SARANAC LAKE — Photographers Eleanor Sweeney and Mark Kurtz are the only remaining founding members of the Adirondack Artists Guild, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year.
The others were Ray Jenkins, Ralph Prata and Corey Pandolph.
Visual artist Tim Fortune recruited the artists to enroll in the artists’ cooperative start-up at 74 Main St. in Saranac Lake in 1997.
To understand the revival of the arts in Saranac Lake…
“Tim Fortune is really the guy who drove the renaissance of the arts,” Kurtz said.
“He was the one who recognized the possibilities of something like the Artists Guild, and he was the one who started it.
“We jokingly say, yes, there were five founding members, but somehow there were six because of Tim.”
North Country Artists Guild
Sweeney came to town in 1964.
The Cincinnati native majored in Russian at Middlebury College and lived in New York before moving to the Adirondacks.
His mother loved to paint and encouraged artistic pursuits.
“My grandparents and my mother had gone to Asia, and they brought back things that influenced me, paintings and objects and things”, she said.
“I’ve always loved it. When my youngest child was in kindergarten, I did photography in community college, and that’s how it started.
The fledgling co-operative was called the North Country Artists Guild until an existing organization of that name in Watertown challenged them to change the name.
The Adirondack Artists Guild was born. Slogan : “The Fine Arts of Five Fine Artists.”
Sweeney recalls the dramatic figure of the building’s owner, Countess Alicia Paolozzi, tall and dressed in black clothing, walking in and out of 74, now 77 Main St.
“I have a mental image of the day we opened of her sitting there signing the contract with Mark,” she said.
“It was a beautiful snowy day in December.”
At first, the artists thought it would be great to have an art gallery to display their work.
“Sometimes we had guests” Sweeney said.
“Then we started the idea of having a show with a jury, which brought in other artists and other people, visitors.
“Over time, we had monthly featured artists. The members took turns. We had parties with food, sometimes even music. But now we don’t. We’re discussing how to do things now because we can’t have a crowd and it’s not good to have appetizers.
The guild has caught on and is now a staple in the community.
“People were just happy about that” she said.
“They would come and talk. We sold things. Even now people are stopping to chat all in masks and all. It just helped Saranac Lake become this community known for art and music.
For Sweeney, it’s hard to believe it’s been 25 years already.
“We didn’t have a big plan at the start” she said.
“We just wanted to start an art gallery, and it kind of took shape. We have more members and more ideas. The good thing is that we are all very different, but we One of the main things is that I think we laugh a lot.
The guild moved from 77 Main Street to 52 Main Street in 2002.
Member artists are: painter Jacqueline Altman, painter Meg Bernstein, painter Nancy Brossard, painter Jeanne Danforth, painter Sandra Hildreth, Kurtz, painter Suzanne Lebeda, photographer Barry Lobdell, ceramist Karen Morris, collagist/ assembler Anastasia Osolin, photographer Burdette Parks, painter Valerie Patterson, jeweler Toos Roozen-Evans and Sweeney.
The guild will welcome “Transition,” an art exhibition to benefit High Peaks Hospice during the month of January.
The show will be posted on the Artists Guild website, adirondackartistsguild.com.
Representatives from High Peaks Hospice will be at the gallery from 4-6 p.m. on Friday, January 7 to welcome visitors and launch the auction.
For Sweeney, the gallery has been wonderful.
“It’s a place where I always have my stuff hanging on the wall, otherwise it’s basically just sitting in your house waiting for a show or something,” she said.
“I really like sitting in the gallery and working. Most of us take turns sitting there. I like people coming in and talking about everybody’s art and just sitting there among other people’s works, I think something is seeping through. You are a little inspired by this and that. It makes you stretch and think a little.
Kurtz remembers a big sign, “Christina’s” it was above the entrance to the first guild house.
“He was named after his daughter (Countess Paolozzi) because his daughter (Christina Bellin, 1939-1988) died”, he said.
“The countess had this little shop in the name and in memory of her daughter. But it was empty. It was unused, and she was interested in having an art gallery there.
Guild members painted the walls.
“Because we wanted it to be really fresh” he said.
“The ceiling was a light medium blue and we wanted to repaint that white. So we started repainting this white, and we got halfway through it and the building manager came in and she saw it and she gasped and said, ‘Oh no, you can’t paint the ceiling in a different color. It was the countess’s daughter’s favorite color and that color had to stay on the ceiling. “So we had to go back and repaint what we had just painted to the original color. The Countess, you know, she had eccentricities, but we just worked with that.
Kurtz also remembers that the guild had great attendance at the opening.
“We made enough sales that we all felt it was worth it,” he said.
“We quickly expanded to a number of other artists. I think we added three more people probably after spring or summer or something. I don’t remember exactly.
Kurtz was a member of the guild for the first three years.
“It gave me the courage to open my own gallery (Mark Kurtz Photography on Broadway), which I did, and then I gave up my guild membership although the reality is that all of us artists here, let’s hang out together anyway”, he said.
Oldest Newest Member
Four years ago painter Ken Wiley retired and Kurtz took his vacant spot after an 18-year hiatus.
It was obvious for the photographer, whose studio is located on the floor of the same building.
“I have to admit that’s one of the things that made joining the guild so appealing because they’re literally just down the stairs,” he said.
“The benefit for me was that if someone came in and looked at my stuff and talked and asked about it, the person sitting in the gallery could say, ‘Mark, he’s right upstairs. You can go up and talk to him. It was beneficial. People then came from the gallery to my studio and chatted with me about stuff. I made sales that way.