The Rehoboth Art League has come a long way in 75 years.
The league’s Diamond Anniversary featured pomp, circumstance, governors, senators, mayors and foreign dignitaries. It was quite a contrast from the league’s humble beginnings.
On hand at the dedication and rededication of the art league was Amelie Sloan, niece of art league cofounder and artist Ethel Leach. Now 94, Sloan was a teenager when Louise and Col. Wilbur Corkran, Leach and the Village Improvement Association founded the art league in June 1938.
“This is a much more elaborate ceremony. The first one was very simple. We used to meet out front of the Paynter Studio, and they had annual meetings out there under the trees,” she said.
Sloan said the original art league dedication featured wooden benches provided by cofounder Louise Corkran, but she doesn't remember how many people attended.
“It was very, very informal. It was mostly artists,” she said. “It was mostly painters, illustrators, professional artists who would come here over the years.”
Seventy-five years later, Gov. Jack Markell served as the keynote speaker for the celebration, delivering an 11-minute speech about why the arts and the art league are important.
“Having places like the Rehoboth Art League and having the Rehoboth Art League specifically is a great selling point for our state,” he said.
During the economic downturn in 2008 and 2009, Markell said, the state had to make cuts. The only department to be spared from cuts was tourism; Markell said having an organization like the art league around provides the state a magnet for tourism.
Markell said the art league also plays an important role for education.
“One of the things we know - because there is so much research that shows - young people who are exposed to the arts not only do better in the arts, but do better in the rest of their subjects,” he said. “We know that when you have the arts, it makes a profound difference in the education of a child and helping them become a whole person.”
The arts can also transform the lives of children who come from disadvantaged backgrounds, Markell said, by improving their self-esteem. He told the story of a young man named Ryan, who was at the Ferris School for Boys in Wilmington. Markell said Ryan had made a drawing of Markell, which Markell has in his office. Nine months later, Markell said, he ran into Ryan at a Habitat for Humanity event.
“He said, ‘I’m Ryan. I met you when I was at Ferris. I gave you an illustration of you.’ And he says, ‘Look at me now. I’m doing great.’ That experience touched him in a way that no experience had in his 17 years,” Markell said.
Addressing the art league, he said, “You’ve got something special here. And all of us are so proud of it, and we’re so grateful to all of you who make it happen.”
Secretary of State Jeffrey Bullock hosted the rededication ceremony.
“It’s just remarkable in this little place, tucked away here in Henlopen Acres, they have done so well for so long,” he said. Art league Executive Director Sheila Bravo singled out the artists in attendance.
”I just want to say thank you to our artists, because without our artists there is no Rehoboth Art League. We want to thank you not only for what you do, but you bring a wonderful quality of life to this community,” she said.
The rededication saw honors pour in for the art league.
Sen. Tom Carper provided Bravo and art league President Diana Beebe with a framed Congressional Record statement on behalf of himself, Sen. Chris Coons and Congressman John Carney. Paying homage to his history in the Navy, Carper then led the crowd in the Navy signal for a good job, “Bravo Zulu.”
Speaker of the House Pete Schwartzkopf, D-Rehoboth Beach, read a House resolution proclaiming June 21 as Rehoboth Art League Day in Delaware. Sen. Ernie Lopez, R-Lewes, read a similar tribute on behalf of the state Senate.
Lewes Mayor Jim Ford and Rehoboth Mayor Sam Cooper read proclamations honoring the art league, while Henlopen Acres Mayor David Hill one-upped them by proclaiming 2013 as Rehoboth Art League Diamond Anniversary Year in Henlopen Acres.
For Sloan, who was given a lifetime membership in the art league for her 90th birthday, she’s proud of where the organization has gone in 75 years.
“It has been a wonderful inspiration for a lot of people. The things they are doing are great,” she said.