A small group of women met weekly in Ethel Gifford’s studio on Horseneck Road to do decorative painting. One day Helen Wilkinson and Ethel asked Dorothy Gifford to join them. They said she could paint any kind of work she wished. So she said yes. All the women contacted others to join them in an art-minded group. And that is how the Westport Art Group began in 1955.
Soon they felt they needed to organize, so they chose the most logical name for their group—The Westport Art Group—which continues today. They decided on their statement of purpose which is To promote interest and activity in the arts and crafts. They elected officers for the group and wrote their by-laws at their third meeting on April 25, 1956. A charter was drawn up and signed by thirteen members. See the sidebar at right.
Since they all were artists, they decided the best way to start was to have an exhibition of their different pieces. They made plans. The Town of Westport was very generous in allowing them to use the Point School for the week of July, 1956. Committees were formed, publicity was sent out, phone calls and posters were circulated. The first exhibit of the Westport Art Group was held on July 13, 14, and 15, 1956 at the Westport Point School on Main Road. The exhibit was open to non-members, part-time residents as well as permanent residents. Original work by the artist was exhibited, and were offered for sale with a small commission charged.
Included in the show were pictures in oils, pastels, water colors, crayons, pen and ink; painted textiles, block prints, wood carving, ceramics, and hand-wrought jewelry.
Meetings were held monthly at members’ homes but soon they needed more space. They met on Drift Road at the former Fireside Restaurant building which had become a home. When the Point School became available to the Art Group, they met there, but WAG was unable to purchase the school when it came up for auction. But they still needed their own building. Dorothy Gifford approached Betty Pratt Yeomans about the price she would ask for her empty lot next to her summer home on Main Road. Betty very generously donated the land to the Westport Art Group. The members promptly set to work raising the money for a building.
Dennis Broadbent told the members of a small summer cottage on Drift Road that was up for sale. Westport Art Group purchased it and arranged to have it moved to the newly acquired property. The building was moved into place the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and it served as a storage house until the addition was built. This required more money to be raised through exhibits, parties, and solicitations.
In return for their donations, generous people were invited to write their names on the 2×4 studs of the addition. The first exhibit held there was combined with an open house. Paintings were hung on the 2×4 studs.
Westport Art Group members set in place a memorial stone in honor of Elizabeth Yeomans with an inscription that reads:
Elizabeth Yeomans Booth
To the Westport Art Group, Inc.
In memory of
Edward, Julia and their son
For their encouragement of the
Arts and Crafts
With much appreciation and thanks to donors from all over the South Coast and farther afield, a new wing was added to the building in 2016.