Volume 79, Number 22 | November 04 - 10, 2009
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

A photo from the 1940s showing the Salmagundi Club’s Upper Gallery set up as a dining room. The skylight was destroyed by a heavy snowfall in 1955, and its repair is part of the club’s current capital campaign.  

Salmagundi auction will help restore a ‘glass ceiling’ 

By Claudia Seymour

Do the words “auction” and “artwork” stir your blood? Are you fascinated by the history of American art? Are you interested in helping a famed art institution find the funds to renovate its historic galleries? If any of these questions resonates with you, then direct your steps to 47 Fifth Ave. on Thurs., Nov. 5. That evening the iconic Salmagundi Club, one of the oldest art organizations in the United States, will hold a silent auction and raffle to begin its capital campaign for the renovation of its exhibition galleries. 

Founded in 1871 by a group of artists and art students, Salmagundi grew from its humble beginnings as an informal sketch class to become an internationally recognized art organization within a decade. By the end of the 19th century, it had become, in the words of its famous fourth president, Thomas Moran, “the most artistic association in the whole country.” 

Early members included William Merritt Chase, J. Francis Murphy, Howard Pyle, Theodore Robinson, and Edward Potthast — important figures in 19th-century American art. As the 20th century dawned, names such as Childe Hassam, Louis Comfort Tiffany, J. Alden Weir, N. C. Wyeth and others were added to the rolls. These and many additional Salmagundi Club members were instrumental in forging a national identity and played a vital role in helping the American public develop a greater understanding and appreciation of art. 

In 1917 the club’s members purchased our landmark building at 47 Fifth Ave. Originally it was a private residence and later a boarding house. The Salmagundians had great plans for this structure. Maintaining many of the beautiful mid-19th-century architectural details of the home, the members constructed galleries in the area formerly occupied by gardens at the rear of the structure. Upstairs they converted the master suite into a library for books on art, and downstairs they built a dining room and bar.

Those same galleries are today in need of renovation and refurbishment. The Upper and Lower Galleries host five exhibitions a year by national art organizations, like the American Watercolor Society and the National Society of Painters in Acrylic and Casein, as well as up to more than a dozen members’ shows annually. The Upper Gallery also featured a beautiful and illuminating skylight — that fell in after a particularly heavy snowfall in 1955! Although, fortunately, no one was injured in the collapse, Salmagundi has gone without that important natural light for more than 50 years.

Plans are now underway for the redesign and renovation of the two principal galleries to their former brilliance and beauty. An outstanding architect who works frequently on the restoration of period and historic buildings, Lisa Easton of Easton Architects, LLP, has been retained and is already at work. Ms. Easton has worked on the restoration of some of the greater New York area’s most important landmarks, and recently she and her firm renovated one of the galleries and its skylight at The Cloisters in Fort Tryon Park. Forensic analysis of Salmagundi’s existing structure has begun, and design and planning are in the beginning stages. 

In fact, a preliminary sketch of the newly redesigned Upper Gallery — including a skylight once again — will be unveiled at the Nov. 5 event. Attendees, who will enjoy a cocktail party and hors d’oeuvres while bidding on silent auction items and buying raffle tickets, will be among the first to see the new display. Silent auction items include getaways in elegant vacation homes from Vermont to the Hamptons, from Puerto Rico to the Sierra Mountains in California. Tickets to sporting and cultural events, dinners at local restaurants, services, artwork and other items will be available for bidding. Information on attendance can be obtained from the club at 212-255-7740 ext. 0, and ticket prices include modest and premium options.

Over the years since its founding, Salmagundi has continued its traditions with year-round exhibitions in the galleries seven days a week, drop-in art classes, programs, demonstrations by renowned artists and sculptors and instructional lectures. Participants learn how artists can use different media to advertise and sell their work, the legal aspects of protecting one’s art in the public realm and the use of various paints and art mediums by their manufacturers, to name but a few. Virtually everything offered at the Salmagundi Club is open to the public — either at no or only a most modest charge.

The organization founded and presented the first City Workers Art Exhibition in 2006 as an outreach activity for those who support our quality of life in New York City. A second City Workers Art Exhibition was held in 2008, and plans are underway for a third. In addition, in 1960 Salmagundi established a scholarship program to afford promising young artists both an opportunity to exhibit their work and a chance to interact with and learn from more established artists.

Today, in this era of shrinking budgets for the arts, it is crucial to support the arts within our community, both local and national. The Chelsea and Greenwich Village areas have always been especially welcoming to artists and the arts, and the Salmagundi Club hopes that this support will continue as its plans to improve its facilities go forward. All proceeds from ticket sales and donations will go directly to the Gallery Renovation Fund. Salmagundi is a state-licensed, 501c(3) nonprofit entity.
Seymour is president, the Salmagundi Club

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