South Haven Center For The Arts

600 Phoenix Street
South Haven, MI 49090

269-637-1041

Mission

Community Enrichment Through the Arts by Providing Opportunities for the Community to Explore, Discover and Experience the Arts.

History:

The South Haven Art League was organized in 1951 under the sponsorship of the American Association of University Women. The original purpose of the Art League was to encourage individual artists to go into the field and to create an interest in and foster the growth of art in the community. The art association has nurtured many artists over the years through its programs and classes.

Marilyn Itzen, who is still an active member of the South Haven Art Association in 1995, was one of the Art Leagues 28 charter members. She remembers Natalie Pettis the groups first president, a very talented and energetic woman. Itzen said the Art League held its first membership show in 1951. She also recalls that the organization held its first Outdoor Exhibit in July 1957 in Dyckman Park. Two years later they moved the location of the exhibit to Oakland Park, which was later renamed Stanley Johnston Park, the present site of the Summer Art Fair. The first outdoor show attracted the biggest crowd in the morning when they were hanging the show, Itzen remembered.

They hung the paintings on a clothesline strung between trees. Back in those early days, the dues were one dollar, Itzen said. By 1977 dues had increased to ten dollars. (And today a senior citizen membership is only twenty dollars.) Itzen developed her artistic skills by taking painting classes. Some of her favorite teachers were Fran Larsen, Harold Elias and Win Jones. Itzen said one of her teachers, Fran Larsen, became quite famous nationally. William Scudella, who was a member of the art center, was an internationally known stained glass artist. He exhibited in spring shows and had a retrospective exhibit in 1990, the year he died.

The South Haven Art League changed its name to the South Haven Art Association in 1980, according to the organizations records. Itzen said the art association played a big part in her life and helped her to develop her artistic abilities. I just loved the art association, she said. I enjoyed the people so much. I did go to fairs and sold some of my work. We did have such jolly times at our meetings. Sometimes wed have an artist demonstrate. The art association only had twenty five dollars in the treasury when I joined, she recalled. The membership used to run it, she continued. Wed take a vote among the members, but that all changed when the board took over.

Another person who recalls the formative years of the art association is Karna Globensky. She served as treasurer of the South Haven Art Association from 1977-1978. She taught aerobics in the large upstairs room when the Warren Center Food service was using the first floor. At that time, our main focus was to save money from the Summer Art Show and put it towards a building, she said. The group held the spring show at the Episcopal Church or at City Hall. Globensky likes to do watercolors, pastels and oils. She remembers one of her teachers - Lullu Nowman - with fondness. She could hardly see. She checked our paintings with a magnifying glass. She had us paint pastels on fine sandpaper.

The group met in members homes for 20 years before the association leased the old Carnegie library from the City of South Haven in 1984. The building, which was erected in 1906 in the neo-classic style, housed the public library until 1959. The former library then served as a senior citizens center and a teen center. The building is now known as the South Haven Center for the Arts. Art Schewe played a key role in the process of obtaining the old Carnegie library building. I knew how important it was to have a place to meet, he said. I saw that the old library was vacant, and I pushed for the building. Mike Cavanagh was president at the time, but the woman that really made things happen was Persis Faasen, Schewe said. She was the one that put the building together.

La Verne Adkin also played an important part during this period. He helped guide the art center through a time of change and expansion. I think we should give the city credit for their cooperation in giving us a long term lease, Adkin said. It had been a goal of the organization for a long time to obtain a building. The members all stuck together through the process of obtaining the building and remodeling it, he said.

The art center received a $50,000 grant from the State of Michigan to help renovate the interior. The renovation wouldnt have been possible without it, Adkin recalled. It required a combined effort of state funds, the organizations savings and some grant money from the city. The city put in a new furnace. When the organization was in the middle of that, we took in a lot of new members who added new vigor and brought needed skills to the organization. We operated there the first two years with a faulty heating system and plaster falling off the walls.

In 1988, the first floor was renovated, which transformed a dark, dingy unattractive space into a well-lighted beautiful gallery. In the summer of 1989, the second floor was renovated. This included upgrading the ceiling, floor, walls and installing new lighting. Things really began to move forward after a forced-air furnace was installed and later a kitchenette.

