Upwards of one hundred artists and art enthusiasts attended the Villages Art League’s Silver Anniversary Art Exhibit and Reception Monday afternoon at the Eisenhower Recreation Center.
“We are so happy to have been invited to exhibit here,” said club president, Nancy Dias. “We are all very grateful to The Villages Recreation Department. They have been very helpful and supportive of our organization over the years. This is our first show at Eisenhower — this building is the closest you can get to a museum here in The Villages.”
Dias and club members are ecstatic because this month, August 2014, the VAL, in cooperation with The Villages Recreation Department, opened the new ‘Eisenhower Art Gallery.’ A continuous display of fine art from Villages artists is planned there through 2015, with paintings changed every two months This year, 2014, marks twenty five years the club has been in existence.
Monday’s show exhibited fine art from ten former club presidents who still live in The Villages . The main goal was to honor the club’s past presidents, starting with Village of Del Mar resident, Eleanor Simmons, 90, who founded the VAL in 1989.
Members of the original artists group in The Villages include Dorothy Bryant, Sis Cliffe, Marion Gager, Lucille Geddes and Bunny Poulton. Presidents honored at the show included Eleanor Simmons (1994-1995), Art Schnetzer (2001-2); Peter Hawes (2003); John OHara (2004-5); Carolyn Johnson (2006-7); Diane Andrus (2008-9); Susan Evans and Fran Naughton (2010-11); Catherine Sullivan (2012-13) and current president, Nancy Dias.
Simmons had long been interested in fine art, and used to get together with friends to paint when she first moved to The Villages from Maywood, N.J.
“There was an art class here, but we wanted to get together more often,” Simmons said. “We asked if we could start a club, and they said ‘yes’ right away. So that’s how we got started.” The club’s first permanent meeting place was the Charlie Chaplin room at the Paradise Recreation Center on the ‘historic’ side of The Villages. “There were only a few thousand residents back then,” Simmons added, “and only one Rec Center. It’s so different now, with over 100,000 residents and a lot of art groups. You can find places to paint every day of the week. The Villages Art League membership has really expanded too.”
Simmons was a U.S. Marine, in the Air Corps. Squadron.
“I AM a Marine,” Simmons corrected people, with a smile. “Once a Marine, always a Marine.”
There were no female pilots 70 years ago, but Simmons, who enlisted at age 21, flew in bombers and piloted a mphibious landing craft. “They watched the women like hawks,” she added, “not like today with all the scandals. The Corps. even wrote a letter to my parents telling them we would be well taken care of…and we were.”
Simmons’ son, Paul Simmons, who lives in Casselberry, attended the show with her.
“We usually see Mom every weekend,” Paul said, “but this was a very special occasion, so I wanted to be here with her.” “Just keep looking forward to each day and be interested in life,” Eleanor Simmons said. “That’s how you stay alert and feeling young.”
“This is our first time at a VAL show,” said professional artist, Ronald R. Parry, “My wife, Monique, and I are newcomers to the Village of Charlotte. But as soon as we get a little more settled, we plan to join this group.” Monique Parry creates floral oil and watercolor paintings; and Ronald Parry, a signature member of the American Society of Marine Artists, specializes in landscapes and seascapes with nautical themes. “I like that they are celebrating their history,” Ronald said. “That is as it should be.”
The Villages Art League welcomes artists of all skill levels — Villages residents ranging from beginners to professional artists and fine art teachers. For more information and meeting times, visit w ww.thevillagesartleague.org.