A Short History of the Providence Art Club
Along Thomas Street, in the shadow of the First Baptist Church, stands a picturesque procession of historic houses, home to the studios, galleries, and Club House of the Providence Art Club. Said to be the oldest art club in the nation after the Salmagundi Club in New York, our distinguished Providence institution has been here so long that no one can remember a time when Thomas Street was not synonymous with the Providence Art Club.
In 1880 a group of professional artists, amateurs, and art collectors founded the Providence Art Club to stimulate the appreciation of art in the community. This new club would exist “for art culture,” the founders proposed, and when they met to draw up their charter one February night in 1880, they inscribed that phrase on their seal.
What they needed, the 16 founding men and women decided, was a place to gather, and an exhibition gallery where artists could show their work and collectors could find quality artworks. Within a month they had enlisted 128 members. Within six months the Art Club had leased an entire floor of a large building for studios and gallery space, where its first anniversary loan exhibition drew 1,500 visitors in two weeks. Soon the Club had outgrown its quarters, and by the winter of 1886 it had moved to its present home on Thomas Street.
Club members established a Club House in the 1790 Obadiah Brown House, where they combined its second and third floors to create a grand exhibition gallery flooded with daylight from the windows in its monitor roof. There the Art Club holds its dramatic presentations, musical evenings, and lectures. On the ground floor the founders preserved the old kitchen and dining room, where they gathered at lunch for Rhode Island jonnycakes — a tradition still observed today. The artists furnished the Club House with tables and chairs of their own design and construction. They decorated the fresh plaster with ornamental friezes, and then painted the silhouette profiles of Club members on the walls. They made fantastic wrought-iron andirons for the fireplace and lined the shelves with their beer steins. Paneled with the original wooden shutters saved from the old windows, the Club House is renowned for having some of the most comfortable and charming club interiors in Providence.
Just as the Club has worked to preserve its buildings, it has remained dedicated to the spirit that inspired its beginning. The Providence Art Club continues a tradition of sponsoring and supporting the visual arts in Providence and Rhode Island in an atmosphere of good company and pleasant surroundings.
— Robert P. Emlen, 38th President (1991–1993)
The Providence Art Club was organized on February 19, 1880 when a group of 16 men and women met in the studio of Eimrich Rein on North Main Street. They chose temporary officers, appointed a committee to draft a constitution, and drew up a compact — “agreeing to form ourselves into an organization to be called the Providence Art Club.” The 16 original signers of this compact — our founders — were 12 artists, four non-artists; ten men, six women:
Katherine H. Austin
Edward M. Bannister
Frederick S. Batcheller
Charles E. Carpenter
Harriet B. Chace
Lottie F. Dailey
Robert E. Hallworth
James S. Lincoln
Rosa F. Peckham
George M. Porter
Charles Walter Stetson
Eleanor W. Talbot
George W. Whitaker
The Providence Art Club is born on North Main Street.
Sydney Burleigh builds the Fleur de Lys Studio.
The Art Club leases the Brick House.
Dodge House foundation is raised one story for a meat market.
The Art Club gets deed of Brick House, thanks to the railroad tunnel.
The Art Club buys Dodge House and builds a bridge.
Mrs. Burleigh gives Fleur de Lys to the Art Club.
The Art Club purchases the Deacon Taylor House.
“Oakes on the Hill” art supplies vacates ground floor; space to be used for exhibition gallery.
Fleur de Lys named National Historic Landmark.
Building expansion project begins.