George Biddle and the Art Guild painting at the beach
Before there was a Mansfield Art Center, there was the
Mansfield Fine Arts Guild; and before there was an Art Guild there was simply a
gang of artists in post-war Richland County who all loved to paint; who all got
together every week so they could enjoy one another’s company. They would travel as a group to some local
landmark, and each of them would make an interpretation of the scene in
watercolor or pencil or oil, rendered in their own style.
Between 1946 and 1950 the group of artists who founded the
Fine Arts Guild used their common enthusiasm for art and local scenery to find
inspiration all over the county. One day
they would meet in Bellville and find a street scene to paint; another day they
all went to the Steel Mill, or Park Avenue West, or North Lake Park.
One summer in July a handful of painters showed up on the
beach at Pleasant Hill Lake Park, and set to work sketching the folks swimming
and sunning. As artists who were
schooled in the classical traditions—who knew their art history—they were
excited to try their skills in an art motif that has been traditional since the
17th century: creating a composition of an outdoor ‘landscape with
Dating back before the European Modernists and
Impressionist, and extending through history up to the American Realists and
beyond, every new wave of artists has found a contemporary way to interpret the
classical image of people relaxing by the waterside. In mid-20th century, the Richland
County School formally embraced this tradition at Pleasant Hill.
For one of the artists, George Biddle, the experience at
Pleasant Hill unlocked a mode of expression that gradually led him into a realm
of abstract interpretation that became a hallmark of his later works and
This essay in images traces his transformation of vision on the shore of Pleasant Hill Lake Park.