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by LINDA MITCHELL
Beal lent me her Redwood Art Association (RAA) scrapbook several
weeks ago, but I was almost afraid to touch it until recently.
It wasn't only the daunting amount of information contained within
this important local cultural archive that gave me pause -- it
was the fragile nature of the scrapbook itself, a bulky yet delicate
50-year-old behemoth, falling apart at the seams. After I finally
summoned up the courage to open it, I turned the pages gingerly,
not wanting to further damage the crumbling edges.
When June started keeping this
tattered red scrapbook back in the 1950s, Humboldt County was
a very different place, culturally speaking. Early newspaper
clippings include grainy black and white photographs of initial
Redwood "Empire" Art Association events such as "Adventures
in Art" films and "drip-painting" demonstrations,
attended by men in business suits and housewives wearing skirts
and high heel pumps. The local art news was featured on the "Women's
Pages" of the Humboldt Times and the Humboldt
Standard, and June was referred to as "Mrs. Clayton
June, who celebrated her 84th
birthday this year, tells me she was one of the eight original
founding members of the RAA, a small group of culturally minded
citizens who decided back in 1956 that it was high time Humboldt
had an arts organization. When the RAA was formed, cultural pickings
in the region were slim; there was no Humboldt Arts Council or
Morris Graves Museum, no Arts Alive!, no Ink People, no Dell'Arte,
no Mateel or Westhaven Center for the Arts. HSU was still HSC
and the College of the Redwoods hadn't even been built yet.
the RAA is known today for the three art competitions it produces
each year in fall, spring and summer, in the early days the organization
played a much larger role in the community. In addition to those
art films and demonstrations, the RAA sponsored cultural "field
trips," classes, workshops, exhibitions and outreach programs,
providing critical support and collaborative opportunities for
local artists and other cultural organizations.
Of course, all these community
offerings meant the RAA was always scrambling to raise funds.
In the early days, the members sponsored "champagne galas,"
fashion shows, tea parties, a Bohemian dance, and (my personal
favorite) a parking lot "clothesline sale" of unframed
paintings, priced from 75 cents to a $1.50.
A dominant theme running through
June's scrapbook is the RAA's perpetual quest to find a permanent
home, a pursuit that continues to this day. In the beginning,
the group met in the library at Eureka Junior High and exhibited
its shows at the Eureka Inn, and newspaper clippings of meetings
generally noted the group's need to find permanent digs.
The RAA's first potential home
was mentioned in a series of articles in 1963, beginning Feb.
26, when the Eureka City Council voted to lease the old, vacant
Firehouse No. 6 on J Street to the RAA for the "development
of an art center." A March 6 Humboldt Standard headline,
"Artists Out, Firemen In," illustrates how that one
In 1964, the group was reported
to be in their "downstairs studio," the basement of
Humboldt Federal Savings on the corner of Sixth and G. Two years
later they turned a space at Second and G into a gallery, where
they partnered with the California Arts Council and the (brand-new)
Humboldt Arts Council for a remarkable show, as reported in the
May 4 edition of the Humboldt Standard:
"The modest premises at
600 Second Street -- which became a home of art in Eureka with
the RAA show 10 days ago -- blossomed again splendidly last night
with the arrival of 25 famous paintings from California museums,
spanning the last 150 years." The show included work by
Gilbert Stuart, Winslow Homer, Morris Graves, Wayne Thiebaud,
Edward Hopper, Andrew Wyeth, Mark Tobey and Richard Diebenkorn.
Finally, a "permanent"
home for the RAA was found, according to a Jan. 8, 1967, Humboldt
Times article: "The towering, red plum residence James
Simpson built on the southwest corner of G and Ninth Streets
in 1892 has been purchased by the RAA, which will give it a bright
new life as a center of community activity."
Purchased? Yes, indeed, says June. The RAA bought (with an
anonymous donation) that glorious, massive Victorian now occupied
by the Redwood Community Action Agency for a mere $7,000 back
in 1967, then turned around and sold it for a song two years
later because they couldn't afford the upkeep. "It didn't
look like it does today," June tells me. "It was a
In April 1968 the RAA renovated
the old Rialto Theatre at 525 F St. and for a few years that
space served as the region's "Cultural Center," a venue
supported in large part by the group's "Call it Wild"
productions, community vaudeville shows they produced between
1968 and 1971.
June tells me the proceeds from
the show also "helped the Humboldt Arts Council get their
start," by funding their first home at 422 First St. (where
HSU's First Street Gallery is today) in the early 1970s. For
nearly 20 years the RAA held its annual shows at that location,
but when HAC moved out in the `90s, the RAA again found themselves
I consider how nice it would
be for June's RAA scrapbook, like the organization itself, to
find a permanent location. The book contains a wealth of information,
not only about the RAA but about the entire cultural history
of our region.
The scrapbook ends in the mid-1970s,
with loose clippings into the early 1980s, but June says she's
saved "everything" related to the RAA over the years
and has it stored in file cabinets. The only member to serve
continuously on the all-volunteer board throughout the RAA's
48-year history, June says she has no plans to retire. I asked
her why she sticks with it. "Well -- because it's my baby,"
The RAA's Fall Exhibition
will be at 517 Fifth St., Eureka (in another gallery space they
developed) from Nov. 20 through Dec. 13, with an Arts Alive!
opening reception from 6 to 9 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 6, 2003.
Linda Mitchell can be reached
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