The annual celebration of the Art Colony legacy is known as Promenade des Arts. The Promenade was conceived and executed by a group of dedicated volunteers in 2001 as a celebration of Ste. Genevieve's proud artistic heritage. The site of the original Artists' Colony was the Shaw House, now part of the Felix Valle Historic Site, and permission was obtained from the State of Missouri to hold an exhibit of works by Colony artists. The Sainte Genevieve Art Guild adopted the event, and each year thereafter, an exhibit featuring an artist with connection to the Colony has been held at the Shaw House. But the foremost goal of the event remains to educate the public about the traditions of art in Sainte Genevieve.
The reception for the Promenade des Arts is the highlight of the event, and often includes presentations, commemorations and artistic or historic connections with the Colony and the featured artist(s). The very first Art Colony exhibit was held September 29, 1932, at the Shaw House, and the Promenade des Arts has always been held within a week or two of that date.
The following artists have been featured at previous Promenades:
|2001||Art Colony Artists|
|2008||Marie Catherine "Dolly Dufour" Surkamp|
|2010||Thomas Hart Benton|
|2012||Art Colony Founders: Jessie Beard Rickly, Bernard E. Peters, and Aimee Schweig|
|2014||80th Anniversary of Summer School of Art: Matthew Zeigler|
|2017||Bernard E. Peters|
The 2014 Summer School of Art event included three major workshops, a retrospective exhibit on Matthew Zeigler, lectures and events spanning three weeks, celebrating the 80th anniversary of the founding of the Summer School of Art by Aimee Schweig and Jessie Beard Rickley. The 2012 Promenade des Arts celebrated the 80th Anniversary of the founding of the colony with an exhibit of 28 works by the three founding artists.
The Art Colony Founders: Three figures were largely responsible for the creation of the summer art colony: Jessie Beard Rickly, Aimee Goldstone Schweig, and Bernard E. Peters. All three were St. Louisans who had experienced the creative stimulation of participating in already-famous artists’ communities on the East Coast. Hoping to be able to create a similar environment for artists in the Midwest, in the summer of 1932 they migrated to Sainte Genevieve. Why the founders selected Sainte Genevieve for their project was described by Rickly in a newspaper article from the period. There were two reasons she decided to spend the summer of 1932 painting in this city instead of at Gloucester or Provincetown, Massachusetts, she said. One was the Great Depression that had settled over the nation. The other was her “conviction that there were enough things worth painting in the Middle West, particularly at Ste. Genevieve, to make it worth while.”
The Shaw House as Studio: The plan for a summer colony moved quickly after Frank Nudescher, a friend of Peters who was known as “the painter of the Ozarks,” took Peters and Peters’ wife on their first visit to the town. Nudescher had been mpressed by the town’s architecture and quaintness. Peters was immediately taken with the community. He found a rental house in the center of town that would be suitable as a live-in studio--the Shaw House, now part of the Felix Valle State Historic Site. He let Rickly know of its availability. The Peters and the Ricklys decided to rent the house for the summer of 1932. Schweig, recently returned from the East and on her way to being well-known in art circles, signed on that same summer and played a leadership role. Other artists who visited and worked with colony that first summer included Vera Flinn, Miriam McKinnie, and Sister Cassiana Marie, along with Schweig’s young daughter, Martyl, and Sister Cassiana’s nephew, Sainte Genevieve resident Matthew E. Ziegler.
The Colony’s First Show: In the Fall of 1932, the artists held their first show. Reports from the period say some 200 people attended the event, held at the Shaw House studio. Later, an exhibition of the art created here was mounted at the St. Louis Artists Guild and was well-received. Other artists joined the founders over the years, and by 1934 the Summer School of Art had been established. Over the next few years, notable artists were associated with the group, including Fred Conway, E. Oscar Thalinger, Joseph “Joe” Jones (who visited the Colony during its initial year), Joseph Paul Vorst, and art world luminary Thomas Hart Benton. (However, Rickly severed her ties with the project in 1935.) The Colony and school won significant attention and critical acclaim. But local events––notably strikes at area lime plants––changed the atmosphere of the town in 1937, and damped the enthusiasm of the artists. Deepening economic troubles, both locally and nationwide,also played a role in the cancellation of the Summer School of Art after that year. While Schweig, Peters and a few others made occasional visits to Sainte Genevieve after 1938 (Schweig kept a lease on the Shaw house until 1941), U.S. entry into World War II ultimately brought the demise of the Colony. But the Colony artists left their mark here and in far broader art circles.
The Lasting Legacy: During their tenure in Sainte Genevieve, the artists and students focused on the subjects they found here: the beauty of the countryside, the quaint charm of the little town’s historic architecture, and the people who lived in this small community. The works are vibrant examples of the Regionalism movement and a vivid portrait of the town as it was then. Equally important is the fact that ongoing interest in the Colony has provided the stimulus for the development of the contemporary art scene in Sainte Genevieve. A talented and active art community, a thriving local art guild, over a dozen public art venues, and a year-round schedule of art events are part of the Colony legacy. Today––even seven decades after the Colony closed its doors––Sainte Genevieve is home to and at home with the visual arts. Indeed, the town still can proudly proclaim: Art happens here!
For biographies on Art Colony artists, two books are an excellent reference:
Rogers, James. G., Jr. The Ste. Genevieve Artists' Colony and Summer School of Art 1932-1941, Foundation for Restoration Sainte Genevieve, Missouri 1998
Kerr, Scott and Dick, R. H. An American Art Colony; the Art and Artists of Ste. Genevieve, Missouri 1930-1940. St. Louis Mercantile Library, 2004