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April 13, 2001

Here's more about the founding and ultimate demise of the Perry Arts & Humanities Council. It once was a lively organization with noble aims of improving the cultural climate of our city. After a few years of existence it disappeared.

Long before the Arts & Humanities Council was formed in 1973, several local artists were busily learning new techniques of expression under the tutelage of Jacques Hans Gallrein, a German-born, recognized professional instructor. His assistant was Lucille Ritthaler Graham of Stillwater, formerly of Perry. The artists met regularly in various studio facilities and honed their skills admirably. Indeed, Perry at one time was a veritable hotbed of artists, some just starting to bud and others in various stages of advanced development. Ethel L. Johnston, former first lady of Oklahoma, took the lead in bringing the group together in the early 1950s. Each of them had different, personal reasons for taking up the palette and brush, and their output for the most part was greatly admired. A lot of it was sold to local and out of town collectors. Some of their paintings still adorn walls in Perry homes and businesses.

Perry artists took lessons each week when the Brush & Palette Club was active here in the 1950s. The group pictured above was preparing for an art show in the Methodist Youth building when this picture was made. Shown in front row, from left: LeOla Donley, Avis Leatherock, Girtha Plumer, and Mr. and Mrs. C.B. Forney. Back row: Mary Swart, Pearl Berger, Allien Kruse, Minnie Sherrard, Jacques Hans Gallrein (instructor), Loren Snodgrass and Ethel L. Johnston.

The group normally met with their instructor, Mr. Gallrein, each Thursday in their second story studio on Seventh street across from the post office. The studio was open each day of the week for use of the artists. In decent weather, they also took field trips to interesting sites around the county. Their common interest in art and the levels of talent demonstrated by each one helped to forge individual bonds that drew them close to each other.

Until his death at the age of 97, Mr. Gallrein maintained a residence at the Studio Art Gallery in Stillwater. Mrs. Graham continued his work as an artist assistant, teacher and custodian of the Gallrein Collection, according to Volume 1, "History of Noble County," published in 1987.

The group began as the Brush & Palette Club, then evolved into the Noble County Artists Association. Still later came an organization called the Cherokee Strip Arts Company. When the Perry Arts & Humanities Council emerged in 1973, the Arts Company became a component along with Stagecoach Community Theatre, which sprang to life in 1975. The Arts Company had regular meetings and officers. They imported visiting professional artists as instructors, operated a gift shop on a heavily traveled highway west of Perry, and contributed greatly in other ways to the culture of art in this community. Unfortunately, interest lagged in time and the group disbanded, to the disappointment of many Perry collectors.

The reasons that forced the group to throw in the towel are familiar to most of us. Death and attrition removed some of the more advanced and serious artists. The expense of maintaining a studio and a gift shop was mounting, and not enough young, new members were being added to the rolls. After the inevitable disappearance of the initial euphoria that followed the launching of their organization, a gradual decline set in and in time the membership base simply eroded. Similar afflictions have dogged other laudable clubs and organizations. Sometimes you hear it said that Perry is already over-organized to the point that new additions to the layers already in place hardly have a chance to take root. This may have been an example of that sad analysis. More about the Perry Arts & Humanities Council will be forthcoming shortly.