Fifty-nine years of art and inspiration
When Conny Negelspach would attend the Gresham Society of Artists' annual shows with her four children, her youngest always thought if he voted for the winning piece he would be the proud owner of a beautiful painting.
While voting for the eventual winners didn't mean a new piece of art, much to 6-year-old Greg's chagrin, the society's shows were a highlight for the community every year.
The events allowed local artists a free opportunity to showcase their work, and attendees enjoyed coffee, tea, punch and homemade cookies.
Each show had winners in 13 categories, and was the perfect way to celebrate the creativity within Gresham.
"We did art strictly for ourselves and our neighbors, the original idea was to do this free for Gresham," Negelspach said. "We worked all year to have the best paintings on display."
But the Gresham Society of Artists — in its 59th year — closed its doors as membership declined.
"It was really hard for me to say its finished," said Negelspach, who joined in 1971 and would go on to serve as the president and treasurer.
The first meeting was held in April 1958 at the home of Wally Hanlon, one of the club's founding members. He was joined by A.W. O'Connell, Ronald Rior, Matthew Shields and Norman Norquist. The group began as the Mt. Hood Art Club, though the name was changed to avoid any misunderstanding with the community college.
The society would meet every week on Tuesday nights, eventually changing to the afternoon to avoid driving home in the dark, where they would paint alongside each other.
Throughout the year they would put together pieces that would be put on display during the yearly art show.
At first, all of the members painted using oil, though that would change as the years went by and people branched into new mediums. During the group's peak, there would be about 30 members painting alongside one another.Jo Curry joined in 1961, and quickly became the go-to person for the society. She was an energetic person, willing to give everything she had to ensure things went smoothly. Curry had several stints as the president, and according to Negelspach, was always willing to take on any challenges the group faced.
"When Jo passed away is when the club started to fall apart," Negelspach said of her friend who died in 2013.
During the annual shows, the members would put on display between 100 and 150 of their paintings. They would spend all afternoon setting things up, before going home to get dressed up for the evening show. The categories of competition included things like best landscape, snow scenes, seascapes, animals, miniatures and portraits. They also had a potpourri category for anything they couldn't place.
The group would then spend eight hours sifting through the ballots to figure out the winners of each section and award ribbons to the members.The shows were originally held at the East Gresham Grade School cafeteria, later moving to local churches, Main City Park, and eventually the Gresham Grange where the last show was held three years ago. In the end, there were only four members left — not enough to keep the group going.
"It's not fun when there isn't a lot of people," Negelspach said. "When we had a large group, we would all get in the same zone while painting — feed off each other's energy."
While the society no longer meets every week, art is still an important part of Negelspach's life. Her home is filled with paintings, with each of her kids having a favorite. She also still paints, joining a painting group with the other remaining society members at the Gresham Senior Center.
"Even though its gone, the group lives on in spirit," she said.