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History of the Range Artists Association Inc.


Article from the Hibbing Daily Tribune - circa 1959

"Art Bug Invades The Iron Range"


America's new grass-roots movement toward art has proved it is more than a fad. Its continuing rise has shamed the snobs who until recently considered art the exclusive domain of artists and their "angels." Now it belongs to everyone for the taking.

Whether they view it merely as a hobby or as self-expression, citizens everywhere are discovering - or rediscovering - the fun of painting.

Noteworthy, but not at all unusual in this respect, is the growth of the Range Artists Association. Organized last May (1958) by a nucleus of 25, it now has more than 100 active members - from grandmothers to teenagers.

The nucleus came mainly from Hibbing's Village Artists group, which retains its separate identity and quarters but feels that the larger association can do more to promote the common cause.

One of the sparkplugs in drawing together painters across the Range was Mrs. William W. Watson, now chairman of the Hibbing section. There are now two other sections, with Miss Olive Chipman as chairman for the Chisholm- Buhl district, and Mrs. O. J. Eide for Virginia and the East Range.

With little money but great ambition, the Range Artists Association promptly set about its program. It sponsored summer workshop classes which were held in a building on the St. Louis county fair grounds and conducted by artist A. E. Schar of Worthington. The sessions also attracted lecturers, including muralist - illustrator - author Charles Carlson.

In addition, members of the association exhibited 150 paintings at the fair, many of them winning prizes and honors.

Thus fortified with success, the group last week was looking ahead to other ventures. Plans call for a permanent studio and exhibit hall, similar to the one of the Duluth Art Institute. Also under consideration is the hiring of an instructor for a winter workshop. Assorted lecturers are also sought too.

Austin Hanson, Hibbing art teacher who is director of the association, says he is delighted by the response and interest he has seen developed since May. "And it isn't just talk," he adds. "It's genuine. These people really want to paint and delve into all aspects of art. It's a wonderful thing."

As in many civic art associations, most of the membership consists of women. But the Range group points out that about half dozen men have been active from the start and that other male support is definitely in the offing.

To keep in close contact with its growing number of followers across the Range, the group has started a chatty news bulletin. And Mrs. Watson last week talked hopefully of art auctions and exhibits "to stimulate wider interest and encourage a desire for ownership of good original art."

©The Hibbing Daily Tribune - circa 1959

"How The Range Creative Art Center Was Started"

Author Unknown

The Range Creative Art Center, 328 West Howard Street, Hibbing, Minnesota was started in 1958. Mrs. William W. Watson (Betty) and her husband had been living in Duluth where a friend Pearl Bechtel who painted, urged her to start painting. She enrolled in art courses under excellent teachers and painted continually.

The Watsons moved to Hibbing where Mr. Watson was with the Great Northern Iron Ore Properties on Howard Street. They lived at 2925 1st Avenue.

Betty soon found others who liked to paint, so she called a meeting at their home and they decided to form the Range Artists Association. Soon the need for a place to paint arose. It was mentioned that there was a vacant building on Howard Street which was formerly a machine shop.

Alice O'Brian knew the owner, Mrs. O'Rourke, so we made an appointment with her. We explained our needs and asked if she would loan it to us if we paid for the upkeep and necessary adjustments. She agreed and charged us no rent.

When Mrs. O'Rourke died she willed our building to the Blessed Sacrament Church. Fortunately we could raise enough money to buy it.

Different people helped us make it usable. The Hibbing School Board gave us ten unneeded desks. Micka Electric gave us a still usable refrigerator. Philip Brown made easels and made some shelves. A kind man who did sign painting made a big sign for the front of the building which said "RANGE Creative ART CENTER." It was Sylva Nickoloff who suggested the word "Creative" and that made it special. Sylva also became our first president. Ethelyn McHardy helped with the necessary bookkeeping. Kate Eddie lent us her encouragement.

To have something for the children, I made numerous puppets and wrote a script for them. Doris Harris helped make the clothes for "Artie the Artist." He gave art lessons to his little friends, "Petunia the Skunk", "Reddy the Sly Fox", "Lambsie" who yawned a lot, and "Ralph the Raven." Saperos gave me scraps of fur and bits of cloth to create our puppets. Two members handled the show and the children loved it.

An Art Bulletin (newsletter) was sent out monthly describing our activities.

There was a Sportsman's Show at the Memorial Building in March and the Range Art Center featured a workshop.

A six foot mural of the mines and prominent buildings of Hibbing was painted by Betty Watson and purchased for the Hibbing Public Library.

In 1964 the Watsons moved to St. Paul where Mr. Watson became President of the Great Northern Iron Ore Properties. Betty Watson continued exhibiting widely in the Twin Cities. In 1984 William Watson died and then Betty stopped painting. Now in her 90's, she has an apartment in a Retirement High Rise in Edina, MN. Their daughter and son-in-law, Shirley and Bob McIntire have an apartment in the same building.

