The local women's art organization spent the past six decades spreading appreciation and support for the written, visual and musical arts.
For the past 60 years, a group of women has gathered monthly to quietly provide a space for creative expression.
They’re known as the Sarasota Pen Women, and today, the group has about 40 members who meet to support one another through workshops, host an annual exhibition and provide scholarships to graduating high school seniors.
Lately, the group has been focusing its efforts on the latter.
“Because of the outreach programs, we are changing to make ourselves better known in order to get the donations and the acceptance to be able to carry our awards programs forward,” says President Brenda Spalding.
The Sarasota Pen Women is the local chapter of the National League of American Pen Women, Inc., an organization founded in 1897 by Marian Longfellow O’Donohue, niece of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Longfellow O’Donohue joined forces with Margaret Sullivan Burke and Anna Sanborne Hamilton nearly 120 years ago to create a space for marginalized women journalists, illustrators and authors.
Today, the NLAPW has 81 branches in 35 states, one of which being the Sarasota chapter that is celebrating its 60th anniversary — yet few Sarasotans have heard of it.
Spalding says that at the recent Sun Circle Arts Festival at Sapphire Shores Park, several passersby stopped at the Sarasota Pen Women booth and confessed to being unfamiliar with the organization. However, as soon as they heard about the group’s awards program that honors local high school seniors with scholarships to help them pursue a career in the arts, several offered donations.
The Sarasota Pen Women includes creative professionals from three artistic categories: the visual arts, letters (writing) and music. Every member is granted entry after proving she has published or sold several original works. Once she’s in, she’s instantly part of a group of supportive artists that meet monthly October through April and casually for lunch throughout the summer.
“Quite often, your family gets tired of hearing about your hobby,” Spalding says. “It’s nice to have somebody who you can discuss this with who understands what you’re doing, who understands your terminology, even.”
Every year, members showcase their work in an exhibit at a local gallery. This year’s exhibition runs through June 22 at Ringling College’s Richard and Barbara Basch Gallery and Willis Smith Gallery. Here, members showcase everything from floral photography to paintings on rice paper.
Other than viewing each other’s work and discussing their shared passions, Awards Program Chairwoman Barbara Jendrysik says planning fundraising efforts for the awards program is the aspect of their organization that members are most proud of. The program has existed for 30 years, and last year, the women awarded $8,600 in scholarships to 12 graduating seniors in Sarasota and Manatee counties.
“Historically, scholastic aptitude has been recognized over artistic aptitude as a more ‘valuable’ educational asset,” says Jendrysik. “Thus, funding for the arts has always been given a back seat to science, technology and math achievements. Our awards program serves this need to provide talented students in our community (including males) with awards to further their education in the arts.”
Vice President Polly Curran believes the awards encourage recipients to pursue their passion and succeed in school.
“Giving them this opportunity to express themselves and to let the community see this expression builds on self esteem and sense of purpose,” she says. “These talents also help them cross over into the scholastic side — math, science, geography.”