The East Suburban Artists League has come a long way since hosting its first art show in a dirt-floor cinderblock storeroom at the Holiday Park Shopping Center.
Last weekend, the group marked its 50th anniversary with a membership dinner at Jaden's in Monroeville.
It was formed in 1965 — back then it was the Holiday Park Art League — in founder Mary Ann Clarke's Plum living room.
“I met a few of my neighbors who were interested in art, and we starting talking about it and eventually getting together in the evenings to paint,” said Clarke, who traveled from her home in Cape Charles, Va., to attend the dinner.
Today ESAL boasts membership of nearly 70 from all over the east suburbs, with 40 to 50 active members, according to Joy Anglin of Murrysville, the group's vice president.
“The people in the group are very interested in promoting the arts, whether it's photography, painting or even fabric art,” Anglin said.
“It's been good to see how everyone is so supportive of each other. There's a certain amount of competitiveness at (judged) shows, but everyone is very encouraging.”
The dinner was an occasion to recognize several members' contributions, including what will become an annual presentation: the Gerrie and William Harlacher Award, funded through a donation from the Harlachers' estate to the league and presented to a member who has made strides in promoting both the league and the arts.
This year's initial recipient was 94-year-old photographer Joyce Frost, who joined ESAL in the 1980s along with her husband, Larry, also a photographer. They joined after serving as speakers for an ESAL meeting.
Mrs. Frost began taking black-and-white photos at age 15 and hand-colored them.
She turned to digital images in 2009 and has received numerous awards for her photos in art shows held locally by ESAL and other organizations, as well as a Green Eagle Achievement Award from the Photographic Society of America, where she has been a member for 65 years.
“She's just done so much for the club over the years,” Anglin said of Mrs. Frost.
Clarke gave credit to S. Vince Cascone, who owned and operated the former Valley Art Shop in New Kensington, for helping ESAL in its early days.
“He gave us a lot of advice when we were getting started,” Clarke said.
The group's first show in that Holiday Park Shopping Center cinderblock storeroom was in February 1965.
“It was freezing cold, but we did it, we had a wonderful time, and we just never quit,” Clarke said.
By 1966, the group was growing and meeting in several locations throughout Plum, although as she looked through 1966 photographs, Clarke observed that it was still making its own ribbons and printing its own catalogs. As members began joining from outside Holiday Park, the group changed its name to East Suburban Artists League.
“There were just people from so many different places who wanted this kind of thing, our membership developed pretty quickly,” Clarke said.
After moving the show from the shopping center to what was then the community room at the Monroeville Mall, ESAL began holding two annual shows. Today, it regularly holds a show at the Penn State New Kensington campus.
Throughout the group's existence, Clarke said, she is most proud of its dedication to arts education.
“That's what we tried to establish as quickly as we could,” she said. “We had educational speakers at all of our meetings, and we had some really, really impressive artists talk to the group.”
For more information on becoming a member of the East Suburban Artists League, call George Williams at 412-244-1767
Patrick Varine is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-871-2365 or firstname.lastname@example.org.