For one area arts organization that has survived more than 120 years, this week marked a time to celebrate a new name to go with a new home.
Mayor Mark Lauretti joined area artisans in celebrating the first official meeting of the Shelton Arts League, formerly known as the Bridgeport Arts League, at the Shelton Community Center — which has become its permanent home.
“It’s a very exciting time for us,” said Inge Weber, longtime arts league member who was instrumental in the name change that gives the group an identity it appeared "to have lost in recent years.
Weber said that what was the Bridgeport Arts League — comprised of a diverse group of people focusing on oil painting, watercolor, sketching, decorative arts, among other mediums — had not even met in the Park City for some four decades.
“We were really homeless,” said Weber.
For more than two decades, Weber, the league’s historian, said the Bridgeport Arts League had found space at St. Paul’s Parish in Shelton, but being a Bridgeport entity, the league was forced to pay rent, even though it is a non-profit operation. With space at St. Paul’s dwindling, the league found a home at the Shelton Community Center, where the artists have met for about two years.
“Shelton has been very good to us to let us use their center for our meetings and classes,” said Weber. “We are so grateful for their kindness to us, because we did not belong to the city of Shelton.”
That was when Weber said she decided to push for the name change. And her first step was going to Lauretti seeking his permission to allow the league to adopt the Shelton name.
“The mayor and his secretary, Cyndee, where very kind in every way to help us make this day possible,” said Weber about the name change. “We are proud to belong to such a beautiful town. We have members from throughout the area, but Shelton has been home to the league — just not in name until now.”
The Bridgeport League of Keramic Art was created in 1895 in Bridgeport. From the beginning of five women’s interest in porcelain painting grew an organization to outlast the stress of time and many historic events spanning from the 19th century to the present. The name was changed to the Bridgeport Art League in 1903.
Meetings and classes were originally held in the homes and studios of the members, such as the Hall Home on Golden Hill Street, until the membership grew so large that larger accommodations were required. Locations included the Staples building at 180 State Street, and rooms in the Lincoln building on Cannon Street. Finally in 1920, a clubhouse, known as the Hotchkiss Homestead on Clinton Avenue, was purchased.
The league moved to the Bessemer Center on North Avenue in Bridgeport in 1979. Eight years later, the league relocated again, this time to the Unitarian Universalist Church in Stratford. It was in 1996 that the league moved to St. Paul’s Parish in Shelton.
Among the league’s activities are sponsoring art demonstrations during its regular monthly meetings. The league also makes contributions to various organizations, such as Homes for the Brave, Forgotten Heroes and, this month, the Shelton Animal Center.
Painting classes are held in the spring and fall, and the league hosts two juried art shows for members as well as a holiday fair and two luncheons which act as fund-raisers. The league also provides a scholarship to a graduating Shelton High School senior who continues to study in an art-related field at an accredited school.