It’s an under-appreciated gem.
The San Antonio Art League and Museum (SAALM) sits quietly in the heart of King William, set back from the street, getting along year-after-year on a tiny budget, but giving us neighbors the opportunity to view some great art by primarily San Antonio and Texas artists, with no effort required other than a few blocks walk.
During the coming year, the museum will exhibit hundreds of works by local artists, with exhibits changing every month or two. We’ve got a description of all the planned exhibits below, but first a bit about the organization.
One corner of the front room displays art by Jorge Garza, one of three artists participating in the annual Invitational Exhibition. The other artists whose work is part of the 2021 Invitational Exhibition are Lee Ricks and Kathy Sosa. There are a total of about fifty works by these three artists on display at the time of this writing (the exhibition is scheduled to end on December 18).
Over the years, SAALM has moved several times, but in 1988 it acquired a permanent home.
It is now located in a beautiful old building in the heart of King William, just across King William Street from the ‘gazebo park’ (King William Park) and surrounded by attractive, well-maintained grounds.
The structure was built in the late 1890s, and, according to Dona, it’s often in need of repairs. But, most critically, it’s a permanent home, and the League owns it.
The building has multiple spaces for exhibiting art.
When you first enter the building, the front room is a small gallery, currently exhibiting art from its annual Invitational Exhibition, primarily that of Jorge Garza. Behind it, there’s a small gift shop with small pieces of art for purchase; this is also where the docents sit and greet visitors. Off to the right of the gift shop, there’s gallery space that currently exhibits the work of Kathy Sosa, also part of the Invitational Exhibition. Behind the gift shop, there’s a gallery that exhibits works from the Davis collection — the original collection of art submitted to the Davis-funded competition almost one hundred years ago.
There are two rooms on the second floor. The front room currently exhibits works by Lee Ricks, from the Invitational Exhibition. The back room exhibits member art, and the content of this room rotates every three months.
One room of the museum is dedicated to art from the original Davis competition in the late 1920s. Artists from all over the country submitted works to SAALM, vying for the at-the-time-unheard-of top prize of $5,000. Each year the works were required to have a Texas theme -- wildflowers one year, cotton fields another year, and cattle wrangling yet another.
The San Antonio Art League and Museum (SAALM) dates back more than one hundred years.
It was founded by a small group of artists and art patrons in 1912 and earned a national reputation in the late 1920s when, funded by a wealthy San Antonio oilman, Edgar B. Davis, it established an annual competition with a prize of $5,000 for the top selection. That prize was said to be the largest art prize in the United States at the time, and was worth about $80,000 in today’s dollars.
The prize drew artists from around the country to paint Texas scenes (a requirement of the contest) and seeded the League’s art collection with the works of some of the country’s best artists.
The winner of the first competition, Dawson Dawson-Watson, relocated to San Antonio and won again two years later. As his reputation grew, he became a major supporter of the League. His family, living today in New York, still helps fund the organization.
STRUCTURE AND FUNDING
The League is an all-volunteer organization with limited funds. It receives some grants, but its core funding source is its members.
The volunteers work hard. The current president, Dona Walston, says that she tracked the volunteer hours of prior presidents, and that those officers put in full forty hour weeks for the League.
‘We really, really need an executive director,’ Dona told us. “We have so many programs and so many balls in the air that it is too much for the president to do. We need a person here all the time that could do those things.’
That need is especially acute now, she says, because one of the League’s primary funding sources — the City — has changed the rules for its grants and requires that receiving organizations have that kind of professional management.
Moving to management by an executive director is a key goal of her presidency, Dona says. She is hoping that they will find someone — perhaps someone who is retired -- who can accept a salary they can afford. She says that they did, for a brief period several decades ago, have an executive director, but she understands that most of that director’s time was spent raising enough funds to pay her own salary.
In the meantime, volunteers are critical.
The museum always needs docents on-site at the museum — people who can greet visitors, tell them about the League and the art, and answer their questions. The League provides a training session for docents, but Dona points out that just living here in the neighborhood provides important expertise, because many visitors to the museum are tourists who also have questions about the area.
Other than that, Dona doesn’t point to any specific type of volunteer that the organization needs. Her philosophy, she says, is that ‘we are a group of people bringing our own abilities and skills and sharing them with each other.'
'If there is a way that you want to come together with the art league and do what you do best with us,' she adds, 'we'll work with you.’
As an example, she points to a volunteer who had downsized from a house to an apartment and missed doing yard work. She volunteered to take over the museum’s landscaping and has “turned it into a glorious blooming place that it never has been before.”
‘If you have skills you want to pursue, we can find a place for you to pursue them,” she says.
(If you would like to help, see volunteer contact information at the end of this article.)
2021 Artist of the Year Raul Renee Gonzales speaks to SAALM about his art (screen capture from a video of the event by Lyn Belisle).
The core of the museum, of course, is its art.
The League owns a permanent collection of more than six hundred pieces. These works have been acquired one-by-one over a period of about one hundred years. This is not a casual collection — it’s truly the ‘best of the best’, works selected in competitions held by the League over its century-plus of existence.
A selection from that permanent collection — works that are part of the Davis collection — is always on view on the first floor of the museum, in the room behind the gift shop.
The gallery space is taken up primarily by curated exhibitions that change every month or two, so that you can visit regularly and always see something different.
There are seven major exhibitions coming up in 2022, plus several smaller exhibits of works by members.
Here’s what you can expect to see in the coming year.
