What’s in a name?
That which we call a rose.
By any other name would smell as sweet.
What’s in a name? What indeed. Audubon Artists, Inc., a national exhibiting organization of painters, sculptors and graphic artists, was indeed named for the great American artist and ornithologist John James Audubon, but there the association ends, for the exhibitions of Audubon Artists contain paintings, graphics and sculpture in all subjects and themes. Artists that were approached about Audubon included Andrew Wyeth, Walt Disney, Paul Cadmus and Salvatore Dali among others. Confusion has existed on the part of the public since the name was first adopted in 1942, and here is how it all began.
In 1940 a small group of dedicated artists from the Washington Heights section of New York City assembled for the purpose of art discussion, demonstrations, films and lectures, taking the name Professional Arts Group of Washington Heights. Soon the group began to expand its direction and purpose. Due to an increasing interest by artists from other areas of the city, a need for a less regional name was realized. In a meeting on December 30, 1941 on the site of the homestead of John James Audubon, the shorter name Audubon Artists was suggested, and at a later meeting on January 22, 1942 the name was officially accepted and plans were made for the first exhibition, which was held at the 8th Street Gallery, April 19-May 2, 1942. John J. Karpick was President of this initial group, with 22 members exhibiting.
Immediate plans were begun for a second and more ambitious annual exhibition, and a call was issued to enlist other recognized professional artist members. The Second Annual was held at the American British Art Center on West 56th Street. It was about this time that the now famous eagle and palette emblem was designed by Clarence Hornung.
The Third Annual was held at the Norlyst Gallery on West 56th Street with 60 members and for the first time awards were offered and a now historic catalogue of the exhibition was issued.
As interest grew by artists across the nation, it became obvious that future Audubon Artists annual exhibitions would require an enormous amount of work with various committees assuming the chores that had been done previously by a stalwart few, and a vast reorganization took place preceding the Fourth Annual. The historic reorganization meeting was held March 27, 1944 at the studio of M.A. Rasko with founder Michael M. Engel Sr. presiding. Frederick Whitaker was elected President and Audubon Artists owes him a debt of gratitude because of his expert administrative ability, zeal and unselfish diligence.
Mr. Whitaker was responsible for the original constitution, the credo, the incorporation of the Society (1946) and enlarging the membership to become national in scope including many established artists of the day.
The Fourth Annual was the first to be open to non-members and was held at the National Academy of Design Galleries on upper Fifth Avenue September 23-October 11, 1945. The Fifth Annual was held simultaneously at five galleries throughout the city including the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, which is located near the site of the original 1940 meeting.
The Sixth Annual was held December 11-20, 1947 in a return to the National Academy of Design where the next 31 Annual Exhibitions were held. 1980 saw a special Members’ Exhibition at the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, followed by the 38th Annual at the landmark National Arts Club at Gramercy Park. The exhibition was held in two parts, as were subsequent ones there, with Aquamedia, Graphics and Sculpture in the first two weeks followed by Oils for the second two weeks, Sculpture continuing for a total of 4 weeks. The Annual Exhibitions continued at the National Arts Club through the 53rd Annual in 1995, with special exhibitions for the prizewinners following the Annuals at the noted Lotos Club.
In 1996 the 54th Annual was held at Federal Hall on Wall Street. The 55th Annual was September 21-October 10, 1997 at the Salmagundi Club on 5th Avenue in Greenwich Village which has been our exhibition home ever since. The Salmagundi Club, founded in 1871 by Jonathan Scott Hartley, son-in-law to the American painter George Inness, has been an art center through the years, the roster of membership each generation being a virtual who’s who of American artists, so the Club is a fitting host for our Exhibitions.
The list of Past Presidents of Audubon Artists shows the stature of the leaders of our Society, but sadly lacks mention of the many unsung officers and calmative members who have contributed in innumerable ways to make the Society what it is today.
As Audubon Artists has increased in prestige since 1940, so it will continue to flourish as an organization devoted to promoting the paintings, sculpture and graphics of American artists working in all styles of expressions.
Jan Gary, Historian
Much of this information has been taken from the writings of Micael M. Engel II who served tirelessly as Historian and in many other capacities over the years.