Coeur d’Alene’s Art Study Group Unites Members in Shared Passion for 95 Years

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Coeur d'Alene Art Study Club member Jo Ann Nelson


September is back-to-school month for the young and young-at-heart alike, including a group of north Idaho women whose shared interest in art has kept the Art Study Club alive for an impressive 95 years.

“Everyone is a teacher, and everyone has something to learn,” said Jane Morgan, one of several retired teachers in the Coeur d’Alene-based group, which dates back to December 1922. One reason club dues are kept so “absurdly” low (at $5), explained Morgan, is they don’t want to do anything other than meet, do a little socializing, and then talk about art.

The format is similar for most meetings, which usually last three hours and occur twice monthly, excluding summer months. The designated host is responsible for providing a light meal, while the presenter is tasked with a presentation relevant to the annual theme.

On our visit, for example, member Pat Swann — the most senior member at age 92 — hosted the group in the meeting room of North Star Retirement Community, where she resides, while Johanna-Claire Cooperstein discussed the portraiture techniques of American-born Impressionist Mary Cassat.

Some past themes, said Morgan, include genres and general categories, such as regional artists and outsider artists. For their 90th anniversary year, they focused on women artists.

In recent years, the central idea has been exploring artists’ processes, including printmaking by early Renaissance master, Albrecht Dürer, and Jacob Lawrence’s gouache paintings from 1930s-40s life in New York City.

Morgan, for example, will contrast two styles of woodworking: that of her late father, Tom Cromwell, and Emilie Brzezinski, wife of the late U.S. Foreign Policy advisor, Zbigniew Brzezinski, who are parents to MSNBC’s Morning Joe host, Mika Brzezinski.

“I love researching, and I did a lot of research as a teacher, but this is research for an adult audience,” said Morgan, who joined eight years ago after retiring from the Coeur d’Alene School District, where she taught elementary art for 22 years.

“This is for pure love of teaching and learning. There’s no paycheck involved.”

The club originally had 10 charter members, many of them prominent in Coeur d’Alene’s early-20th century society, which saw huge increases in population. Firmly established as a resort and outdoor destination, Coeur d’Alene in the 1920s was transitioning from its heyday as a lumber and mill town, although steamboats were still a primary mode of both commercial and recreational travel.

“It was really always considered to be an honor to be a part of this group,” said Morgan.

Current membership is capped at 20 and cuts across varied industries: education, healthcare, social work, business, and, of course, the arts.

Member Sue Jacklin, for example, is a painter, whose civic contributions include the preservation and renovation of a late-19th century church in Post Falls, Idaho, which would become an arts-enriched community center called the Jacklin Arts and Cultural Center.

Retired North Idaho College instructor and Art Study Club member Jo Ann Nelson serves on the Idaho Humanities Council, while Blair Williams runs Coeur d’Alene’s Art Spirit Gallery.

About half the members have experience making and exhibiting artwork, including Teresa McHugh, the next-to-youngest member at 56, who makes her living as a sculptor and welder.

“I’m self-educated,” said McHugh, “so the Study Club opened my eyes to art history more.”

Another benefit, said McHugh, are the meetings themselves, which usually begin with a fair amount of hugging and how-have-you-beens amongst members. Many women are longstanding members, thus have known each other through births, deaths, marriages and everything in between.

McHugh, who joined in 2012, likes being part of a group that is not only supportive of the arts — they walk the walk, said McHugh— but that also stretches back many generations.

“I love the tradition,” she said. ISI