They just wanted to paint, so they got together and painted — and held meetings and art shows and game days and demonstrations and art lessons, continually growing until, 50 years later, the nonprofit Highland Arts Guild owns its own building, runs its own gallery, and is the next best thing to an art museum in the community.
Their story begins in 1971 in the garage of a founding member. They called themselves the Highland Arts and Crafts Guild. When the group grew to 24, they went in search of more space.
“We had this one president, Linda Tomlinson, she was hell-bent on getting us a building,” said current guild President Jane Price of Kingsland, who has been a member for 43 years. “We started looking for vacant buildings and found one on (U.S.) 281 where the health store is now. We talked the owners into letting us use it for free if we would keep it up.”
That was in 1989. The guild had about 60 members then. It quickly grew to about 160 members, a peak for the organization, which changed its name in 1976 to the Highland Arts Guild.
“Our meetings were crammed-packed full every time,” said Peggy Cain of Marble Falls, who has been a member for 46 years. “We started having art shows in the schools. We used pegboards for panels with chicken wire on them to hang our paintings.”
The husbands were enlisted as roadies to haul panels back and forth from a storage room in a long-gone art supply store next to where Taco Bell on RR 1431 is now.
“We had to do that so many times,” Cain said.
The group held an annual two-week-long show for what was then called The Bluebonnet Trail, setting up and tearing down displays at what is now Marble Falls Middle School. (It was the high school then.)
“It was always our dream to have a building,” Price said.
Evicted from the abandoned warehouse because it sold, the group bounced from place to place until Tomlinson and Cain talked two bankers into letting them use the old U.S. Post Office building at 318 Main St. in downtown Marble Falls. Same deal: Keep it up, use it for free.
They did get one extra perk that solidified the guild’s future.
Bankers Bob Clifton and Nelson Lewis (who happens to be Peggy Cain’s brother) gave the guild first right of refusal.
“Bob Clifton told us if the bank got an offer for the building, they would give us a chance to buy it first,” Cain said. “We had already made a bunch of money holding game days at our other buildings, so we said, ‘Sure, we’ll do that.’”
With a future home in mind, guild members had been holding game days in their meeting space. They invited everyone in the community to play bring-your-own games. As many as 110 women showed up each week to play dominoes and bridge, each one of them buying a lunch prepared by the Highland Arts Guild members. They made as much as $800 each game day, and they socked away every penny.
When the bank called and told them it was time to make a decision, they were ready. They put down $10,000 on the $54,000 building and paid off the remaining $44,000 in seven years.
“We had a note burning on Jan. 30, 1999,” Cain remembered. “There are very few art guilds throughout the United States who own their own building. They usually have to beg, borrow, and steal for space to hang their work.”
Not in the Highland Lakes — at least not anymore. This enterprising group of women, now about 60 members strong, remodeled their new building, upgraded their chicken-wire boards to pegboards (and later to official gallery boards), and formed the Highland Arts Gallery, a for-profit entity that handles sales of members’ work.
“The IRS made us separate our sales when we moved in here,” Price said. “So, the gallery rents space from the guild.”
Members pay a small fee to hang their art for six months. Placement is determined by lottery. Art lessons are given in the back, where visitors will also find a gift shop. The group still holds two art shows a year: the first two weekends in April and the second weekend in November.
This year, they are planning a 50th anniversary celebration, but because of COVID-19 restrictions are not sure when that will be or what shape it will take. They definitely want a party to match their accomplishments.
“We feel a lot of pride,” Price said. “I think we are all so proud of what we have been able to accomplish. It has been a privilege to be a part of it.”