In early 1962 Joyce Schild and a small group of Lawrence residents, who shared a common interest in art, discussed their desire for a local art show with the City of Lawrence.
The Lawrence Art Guild was formed to support local artists and initially to begin an annual art show that ended up becoming what we know now as Art in the Park.
John Garcia as president, Joyce Schild as Vice President, Helen Garrett and Wayne Bly as officers. Garrett had worked for years at Hallmark as an artist for Joyce Hall and was the spark that got Schild started on Art in the Park. Garret lamented once at one of the small group’s gatherings that "Before I die, I want to be hung (in an art show)" Her friend Schild thought she should get her wish.
When word got out that they were doing a local art show Schild said. “All that day people came up to me saying they drew or painted. The neighbor who worked in a beauty salon, an old neighbor, a wife of a KU professor, even the mailman and garbage man, and other people walking down the alley behind the house. We worked very hard night after night, day after day. Later my husband told me, never to start anything again.”
By the beginning of February, 1962, Schild had enlisted a larger group of interested Lawrence people. Jean Allen, who had taught in the KU Design Department, chaired the event, with the assistance of Jeannot Seymour a member of the KU Communications Dept. The first show was called Lawrence Art Festival, and was held May 12th and 13th, 1962 in the Community Building. “It was the talk of the town” Schild remembers. “We had the high school band and chorus for entertainment. Refreshments, hosts and hostesses, programs with silk-screened covers. It was a show for the people, of the people.” The show was open to any Douglas County resident 18 or over who paid their $1 yearly dues to be a Guild member. No screening or jury decisions regarding entries were made. Only three pieces were permitted per artist. More than 140 residents exhibited their artwork this first year.
In 1963, Leland Miller became President. Artists were limited to two entries and they had 160 artists. “By the time planning began for the next year, no one wanted to tackle it,” Schild recalled. “Jane Dykes stepped forward and said she’d do it, but that it would be outside in South Park around the gazebo. Only snow fences and tables would be used for displaying art. The rest of the group warned her of rain, but she was undaunted in her desire to see it moved outdoors.”
In 1964, Art in the Park was in South Park. Snow fencing was used to hang artwork and tables to display 3-D work. Art in the Park was presented to a supportive and appreciative Lawrence with even more entries than the previous two years of the event. Jean Allen and Jeannot Seymour once again organized the art display portion of what was now a one-day event. Entertainment was Central and West Jr High bands.
In 1969 they had six musical groups, and in 1970 24 banners were hung from the trees in South Park.121 artists hung 344 pieces of art. It was some time during the 1970’s that food vendors started selling food on Massachusetts St. And one of the main symbols of Art in the Park (and the Lawrence Art Guild) was the black bird created by Jeannot (jano) Seymore. This black bird has been incorporated into the Lawrence Art Guild’s logo and is still used as a symbol of Art in the Park.
1972 was the first year the event was forced by rain inside back into the Rec Center. The Sweet Adeline's sang and a 25 foot banner was stretched across Mass St announcing the event. Art in the Yard (with tips on lawn and garden care) became a part of the event and in 1975 the Lawrence Arts Center opened its doors in the old Carnegie Library with the support of the LAG and seed money from the Guild.
In 1990 The Lawrence Art Guild was approved by the State of Kansas as a Non Profit Organization and the LAG broadened its community reach. It began to hold All Members Shows. These non juried shows were a rare opportunity for some artists to show in a beautiful gallery setting and our All Members Shows have continued to be an all inclusive exhibit. The Art Guild began “Gallery Lawrence” exhibits (which brought artwork to the business community), Invitational Exhibits and Rotating Exhibits of members work at public buildings of Lawrence. These shows were to provide broader exposure for local artists and encourage community support for artists.
In 1993 the Lawrence Art Guild was encouraged by its members to hold a holiday show. The first Holiday Art Fair was held in what was the previous Lawrence Arts Center in the Carnegie Library and then when the LAC moved to its new location on New Hampshire street the Holiday Art Fair followed. It has been primarily held at the LAC since opening. Aside from it being held one year at Cider Gallery in 2017.
In 1995 The Lawrence Art Guild opened the Riverfront Gallery in what was the Riverfront Mall at the north end of downtown Lawrence, with Jen Unekis as Gallery Director. The gallery held bimonthly shows along with a juried show titled; The Kansas Visions Show. The gallery was supported entirely by volunteer staffing and remained open until the mall closed in 1997.
