The Club's History
In 1880 a group of professional artists, amateurs, and art collectors founded the Providence Art Club to stimulate the appreciation of art in the community. This new club would exist “for art culture,” the founders proposed, and when they met to draw up their charter one February night in 1880, they inscribed that phrase on their seal.
What they needed, the 16 founding men and women decided, was a place to gather, and an exhibition gallery where artists could show their work and collectors could find “good pictures.” Within a month, they had enlisted 128 members. Within six months, the Art Club had leased an entire floor of a large building for studios and gallery space, where its first anniversary loan exhibition drew 1500 visitors in two weeks. Soon the Club had outgrown its quarters, and by the winter of 1887, it had moved to its present home on Thomas Street.
Club members established a Club House in the 1790 Obadiah Brown House, where they combined its second and third floors to create a grand exhibition gallery. There the Art Club holds its musical evenings, lectures and dramatic presentations. On the ground floor, the founders preserved the old kitchen and dining room, where they gathered at lunch for Rhode Island jonnycakes - a tradition still observed today. The artists furnished the Club House with tables and chairs of their own design and construction. They decorated the fresh plaster with ornamental friezes and then painted the silhouette profiles of Club members on the walls. The Club House is renowned for having some of the most comfortable and charming club interiors in Providence.
Just as the Club has worked to preserve its buildings, it has remained dedicated to the spirit which inspired its beginning. The Providence Art Club continues a tradition of sponsoring and supporting the visual arts in Providence and Rhode Island in an atmosphere of good company and pleasant surroundings.
An important part of the Providence Art Club's mission is the preservation of our four historic buildings. From the early years of our organization's existence, these properties have been the face of our Club to the public and the pulsating hub of our member activities. Together, this proud row of buildings symbolize art and culture, history and architecture, all characteristics that define our Club as well as our home city.
19th and 20th Century Silhouettes
Many of those who have gone before (and quite a few who are still with us) have left their memories, beer steins, and profiles to the Club. The Silhouette Tradition goes right back to founding days.
The first silhouettes were originally done “in the year of health and temperance — 1887” and were drawn on the plaster following the lines of candlelight shadows. Silhouettes honoring our members are still being added to the Art Club walls, though no longer by candlelight.