Originally Published: October 22, 2009 10:01 p.m.
"Helping to Keep Art Alive in the Community" is the credo that the Mountain Artists Guild has lived up to for 60 years in the Prescott area.
On Oct. 28, 1949, 25 people gathered in a private home to talk about how they wanted to sketch and meet weekly in each other's residences until they could find a suitable place to get together as a group. George Phippen, who rose to fame as a cowboy artist, sat in that first meeting. Many more were to follow. Some had formal training, others just wanted to begin. They all shared an interest in art.
The guild's first meeting place was the back room of a drugstore, and its first exhibit was at the Prescott Public Library. That was 1950, the same year members planned the Plaza Art Show, the oldest and first on the courthouse plaza that "was just tables and artists showing their work on table tops." The next year, the guild took over management of the show, an annual event to this day that takes place on the plaza in August. A secondary show, also on the plaza and now in its third decade, heralds spring on Mother's Day each year.
By the 1960s, the Mountain Artists Guild still had no permanent home, but membership now boasted a robust 105 people and programs covered a variety of projects from weaving to the lost wax process. MAG's periodic exhibits and art sales continued to move from place to place over the years, but when the wrecking ball threatened the Bashford House in 1973, a door for MAG opened. Jack-in-the-Box on the corner of Gurley and Pleasant streets planned to tear down the historic structure to make way for its restaurant. The chain offered to give the house to Sharlot Hall Museum but that didn't include the cost of moving it. Community folks raised the money to transport the house to the museum, and MAG negotiated a lease for space in the Bashford House. The 1980s brought the guild's move to Ruth Street, and in 2002, MAG sold that building and settled, at last, in its current location at 222 N. Alarcon Street.
Despite existing without a permanent location for more than a half-century, MAG has essentially never lost sight of its mission to nurture artists in their work and to exhibit their fine art for them.
Today, the guild has 300 members representing all genres, from two-dimensional wall art, glass, pottery, weaving, jewelry, to wood, ceramics and a host of handmade creations on display and for sale in the gallery and gift shop.
"It's wonderful for the people," said MAG member Marty Aungst, whose favorite medium is watercolor. "I've made so many friends who volunteer and can paint there and it doesn't cost a lot of money. It is constantly busy and bringing people in, especially the locals. It gives us classes, workshops and activities constantly."
Linda Wiley, a jeweler whose medium is polymer clay, praises MAG's educational programs, workshops and other opportunities. And, she said, "The gallery is truly a wonderful addition to the guild. It allows artists, jewelers, potters, textile artists - people in all genres - to have a place to show their work and not be a professional artist. The whole membership is not professional artists - but they love the communion of artists and people who are interested in art."
Longtime MAG member Ed Bergman, a watercolorist, has been a part of the organization's transitions from place to place. Nevertheless, he said, MAG "is an asset to the community. Lots of people have become exposed to art and developed as artists there through the programs of the guild and the gallery.
"I have been well rewarded for my time spent there."