Despite the changes brought about by having a building, the organization kept its calendar full. The Summer Art Fair, under the leadership of Steve French, grew bigger every year. French almost single handily ran the Summer Art Fair from 1975 to 1990. He has been a member of the art association since 1971 and served as president from 1981 to 1985 and from 1988 to 1990. I built up the seed money to refurbish the art center,  French said. Every year when I was president and chairman of the Art Fair, we made about $7,000 to $8,000 that went into an account for a permanent art center, he said.

He also started a permanent collection of art that could be loaned out to businesses. Every year we would buy from a local or regional artist. It was a good way to support a local artist. When we got the Carnegie building, we were supposed to have a space for the permanent collection, but that never happened. 

The South Haven Art Association grew in new ways during the time that Persis Faasen was at the helm. She steered the art association as president from 1985-1987, and as director from 1987-1990. I oversaw all the downstairs renovation, she said.

We spent only $5,000 because so much of the work was donated. She also helped with marketing, fund raising and she established a quarterly newsletter. Faasen expanded the mailing list to 500 so the organization could take advantage of bulk mailing. She helped obtain a filing cabinet and an answering machine, established an office procedure and hired a secretary through AARP at no cost to the organization. I recruited new members through marketing and fund raisers, she said.

One of the biggest successes at the time was the Haunted House, which brought in $2,000. I felt partially responsible for getting the grant for the upstairs renovation because the art center had become so visible through the promotion and the exhibits. I tried to get attention by mixing avant-garde with more conservative shows.

The Art Association hired Cathy Catania in April 1990, only months before the Grand Opening of the newly remodeled art center. The Grand Opening was a gala affair culminating the years of hard work of the volunteers and staff. La Verne Adkin recorded 80 hours of art center activities, including the renovation process and the Grand Opening in June 1990. These tapes are available upon request.

Catania accomplished many goals which laid the groundwork for the art center today. I have Rosemary Thurber to thank for her guidance as president of the board during most of my tenure, and Persis Faasen for previous trailblazing in a chronologically old, but organizationally young arts organization, Catania said. Shortly after she took the helm at the art center, Governor John Engler drastically cut state funding for the arts and Michigan went from third in arts funding to dead last. This had a definite impact on my time as coordinator, she said. The highlight of the shows she curated was a Retrospective Exhibit of artist Ted Dickerson. Teds monumental art exhibit revealed a lifetime of paintings, sculptures and assemblages that were both humorous and profound.

In February of 1995, the art center lost Ted, one of its most beloved and unforgettable artists. Ted was one of the most accomplished artists in this region. He had exhibited in the Smithsonian Institute, the Art Institute of Chicago and other prestigious museums.

Catania set and achieved many goals during her tenure. I would say that the Art Association grew from a burgeoning club with a newly renovated building to a public organization known as the South Haven Center for the Arts during my tenure. The list of her accomplishments is impressive.

She immediately set up an office and established regular public hours. Under her leadership, volunteer committees sprang up and now are the life energy of the organization. She helped establish a regular schedule of classes and attracted a variety of talented instructors. She re-organized the Summer Art Fair, Holiday Gift Show and initiated the Preview Party. She established an exhibition schedule that included curated monthly exhibits, a faculty show and a 3 x 3x 3D Auction, for which she credited Scott Wilson for starting and igniting into a fun and profitable event. In addition, she established the organizations mission statement, Promoting Community Enrichment Through The Arts.

The board hired Michelle Spencer in May 1993, who curated art shows, which appealed especially to the youth and children of the community. She resigned in May of the following year. In December 1994, the board hired Michael Fiedorowicz. In his first six months, Fiedorowicz found underwriters for two key shows, upgraded and streamlined the art centers office procedures and oversaw the most profitable Holiday Gift Show in the organizations history. Michael has shown he is a man of vision and action.

This history was prepared by Kristin Hay as a volunteer project in her capacity as Art Center Historian.  Completed May 14, 1995.

Historical tidbits on the building:

Excerpts from the South Haven Tribune 1905 & 1906

One Hundred Years ago...

