are archived at the History Center, providing a unique window into the history of the group as it mirrors the history of the times. We look forward to many more interesting presentations in the years to come!