NEW PORT RICHEY — The West Pasco Art Guild is a place of humble beginnings — the fruition of a notion of a handful of founders who followed a desire to create and capture their scenic surroundings in the company of like-minded artists. In the late 1950s they etched out a place in the community, gathering to work their crafts on Wednesday mornings in Sims Park and hosting seasonal community art shows.
Since then the guild has grown in fits and starts, taking its official name in 1963 and settling into its present home in 1971, a building that was originally home to an Episcopal church and later housed a World War I auxiliary at Jefferson Street and Missouri Avenue.
"They basically bought the building with money raised from bake sales and bingo games," said WPAG president Beverly Heller. "It's amazing that we've survived this long."
Survival is worth celebrating — especially 50 years' worth — and in the coming weeks the West Pasco Art Guild will be doing just that. The gala event is the Golden Anniversary Art Show and Celebration to be held Nov. 9 at the guild. But locals will be able to enjoy the creations of guild artists being displayed at various sites in the community throughout the month.
"We're very excited," Heller said. "We're planning to do a lot of decorating in gold. Invitations have been sent out, fliers have been sent out. This is a real special event."
Organizers are hoping that others will take some time to venture into the artists' haven nestled in a residential area off of Main Street's more beaten path. There, the work of several local artists hangs on white pegboard and is also displayed in an adjacent gift shop. More than 3,000 art books are there for the borrowing, titles shelved in clumps of watercolors, portraits and such on the walls of the guild's library. A spacious classroom serves as a work place for artists with a hankering to paint, sculpt, craft jewelry and create pottery in the company of others. Add to that the kiln room — an added treasure for those who like to work with clay but don't have the means or the space to house their own kiln for firing.
"We're the best-kept secret in New Port Richey — I hear that all the time," said past president Sally Hanlon. "People would come in here and say, 'I didn't know you were here.' Come to find out, they lived a block away."
With 50 years under its belt, the art guild remains a self-sustaining presence, now boasting some 135 members who keep the lights on with the payment of modest annual dues and some donations.
"We're all-volunteer run. We don't get any grants — nothing," Heller said.
Even so, the guild continues to spur the creativity in artists such as Fred Mannarino, 84, a former professional graphic artist from Brooklyn, who makes the trek from Spring Hill to work on animal sculptures for an upcoming one-man show.
"The fact is you have everything you need here," Mannarino said. "It's an outlet where you can do a lot of things.
Mimi Jozwiak, 78, a former oncology nurse, works regularly as a volunteer organizing the books in the guild library. She started dabbling in painting about 11 years ago, she said, "because it was on her bucket list."
"I really think it's good for people in art of any kind to work with other people," Jozwiak said. "It's wonderful. It's like a support group for artists."