Elizabeth B. (Betty) Watson passed away on September 16, 1996 at the age of 93. Her memory will live on through every artist and their work at the Range Creative Art Center.

Undated Article from the Range Creative Art Center Library Archive

"Brief Update"

Throughout the 40 plus years the Range Artists Association has continued to offer a wide variety of classes, from pottery to painting, giving studio space to watercolorists and woodcarvers alike. They became incorporated in 1975 and even through economic hard times on the Iron Range has maintained a membership anywhere between 150 to 300.

There have been several Range Creative Art Center building remodeling projects bringing it up to code and making it handicap accessible. The building offers gallery display space, classroom/studio areas, a library archive, office and kitchen use to its members and guests.

The Range Artists Association Inc. is a charitable / nonprofit organization. Its ongoing goal is dedicated to advancing art education on the Iron Range. Operating income is generated through membership dues, donations and other fund raising activities.

"How To Open a Successful Art Center"

By Betty Watson - Founder of the Range Artists Association

While we lived in Duluth, one day a friend named Pearle showed me how she painted. She asked me if I would like to try my hand at it. When I was a little girl in Chicago, I had a few lessons at the Chicago Art Institute but then we moved to Montana and that all stopped. I still loved it and was ready when my husband Bill Watson told me we were moving to Hibbing, which is one of a group of ten towns from which iron ore is extracted to make steel. The Hull-Rust Pit at Hibbing is the largest and is often compared to the Grand Canyon. Twenty-nine years ago my husband was a mining engineer in the pit.

I soon made friends who I discovered like to paint as I did. I invited them to meet with me at my house and we decided we would like to meet regularly to paint together. But where? One of the girls knew of an empty building toward the center of town and it was owned by a well-to-do lady. Two of us paid a call on her and told her we needed a place to paint and asked if she could bring herself to letting us use it free of charge. She said it was in poor condition, having been used both as a dog kennel and a machine shop. We said if we were allowed to clean it up and make changes it was a deal.

Then we met and formed a group, which we called the Range Artists Association. We scrubbed and cleaned and people saw we were in earnest and began to take us seriously. A large sign was erected across the front of the building and it said "RANGE Creative ART CENTER". We were proud about that word "creative" which was supplied by one of the members who still lives here.

For a while dues were charged but then a painting instructor was hired. The school supplied 20 desks from their attic, the electric company gave a refrigerator, a bathroom was there and in good condition. Was it work? Yes, but fun, fun, fun! - And, we began to make a little money!

Then our lady bountiful died and left the property to the Catholic Church. Not giving up we approached the Holy Fathers and asked if they would sell it to us. They had watched our progress and knew it to be an uplifting influence in the community. They agreed and set a price at $5,000.00 and said that they would pay the taxes. Now the Range Artists Association met and wondered among each other if this really was a dream come true. How to raise that money!? Donations and potluck suppers prepared at the center in their make-do kitchen and served on the school desks were the order of the day.

Paint supplies were stocked in the front part of the building. Mary said she wanted that special vermilion which she needed. Hopeful students from across the Iron Range began to filter in.

At the initial outset of the formation of the group, officers were elected who took their duties very seriously. A Beaux Arts Ball at the Androy Hotel brought out many gaily dressed would be artists.

Every day at the Art Center was an experience in the joy of painting. It wasn't only painting. Woodcarving held a fascination for some, but not for me. I remember a little black bear standing erect, which I made. He stands ready to pounce and probably still stands there watching the steady flow of talent, 29 years later.

One group of unemployed miners have formed a painting group and call themselves "". Some of the men have made the bathroom more accessible for wheel chairs.

Undated Article from the Range Creative Art Center Library Archive

Elizabeth B. Watson

October 14, 1902 - September 16, 1996

MINNE, a girl's name
SO, all in the game
TA, and ta ta to you, too
Minnesota's for lakers, like yeast is for bakers
In December we remember
Cars going by with an evergreen tree on the top
Plus a wild deer which really should stop
Superior we claim, a lake with it's games
Forest folk like it here, just like the deer they get bold
Now if you should get cold
There'll be pleasure without even a measure
You should go north, most tourists often do
You'll be surprised at the view
On the viewing platform, you will conform
And look at the great Hull-Rust pit
Like the Grand Canyon, folks say
Yet the townsfolk of Hibbing need not take a ribbing
They know how to play
And at the Range Artist's Building they may
Indulge every fancy and skill and say
It's been going for 26 years, with minimum trouble and tears
What pizza won't cure, it pays to endure
Then comes tomorrow, I know to my sorrow
I'll get up and look under my bed
To prove that only the truth has been said
© Copyright - Elizabeth B. Watson


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