Adirondack Artists Guild celebrates 25 years

Folks gather at the Adirondack Artists Guild in Saranac Lake in January 2020 for the opening of an exhibit. (Enterprise photo — Griffin Kelly)

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 sign up for the artists’ co-op start-up at then 74 Main St. in Saranac Lake in 1997.

To understand the revival of the arts in Saranac Lake …

“Tim Fortune is really the guy that was the driving force behind the revival of the arts,” Kurtz said.

“He’s the one that recognized the possibilities for a thing like the Artists Guild, and he got that started.

“We kind of jokingly say, yes, there were five founding members, but in way there were six because of Tim.”

North Country Artists Guild

Sweeney arrived in town in ’64.

The Cincinnati native majored in Russian at Middlebury College and lived in New York City before relocating to the Adirondacks.

Her mother liked to paint and encouraged artistic pursuits.

“My grandparents and mother had gone to Asia, and they brought back things that influenced me, some paintings and objects and things,” she said.

“I just always liked it. When my youngest child was in kindergarten, I took photography at the community college, and that’s how that started.”

The fledgling co-op was called the North Country Artists Guild until an existing organization with that name in Watertown challenged them to a name change.

The Adirondack Artists Guild was born. Tagline: “Fine art by five fine artists.”

Sweeney remembers the dramatic figure of building owner Countess Alicia Paolozzi, tall and dressed in black clothes, sweeping in and out of 74, now 77 Main St.

“I have a mental picture of the day we opened of her sitting there signing the contract with Mark,” she said.

“It was a beautiful, snowy December day.”

In the beginning, the artists thought it would be great to have an art gallery to exhibit their work.

“Sometimes, we had guests,” Sweeney said.

“Then, we started the idea of having a juried show, which brought in other artists and other people, visitors.

“As time went on, we would have monthly featured artists. The members would take turns. We would have receptions with food, sometimes even music. But now, we’re not doing that anymore. We’re discussing how to do things now because we can’t have crowds and it’s not good to have finger-foods.”

The guild caught on and is now a community fixture.

“People were just happy about it,” she said.

“They would come in and talk. We did sell things. Even now, people are stopping in to chat all masked-up and everything. It just helped Saranac Lake become this community known for art and music.”

2022 celebration

For Sweeney, it’s hard to believe it’s been 25 years already.

“We didn’t have a big plan at the beginning,” she said.

“We just wanted to start an art gallery, and it kind of took its own shape. We got more members and more ideas. The nice thing about it is that we all are very different, but we get along. One of the main things is 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, ceramicist Karen Morris, collagist/assemblagist Anastasia Osolin, photographer Burdette Parks, painter Valerie Patterson, jeweler Toos Roozen-Evans, and Sweeney.

The guild will host “Transition,” an art show to benefit High Peaks Hospice during the month of January.

The show will be posted on line on the Artists Guild’s website, adirondackartistsguild.com.

Representatives from High Peaks Hospice will be at the gallery from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 7 to greet visitors and start the bidding.

For Sweeney, the gallery has been wonderful.

“It’s a place always to have my stuff up on the wall, otherwise it’s basically sitting in your house waiting on some show or something,” she said.

“I really like sitting at the gallery and working. Most of us take turns sitting there. I like having people come in and talking about everybody’s art and just sitting there among other people’s artwork, I think something seeps in. You get a little bit inspired by this and that. It makes you stretch and think a little bit.”

“Christina’s place”

Kurtz remembers a big sign, “Christina’s Place,” that was over the entrance of the guild’s first home.

“It was named after her (Countess Paolozzi’s) daughter because her daughter (Christina Bellin, 1939-1988) passed away,” he said.

“The Countess had this little shop in her daughter’s name and her memory. But it was empty. It wasn’t being used, and she was interested in having an art gallery in there.”

The guild members repainted the walls.

“Because we wanted it to be really fresh looking,” he said.

“The ceiling was kind of a light medium blue, and we wanted to repaint that white. So we started repainting that white, and we got part way into it and the building manager walked in and she saw it and she gasped and said, ‘Oh no, you cannot paint the ceiling a different color. That was the Countess’ daughter’s favorite color and that color had to remain on the ceiling.’ “So we had to go back and repaint what we had just painted back to the original color. The Countess, you know, she had some eccentricities, but we just worked with that.”

Kurtz also remembers the guild had a great opening turnout.

“We made enough sales to all of us feel that it was worthwhile,” he said.

“We very quickly expanded to a number of other artists. I think we added three more people probably that following spring or summer or something like that. I can’t remember exactly.”

Kurtz was a guild member for the first three years.

“That gave me the courage to open my own gallery (Mark Kurtz Photography on Broadway), which I did, and then I dropped my membership in the guild although the reality is all of us artists up here hang out together anyway,” he said.

Oldest newest member

Four years ago, painter Ken Wiley retired and Kurtz slid into his vacant spot after an 18-year hiatus.

It was a no-brainer for the photographer, whose studio is located upstairs in the same building.

“I got to admit that that is one of the things that made it very appealing to rejoin the guild because they are literally right down stairs,” he said.

“The advantage is for me was that if someone came in and they’re looking at my stuff and they’re talking and asking questions about it, the person that’s sitting in the gallery can say, ‘Mark, he’s right upstairs. You can go up and talk to him.’ That has actually been beneficial. People have then gone from the gallery right up to my studio and chatted with me about stuff. I have made sales that way.”


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