Typically the weather is beautiful the first Sunday in May, but in 1993 - After two failed attempts to hold it at the South Park because of rain, Art in the Park moved indoors to the Holiday Inn Holidome. This was the first of three years in a row of rain and the show would be postponed until the next weekend when the weather cleared up, and in 1996 Art in the Park welcomed great weather and was back on track.
In 1996 Jen Unekis and Karla Nathan became Co-Presidents of The Lawrence Art Guild and began coordinating Art in the Park and in 1998 Linda Baranski became President with Kathleen Hayward as treasurer of the LAG. Elaine Matt became coordinator of the event from 2000 to 2001. Jen Unekis then officially became coordinator with additional committee and coordinator roles filled by the board and volunteers and remained coordinator until 2013.
Beginning in 2001 the LAG held a retrospective exhibit at Art in the Park with past participants and many of the founders of the event. Including a sculpture by Elden Teft and artwork by Jeannot Seamore, Joice Schild and about 15 other artists. We packed the park with 150 individual artist booths that year and learned that although it was fun, there were a little too many artists and to not go over about 135 artists.
In 2009 the Art Guild opened the 1109 Gallery at 1109 Massachusetts St. with Linda Baranski as Gallery Director. The Gallery was staffed entirely with volunteers and held bimonthly exhibits along with sponsoring featured artists and benefit shows for groups like the Lawrence Humane Society. And in 2010 the Art Guild commissioned Nick Schmiedler to design the first tree for the Festival of Trees.
Linda Baranski agreed to step in as President, Maria Martin as Vice President with Kathleen Hayward treasurer. Thus began a long process to implementing financial safeguards and getting the LAG and it’s events back on track and in good standing with the State of Kansas, the City of Lawrence and regaining it’s artists trust. Jen Unekis agreed to coordinate Art in the Park, and with help from the board and volunteer support has built the event to what it is today. 90,000 dollars reported in artists sales and voted by the public, 1st Place in 2020’s Best Event of Lawrence (based off of events past participation).
In 2016 Phoenix Gallery began sponsoring our Art in the Park Preview Show at their gallery to showcase the artists in the upcoming event. The Art Guild began once again holding All Member’s Shows annually. The first in 2016 at ECM, 2017 at Cider Gallery, 2018 and 2019 at Cider Gallery and Landmark Bank. We have coordinated revolving members shows at Black Stag Brewery for our members and In 2017 the LAG created the High School Art Teacher Gifting Program for Douglas County schools. As of 2019 the Art Guild has given $25,000 to this program to be used at the teachers discretion for much needed supplies, equipment and portfolio support for students applying to college. And in 2019 we donated a tree for the Festival of Trees fundraiser.
In 2020 Art in the Park was scheduled to hold it’s first two-day event in South Park. The Lawrence Art Guild had scheduled two workshops and guest speakers, planned on having two All Member’s Shows at Landmark Bank and Cider Gallery and donating a tree to Festival of Trees. All were cancelled due to COVID 19.
The LAG was able to reschedule the Phoenix Gallery Art in the Park Preview Show, moving it to October. Art in the Park 2020 “Persevere” had a virtual opening Oct 28th.
The LAG was able to hold a safe and successful photo workshop for the artists participating in the Holiday Art Fair that had to be cancelled in person but was held with a virtual sale starting on Dec.1st, 2020.
Although these are uncertain times we continue to strive to do our best to support our artists and the arts community. We look forward to picking back up our All Members Shows, workshops and Holiday Art Fair schedule. Due to the uncertainty of COVID Art in the Park has preemptively been moved from its traditional date of the first weekend in May to a safer and hopefully more secure date of September 4th and 5th, 2021. With hopes of regaining our title of “Best Event” in Lawrence for the 2021 season.
A special thanks goes to Jennifer Unekis for putting together this brief history.
The Lawrence Art Guild Association mission includes the following articles of incorporation as a not-for-profit organization in the State of Kansas.
- To develop among educators, artists, patrons of art, and the general public such united effort as will secure individual opportunity for an active working understanding of art and the varied art fields;
- To promote community interest in the arts, art groups, artists and artistic events, and to encourage freedom of expression through art forms;
- To unify and strengthen the individual interest groups within the organization;
- To exhibit to the public the work and accomplishments of area artists;
- To foster cooperation with other organization and agencies active in the field of art;
- To sponsor annual art festivals and exhibits;
- To sponsor other events that further promote the organizations objectives to support area artists.