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Meet The Artists
A Short History of The Rehoboth Art League
by Dana Kester-McCabe

Since its founding the Rehoboth Art League has provided a variety of art learning experiences for artists and art enthusiasts.

Whether it is an art class to learn a new technique, discussions about the role in our life, or participating in open studio –there are many ways to develop your understanding and appreciation for the arts. The exceptional talent of their artists continues to emerge throughout the coming year with many long-standing annual events and exhibitions and the addition of an exciting schedule of solo and group shows and exhibitions.

When I first moved to Delmarva in 1980 as a young artist, to a person everyone I met who heard that I was a painter said: "Oh! You most go see the Rehoboth Art League." The Rehoboth Art League has indeed been a beacon to artists on Delmarva since before 1938 when according to the newspaper the Wilmington Star a group of art luminaries attended the dedication of the recently renovated studio cottage of the Rehoboth Art League. The organization had only been formally formed the previous Fall and already had over 200 members. The core members of the group were artists from Wilmington, who summered at the Delaware shore.

For years illustrator Howard Pyle of Brandywine School fame, had had a cottage there, where his students including N.C. Wyeth had visited. Ethel Pennewill Brown, another Pyle student, also had a cottage in what was known then as The Pines. Ethel was a Wilmington native who became a successful illustrator mainly for women's magazines. She married relatively late in life at the age of 44. Her husband, William Leach was also an artist. They lived in Frederica and spend summers at Ethel's place near the beach. Ethel was apparently good at organizing things. In 1928 she got together with other artists living or working nearby and began holding exhibitions at what was then known as the Village Improvement Association on the boardwalk in Rehoboth Beach. She believed that her summer home was the perfect spot to form an artist colony. Not only was it a beautiful place to work, but it attracted its own market of tourists wanting souvenirs to remember their stay at the beach. Artists Eugenia Eckford Rhoads, Betty Harrington Macdonald, Jack Lewis, and Howard Schroeder all agreed. One pivotal member was Louise Corkran wife of by Colonel Wilbur Corkran.

By the 1930's just north of town, one of the first planned communities in the region, was being developed by Colonel Corkran. He was an architect who had interest in colonial history and heritage preservation. Louise was an artist and had been participating in exhibitions put on by Ethel and their friends. She too was an accomplished organizer having helped start the Delaware Art Museum in Wilmington. She was also holding art classes for the vacationing wives of teachers at the St. Andrews prep school. She and her artist friends convinced the Colonel that what the community needed was a place to hold exhibits, classes, and other creative events.

Colonel Corkran purchased a 200 acre property where there had been a working plantation as early as 1675. The historic Peter Marsh homestead was a cypress-shingled house was built by Marsh in 1743, some say as a base of operations to search unsuccessfully for the treasure of pirate Captain William Kidd who had operated in the area. By the time Corkran bought it, it needed a great deal of work. He gave the artist group two full acres and set about renovating the building whenever possible using materials from other condemned buildings of the same period. Another old farm house was moved from another location, and this became the Paynter studio. This became the Rehoboth Art League and the center of the community which is now known as Henlopen Acres.

At the grand opening, the widow of Howard Pile (Annie) signed her name to the studio door. The others in attendance followed her lead some adding small pictorial flourishes. Ethel added a lotus blossom. A well known cartoonist of the day Earl Chesney drew a captain's hat and pipe. It is interesting to note that since that time almost three hundred artists, and guests have signed those doors. They have since been taken out of regular use and preserved.

The Beaux Arts costume ball was begun the next year in 1939 and served as an annual tradition and fundraiser for about fifty years. Throughout the next decades the Rehoboth Art League became the social hub of the area. During the war years navy seamen serving nearby liked to attend their classes, dances, and parties. There were birding trips and flower shows. The surrounding development attracted other creative types and intellectuals who bought property there because of the reputation of the artist colony and the Corkrans' marketing of it for that purpose.

Since then there have been additions, renovations, and many, many art exhibits. The Rehoboth Art League now has a satellite exhibition space in downtown Rehoboth Beach on Route 9. They also recently created a climate controlled storage facility to preserve their growing collection of visual art. They have work by Howard Pyle, Howard Schroeder, and Ethel Penniwell Brown Leach among others.

Find out more about the Rehoboth Art League: www.rehobothartleague.org or visit them in person:
12 Dodds Lane Henlopen Acres
Rehoboth Beach, Delaware 19971

If you want to learn more about the art League's history you can also read the following books.

Sand in Your Brush
Louise Corkran
(avaialbale at the Rehoboth Art League and Sussex County public libraries)

Doors of Fame
Dr. Jann Haynes Gilmore
(available for sale at the Rehoboth Art League)

Ethel Pennewill Brown Leach: Delaware Artist of Time, Place and Season
Dr. Jann Haynes Gilmore
(may be available for sale at the Rehoboth Art League ??)

But the best way is really to visit the Rehoboth Art league for yourself. While you are there you will be inspired by the art that they continue to make and exhibit there. This week is the annual cottage tour eight distinctive homes in the Rehoboth and Dewey Beach areas. The first two weeks in August will be their 42nd Annual Members' Outdoor Fine Art & Fine Craft show. You can find out more at the rehobothartleague.org.

Find out about other upcoming cultural events in Rehoboth Beach.