Tucked away Victoria Art League showcases history, contemporary work

June 30, 2011 at 1:30 a.m.

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Unless you know where to look, you might never stumble into the Victoria Art League and its historic compound.

But each day here on South Bridge Street, artists create and showcase contemporary works, and even teach others to do the same.

What makes this tucked-away complex so interesting? Not only does it paint a glimpse of the city's history, the compound houses efforts to move Victoria artistically into the future.


C.L. Thurmond built the complex's main structure, 905 S. Bridge St., in 1898 as a New Orleans-styled "house of pleasure" - complete with a bar and rooms for prostitution, according to Harold Nichols, a Victoria artist and author. Since then, the building was used as a grocery store, mercantile outlet, residence and Farmers Co-Op.

Nichols and investors bought the property in the mid-1970s and renovated it. The Victoria Art League, founded in 1966, bought the complex - a Texas Historical Landmark - from Nichols a little more than 10 years ago.


The complex boasts two rustic apartments, each which are rented.

The ground floor apartment has a ceiling so tall it offers space for a loft bedroom.

The other apartment begins on the second floor and, via a spiral staircases, continues to the third floor, which opens to a wraparound porch and long-reaching views.


The complex maintains its turn-of-the-century Victorian exterior touches. Inside: Exposed brick, plaster and beadboard ceilings.

Since 2000, the art league installed a heating and cooling system, and repaired the roof, pottery room and other areas.


Built by Nichols, the outdoor space includes concrete, brick and tiled walkways, as well as a massive, lit pavilion and gazebo. Couples often use the space for weddings.


Member artists display paintings in the expansive gallery, which can seat 150 people. Exhibits rotate every three months.

The gallery also hosts weddings and other social gatherings. A 20-foot long, solid-wood counter provides ample bar space.


The recently-remodeled pottery room boasts several kilns, storage space and an ample work area. Bill Bauer, art league president, teaches afternoon and evening classes for beginner and experienced potters.


Art league members and visiting artists teach children and adults via workshops, monthly programs and ongoing lessons. Media includes digital photography, watercolor, acrylic, oil, pastel, batik, woodcarving and pottery.


"We're just a group of artists who have a common interest in various media," said Bill Bauer, league president.

Mission: Provide paying members and the community access to art and related education.

Number of members: 130.

Membership cost: $30 per year. Youth are encouraged to join, but must be sponsored.

Address: 905 S. Bridge St.

Contact: 361-572-0825.

Online: VictoriaArtLeague.com.

Sources: Bill Bauer, art league president; Marie Frankson, director and former president; Harold Nichols, artist, former complex owner and developer; Ralph Howard, member; "Farmers Co-Op: A Bridge Street Story."



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