Exhibit from the Permanent Collection
The League has more than six hundred works in its permanent collection, works that have been acquired over the past one hundred years. Each year, the League puts together a themed show that uses about sixty of those pieces.
'Watermedia from the Permanent Collection' is the title of the 2022 exhibit, with artwork from 1944 to the present. This includes acrylics on canvas and wood, watercolor and cassein on paper.
The show runs from January 4 to January 25, 2022.
The opening reception will be held on Sunday, January 16, from 3:00 PM to 5:00 PM.
FEBRUARY / MARCH
This is an annual event, in which students from local colleges and universities are invited to submit their work. Students at Trinity, UTSA, Incarnate Word and other schools are selected by their instructors to participate.
The exhibit runs from January 25 through March 19, 2022. An opening reception will be held on Sunday, February 13, from 3:00 PM to 5:00 PM. This is always a popular and well-attended event, Dona says.
92nd Juried Exhibition
APRIL / MAY
This exhibition solicits entries from artists all across Texas and distributes more than $10,000 in awards. Entries are being accepted now through January 30, 2022 (download the details from the SAALM site). Entered works are submitted digitally and reviewed by an out-of-state judge who chooses sixty-four pieces to be included in the show.
The selected works are then physically delivered to the SAALM gallery, where they are hung for the show. The judge travels to San Antonio to see the works and to choose those that will receive awards. The largest award — $3,000 — is a purchase award; that is, it purchases the work for inclusion in the League’s permanent collection. This is one of two works that is added to the League’s collection each year.
In addition to staging the show, SAALM also prints a catalog. For the first time, in 2021, the catalog was expanded to include a work from each artist represented in the show, rather than only the award-winning pieces.
This exhibit will run from March 22 through June 3, 2022. The opening reception will be held on Sunday, March 27, from 3:00 PM to 5:00 PM.
Women of GAGA
JUNE / JULY / AUGUST
GAGA (Gentileschi Aegis Gallery Association) is an organization founded in 2010 to advance women artists through exhibition, promotion, and education. The name was inspired by a woman artist working in the 1600s, Artemisia Gentileschi.
GAGA is assembling works from fifty or more of its member artists to be shown at the gallery from June 7 to August 13, 2022. An opening reception will be held on Sunday, June 12 from 3:00 PM to 5:00 PM.
Celebration Circle Altar Exhibit
Each year, the Celebration Circle, a multi-faith community, holds a fundraising event in which it distributes fifty or more duplicate, simple boxes to artists who then transform the boxes into altars that express their own spirituality.
This year, the resulting works will be exhibited at the SAALM gallery prior to being auctioned.
That two-week exhibition will run from September 1 through September 15, 2022. An opening reception will be held on Thursday, September 1, and a closing reception on Thursday, September 15.
Artist of the Year
Each year, SAALM selects an ‘Artist of the Year’. As with the Juried Exhibition in the Spring, this selection is made by a judge from outside the state. SAALM nominates several artists, but the selection is made by the judge, who is not affiliated with the League.
That artist receives a solo exhibition and delivers a talk at the gallery.
The Artist of the Year also donates a piece to SAALM’s permanent collection, the second work that is added to that collection each year.
In 2022, the Artist of the Year exhibition will run from September 20 to November 5, with an opening event on Sunday, September 25, from 3:00 PM to 5:00 PM. In addition, the artist will give a talk about her work on October 23.
The 2022 Artist of the Year was announced this past Sunday at SAALM’s annual Christmas party. It is Sylvia Benitez.
At the end of the year, SAALM exhibits the works of a small number of artists invited specifically to participate in that show. As of this writing, the 2021 Invitational Exhibition is already underway, but there's still time to see it -- it runs through January 3.
The artists in the current show are Kathy Sosa, Lee Ricks, and Jorge Garza.
The 2022 show will begin on November 8, with an opening reception on Sunday, November 13, from 3:00 PM until 5:00 PM.
CHANGING EVERY THREE MONTHS
The ‘Members Gallery’ is a room on the second floor that shows the work of member artists. At any one time, the room exhibits pieces from about eight members, and each artist exhibits for three months. During the year, then, it’s possible to see the work of more than twenty local artists in that space.
TAKING ADVANTAGE OF THIS GEM
The easiest way to take advantage of SAALM is to visit — frequently. Exhibits change regularly, so you can stop by every couple of months and see something completely new. But personally, I’ve found that revisiting a single exhibit pays off, too. You’ll notice more on a second walk-through, and you’ll find favorite works that you enjoy visiting more than once.
Another way is to get personally involved — become a member, attend opening receptions and the Artist of the Year talk, volunteer as a docent or offer whatever your personal skills might be.
If you’re an artist, submit your work for the juried exhibition; become a member and exhibit your work in the members gallery.
Become a member
To become a member, use the online form or download, print and submit a paper form.
Supporting Individual ($100)
Sustaining Individual ($250)
Patron Individual ($500)
Supporting Business ($250)
Sustaining Business ($500)
Patron Business ($1,000)
HOW TO VOLUNTEER
If you would like to volunteer, Dona Walston suggests that you contact her directly, either by email or by phone. She'd be happy to speak with you about volunteer opportunities and your interests.
130 King William St, San Antonio, TX 78204
Phone: (210) 223-1140
Open Tuesday through Saturday: 10AM–3PM; Closed on Sunday and Monday.
Jim Feuerstein is co-editor of LNF Weekly; he also designs and manages the website.