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June's red scrapbook


[June Beal in art gallery]June 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 Adams."

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.

[June's open scrapbook]While 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 turned out.

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 mess." Still.

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 "homeless."

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," she answered.

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 via





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