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American Watercolor Society Visit

My thanks to AWS and Nancy Barch for the hospitality. It was a great pleasure spending a few hours there chatting and researching. AWS is located near Union Square Park, in the Salmagundi Club building on Fifth Avenue. A bit of trivia - it is the ONLY townhouse on Fifth Avenue that still has it's front stoops. Salmagundi Club was formed as the Salmagundi Sketch Club in 1871. The name was derived from something Washington Irving published called "The Salmagundi Papers". Salmagundi was thought to mean a salad or a stew. Ms. Barch said that Fenn was probably a member there as well, and I should go through their records, as they also kept works by their members and they might have something by Fenn. Well, more research... Don't you just love the smell of old books?

As I mentioned, it was a very pleasant visit. Ms. Barch gave me the original exhibit catalogues to review and that's pretty much the only documentation that they have from that era of the Society. A brief history of AWS: apparently, the Madison Avenue galleries at the time didn't think much of watercolors, so they refused to carry and sell them. They were thought too "dainty". In order to show and sell their work, the watercolor artists organized into AWS, and AWS became a de facto art dealer until 1930's and 1940's, when they became the non-for-profit they are today.

The catalogues were in the amazingly good condition for their age. Ms. Barch says that's because hardly anyone ever looks at them. I find that surprising, since there are many popular artists that were listed as showing their work. Louis C. Tiffany, for example. Fenn was listed as an Active Member from the first exhibit. Something interesting, though. AWS website states that they had a non-resident member designation for those that didn't live in New York City. But, Fenn was listed from the first exhibit as residing in Montclair, NJ. So, he was either hugely popular, and they ignored the rules or the non-resident designation was really used in situations when artists left the country for a few years. This might actually be the more accurate interpretation, as Fenn is listed as non-resident in 1878, the year he was living in Egypt.

I am scheduled to go back, since I wasn't able to go through all the catalogues during this visit. I am hoping to look at the catalogues around the years that the House was built, to see any possible inspirations.


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