Returning GIs Revitalized the Art Students League

The postwar period was a pivotal moment in the Art Students League’s history as it was for many institutions of higher education, thanks to the GI Bill of Rights. The League had been on the brink of closure due to rapidly declining enrollments, and then suddenly found itself not only saved but transformed by an influx of eager GIs. “Each class has capacity enrollment, and applicants are pleading for admission,” noted one observer. “The crowding and congestion have squeezed out the dilettante. The average age of the students is higher, the average outlook more serious.” The photographs in the digital gallery below reveal an incipient institutional transformation and creative rebirth at the League during the mid-1950s.

Returning GIs Revitalized the Art Students League

NEW LEADERSHIP
With the influx of GIs after the war, the League’s student body more than doubled. As operations became increasingly complex, the League's board decided to establish an executive director position that would ensure consistent and full-time operational oversight. The natural choice, and only candidate considered, was Stewart Klonis, who had served as board president since 1937. Klonis signed a three-year contract and was appointed executive director on February 1, 1946.

Returning GIs Revitalized the Art Students League

CHANGING OF THE GUARD
Frank Vincent DuMond, a pupil of Boulanger and Lefebvre, began teaching at the Art Students League in 1892. One of the Art Students League's most popular and longest serving instructors, he maintained a strong figurative tradition throughout the rise of abstraction. DuMond died in February 1951, age 85 and still teaching. The following season Samuel Warshaw and Frank Mason, two former students, took over his morning and afternoon classes. Mason continued to teach and expand upon DuMond's methods in the same studio until his death in 2009.

Returning GIs Revitalized the Art Students League

PEAK REGISTRATION
Frank J. Reilly's illustration classes were popular among veterans interested pursuing careers in illustration. Here students are gathered for a competition and criticism of designs for a magazine cover, c. 1950.

Returning GIs Revitalized the Art Students League

Of his approach to teaching, Reilly wrote, "Art has never been produced in a school. School should be the training ground for the future. It is the place to learn the tools of the craft.... It should deal with the past but not lean on it. It's major emphasis should be the present so that there will be a future for a greater number of students."

Returning GIs Revitalized the Art Students League

MAYHEM AND MERRIMENT
The Art Students League's annual Dream Balls raised money for scholarships. In this annual ritual, students dressed in festive costumes of their own creation, while invited guests watched the spectacle. In this photo from 1952, taken at the Waldorf Astoria, actress Arlene Dahl, the ball queen, is pictured on her throne, attended by what appears as a mythic hecatoncheires.

Returning GIs Revitalized the Art Students League

These eager photographers at the Dream Ball of 1952 were captured by Look Magazine photographer Phillip Harrington.
Collection of the Museum of the City of New York

Returning GIs Revitalized the Art Students League

REVIVING THE WOODSTOCK ART COLONY
To accommodate the influx of GIs during the summer months, the League opened a summer program in Woodstock, New York.

Returning GIs Revitalized the Art Students League

Arnold Blanch (above) along with Paul Burlin, Paul Fiene, Yasuo Kuniyoshi, and Fletcher Martin, made up the first roster of the postwar Woodstock instructors in 1947. The League continued to operate a summer school there through 1979, in addition to a city summer school. Blanch remained a consistent presence in Woodstock for twenty-two years.

1 of 8
Returning GIs Revitalized the Art Students League
Returning GIs Revitalized the Art Students League
Returning GIs Revitalized the Art Students League
Returning GIs Revitalized the Art Students League
Returning GIs Revitalized the Art Students League
Returning GIs Revitalized the Art Students League
Returning GIs Revitalized the Art Students League
Returning GIs Revitalized the Art Students League

Related posts