In the local newspaper on October 6, 1905 the announcement appearing, the Cornerstone of the Carnegie Library was laid at two oclock this afternoon...copies of the Daily and Weekly tribune, the Evening Post and the Citizen Advocate, a copy of the library catalog, and the card of HM Avery, EE Abell, OXC Schmidt, WW Holmes, Liberty Bailey were placed in the tin box in the aperture of the corner stone, besides a number of US coins bearing various dates. Among the other unique relics deposited in the box were a cannon ball.

The Tribune reported (Oct. 27, 1905):

The last two of the big columns at the library building were lifted into place today. The fashioning of these columns from the rough stone attracted a good deal of attention from the passersby, few of whom could not resist the temptation to linger a moment and watch the columns take shape under the skillful hands of the workmen. The fine carving for the cornice and capitals is also being watched with much interest by the citizens who happen around the building.

The former Carnegie Building was opened in 1906, the result of a $12,500 gift from the Andrew Carnegie Foundation. The building was vacant after the library moved to its new quarters in 1959. Years of neglect made the building a prime candidate for the wrecking ball. The South Haven Art Association was determined to save the building and the first spring after they got the all-clear sign from the city, the group held its annual show there despite the cracked plaster and peeling paint.

Carnegie Library delays formal opening

Carnegie Library hours will be afternoons and evenings from 1 to 5:30 and 6:30 to 8:30. Owing to the delay in receiving the furniture, the Board has been obliged to delay the formal opening. The Board did not want to keep the reading public waiting any longer for a chance to resume the privileges of the library.

Carnegie Library holds opening reception after many delays

On July 27, 1906, an opening reception was held in the library rooms from 1-5 p.m. after numerous delays. Some members of the library board reception committee included Capt. W.S. Bradley, Mrs. H.M. Avery and C.E. Abell. Featured musical presenters were the Schubert Quartet. Others gave talks on the history of South Haven Library, Andrew Carnegie and his gifts, the library for the school and the library for the community. Today, the art center carries on the community spirit of the Carnegie Library with its coffeehouses, classes and art exhibits.

Big stones formed the first course of the library building.

The work began at the northeast corner, where two comparatively small stones were set, and was continued along the front with very large ones. The stones were picked up and swung into place with the derrick, which is so geared that one man can easily raise or lower the stone while two others guided it into place. The work did not progress far enough to lay the corner stone, which will be done in a day or so. The corner stone will be cut to contain a copper box 8 by 8 by 12 inches, in which will be placed the newspapers and records.

Carnegie Library a stacked house of many colors

The library board decided to purchase the stacks described in yesterdays Tribune as selected by C.E. Abell. It was found, however, that upon measuring the stack room, the stacks will have to be 12 feet instead of 15 feet in length. The library walls will be tinted, the front, or reading room in a bright, but rather dark, shade of red, with old ivory ceiling, the rotunda hall and reference room in a rich green with light yellow ceiling. The stack room will be in French gray, with a drop ceiling of some corresponding shade.

Big Columns are now in place at Carnegie Library

Can you imagine what it must have been like to see our art center/Carnegie Library being built?

Local company plumbs Carnegie

According to the Tribune, the Carnegie Library was plumbed by the South Haven Plumbing, Heating and Lighting Company. The company worked for three days on the rough plumbing work. The boiler arrived for the hot water heating but will not be installed for some time.

Just how did the Carnegie Library come to South Haven?

According to the Tribune the idea of asking Mr. Carnegie to favor South Haven with one of his libraries had been broached many times by many different persons. The credit for starting the successful movement belongs largely to Mrs. C.R. Hemenway along with C.E. Abell and W.W. Holmes, secretary of the library board. Mrs. Hemenway carried on some correspondence with Carnegie and got him interested in the City of South Haven. Because she could make no pledges as Carnegie required, she enlisted the services of Secretary Holmes. In May, 1904, Holmes received a letter form Mr. Franks, the library secretary of Mr. Carnegie, saying that the latter would give $15,000 in case the Board would pledge ten percent of that sum for maintenance. The offer was subsequently changed to $12,500, which was the sum given by Mr. Carnegie. The winning bid for constructing the building was that of J.L. Simmons of Chicago. His figure was $10,684

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