Birmingham Art Association

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The Birmingham Art Association (BAA), founded in 1908 as the Birmingham Art Club is an independent non-profit association of visual and performing artists, arts enthusiasts, writers, and musicians for most of the last century, and the the oldest arts organization in the region. BAA particularly supports the efforts of emerging artists. It supports a gallery and publishes the Birmingham Arts Journal for that purpose.

In 1908, Birmingham artists Della Dryer, Willie McLaughlin, Alice Rumph and Mamie Holfield, formed the group to promote the arts in the city. They drew together 57 charter members and soon were entertaining such celebrities as Giuseppe Moretti, who had created the sculpture of Vulcan just four years prior. Famed landscape and portrait painter Nicholas R. Brewer lectured to the members in the 1920s.

Notable figures from the Birmingham Art Club were Dixie Bibb Graves, Belle Comer, Carrie Hill, Hugh Daniel, Cooper Green, and Mervyn Sterne. The club participated in numerous service projects in the 1930s and 1940s, decorating parade floats, preparing the Tutwiler Hotel for a visit by a French orchestra, making scrapbooks for soldiers and taking sign-painting assignments from the War Department.

As its primary fund-raising activity, the club held an annual Sidewalk Art Show in Woodrow Wilson Park (now Linn Park), beginning in 1938. That show, now organized by Operation New Birmingham, continues as the Magic City Art Connection.

In 1940, starting with a trust left to it by Mamie Fogarty, the club created a committee to pursue funds for the creation of a museum for Birmingham. With support of the Junior League and the Birmingham City Commission, the Birmingham Museum of Art held its first public exhibition in 1951. The BAA started the Birmingham Festival of Arts soon after, and began a continuing tradition of holding juried and non-juried exhibitions of the work of its members.

With a major bequest from Hallie Wells, the widow of First National Bank of Birmingham president Oscar Wells, the project to construct a municipal museum was able to move forward. The museum's governing board was primarily comprised of businessmen, with the Art Club serving only informally in an advisory capacity. Nevertheless, as a supporting organization with ties to the grand new institution, the Art Club attracted 1,200 members by 1955.

The Birmingham Art Club was re-incorporated in 1962 under its present name. During the 1960s a growing rift between conservative and progressive members of the Association was amplified by the establishment of an Alabama Ballet Company by the older group, in apparent competition with the Birmingham Civic Ballet, prominently supported by Bobbie Gaffard and Virginia Simpson, who, with her husband, Joe, were among the representatives of the progressive bloc in the Art Association. In order to promote change, the progressives began recruiting more young members from UAB and Birmingham-Southern College. Prior to a showdown vote for new officers on May 15, 1969 a procedural objection was raised to allowing the new members to vote before they had been "elected to membership" by the Association. The vote was postponed to June 13, at which time a new group of officers, led by architect Fritz Woehle as candidate for president, won handily.

Among the many new ventures undertaken by the Association were a lecture series on contemporary art, and a recurring exhibition of kinetic art at UAB. Despite its intentions, the renewed organization still had little influence over the museum board. In the late 1980s, the BAA still had its offices in the museum. Peggy Ragland was its secretary at this time and the BAA had many members including Anne Arrasmith, Mary Burnham, Jon Coffelt, Beverley Erdreich, Frank Fleming, Patricia Gaines, Joe Hardin, Patter Hellstrom, Edward Lee Hendricks, Barbara Hirshowitz, Lou Hollingsworth, Martha Hopkins, Armor Keller, Betty Kent, Janice Kluge, Cordray Parker, Judith Taylor Rogers, Anita Ronderos, Toni Tully, and Carolyn Wade among many others.

In the early 1990s the BAA decided to split from the museum for lack of spaces committed by the Birmingham Museum of Art to show its members' work. After secession the BAA reopened on 2nd Avenue North. Its current gallery is at 3205 2nd Avenue South.

The Storyteller fountain sculpted by Frank Fleming in 1991 as a memorial to Malcom McRae, was commissioned by the Birmingham Art Association.



  • Caldwell, Lily May (September 28, 1955) "Art Assn. shoulders new duties" The Birmingham News, p. 31
  • Bidwell, Rebecca & Jim Reed (n. d.) "A Brief History of Birmingham Art Association" Birmingham Art Association website - accessed December 24, 2006
  • Cather, Patrick (1991) "The Birmingham Art Association in 1969: Changing of the Guard" Birmingham: Cather & Brown Books

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