"Great Karma" by SpaceCoast Living magazine, 2005

Great Karma

Rustic oak beams. Faded brick walls and raw plank floors. Twenty double-hung windows revealing rooftops, trees and cerulean skies. On the walls: three cattle skulls. Two railroad lanterns. An English bobby’s hat.

“ONLY THE VISUAL IMPRESSION MATTERS. NOTHING ELSE IS REALITY”

—Gustave Courbet, *1819-1877

So reads on one of the unpunctuated signs on the walls of the Art Students Guild.

The Loft at 909 East New Haven Avenue in Melbourne conjures an old soul. Inhabited by the Art Students Guild for the past 43 years, it has seen the peculiar, as well as, the uplifting and its eclectic personality mirrors the 50 members who paint in it’s nurturing womb. Though located in the middle of downtown Melbourne, it transcends location: it TRANSPORTS.

The loft has served as a hurricane shelter to members’ families and pets, never sustaining much damage. An octogenarian couple was married here. One member, unbeknownst to anyone till a body imprint on the model’s platform was noticed, lived here for three months during his divorce. It simply looked as though he had arrived early to paint when members showed up!

Three times a week this 2,500 square feet of paradise welcomes members for workshops featuring live models for artists to draw in charcoal on giant sheets of newsprint pinned to wooden easels.
International artist Frits van Eeden presented an action-packed workshop here in March, followed by portrait painter Jon Houghton.

Yearly Christmas parties are a rite of passage. With exhibits of members’ latest creations lined up on the wall and the house “ever-present” Christmas tree, the unforgettable parties dazzles with original live bands.

“The karma here is great,” says longtime member Virginia Raymond. “You can feel it when you walk up the stairs. I’ve NEVER come across a place like this-Good happenings, always live models, with great landlords who attend our parties, and it has a real art spirit."

HISTORY

The Arcade, which houses the Art Students Guild on the third floor, dates back to 1925, the boom era, when this type of architecture was popular. The building’s owners are Ron, Ken, and Dennis Meehan of Meehan’s Stationery store. People say that in earlier days the loft was office space for a fabric designer, and it had pulleys reaching to the street. A Lionel train manufacturer is also believed to have been a prior tenant.

The founds of the guild were students of Eliot McMurough, who ran an art
School from his Indialantic home, according to Marti Meyer, a still-active original member. In 1961 McMurough and a group of artists rented several upstairs rooms in the old airport property. In the winter of 1962, “We moved here. The rafters were filled with pigeons; we had a heck of a time getting rid of them, “ he says. Chicken wire that was put up to keep them out can still be seen in a corner of the rafters.

That’s when the Art Students Guild was founded. “The guild was patterned after the Art Students League in Manhattan,” Meyer says. “The rules are the same, including the bylaws. Now others copy it, like the Georgia Piedmont Art Center in Winder, Georgia, which has exactly the same rules and bylaws.”

Bill McCoy, a past president of the Strawbridge Art League, joined in 1997.
“I never would have had the opportunities I did if it weren’t for the guild,” he says.
After visiting the Brevard Museum of Art and Science he was directed to the Fifth Avenue Gallery, where someone suggested coming here. “I did, when I walked through the door Virginia Raymond said, ‘Come on,’ and that was it.

President Tom Powers days, “The criteria for a potential member is not so much about talent in art but rather if they fit. Prospective members visit a number of times before they are voted in. I’d always wanted to get into art and did because of the guild. And here you get advice you can respect.”
Its grateful participants have donated furniture, a fridge, stereo system and everything else. Hats of all descriptions hang in the space, along with props of every imaginable type, a costume rack, a tablecloth made of a painting, an old pharmacy rack from Holmes Regional Medical Center, a dress form inherited from a former occupant. The large mirror in the center of a room reflects the models posing so all get a bird’s-eye view when they paint.

The guild has a floating art library, and one of its 100 music CDs is always playing. Members simply find a cubbyhole for their art supplies, take a nook for themselves, and write their name on it anywhere. Things rarely change here. “ A piece of charcoal was left here for 10 years by one woman, and she came back for a visit and found it in the exact same place,” says Raymond, laughing.
Members range in age from 20-92-year-old Dexter Johnson, a fixture of downtown Melbourne and an avid art collector. “Posers here could buy or be given paintings,” she recalls. “I began my collection buying paintings still wet on the easel, right then and there. Great teachers like Bill Schultz taught here in the past. It was the place to be.”

Members of the guild once painted a model who posed throughout her pregnancy and , afterwards, with her baby daughter in her arms. Fascinating characters off the street were also models, according to Meyer, who recalls an elderly gentleman who used to stroll though town dressed to the nines in totally color-coordinated outfits. “The florist shop would give him a fresh flower each day to put in has lapel, ” Meyer says,” and he posed for us.

“Another time I picked someone up in a marching band who played a bagpipe and brought him right up here,” he laughs. Still another time, “A girl had to leave in the middle (of an assignment), so her mother filled in for the rest of the gig.”

The current “house model” is Bonnie Rappetti, 61, who insists her life began at 40 when she started posing. Her luminescent skin, size two body, and long locks of light brown hair grace many a member’s paintings throughout the area. Other posers include a potbellied pig, an iguana, various birds- a regular menagerie.

Artists who are no longer able to attend workshops still pay the yearly dues just to keep it going. College students are encouraged, and their membership fees and workshops are free. One student spent his whole Christmas vacation painting here. 

Most Brevard artists have passed through the guild at one time or another. These painters include a former mayor of Indialantic, the first commissioner of the Alaskan pipeline, as well as a former tobacco auctioneer. What do all these people have in common? They all love to paint!

Tasgob