Around 1912, this group decided to form a club with James Swan as president, Joe Geis as secretary, and Clyde Burroughs as treasurer. They decided to call it the Scarab Club after looking over some of Swan's precious stones, and finding an Egyptian Scarab among them. After looking around, they rented the third floor of a business block at 80 Gratiot, bought an old railroad stove and a coffee pot, built a model stand and the club was in business. As there was no constitution, or by laws, the dues were very small and the membership was around twelve. They had to do all the work around the club themselves. Cleaning, decorating, and cooking which kept them busy. Everything was Dutch but they loved it, and soon they had plenty of people who wished to join the group. When the membership reached twenty-five, they decided to write a constitution, and by-laws, to limit the membership to those who were truly interested in their aims and ambitions. The constitution stated the purpose of the club and read as follows: To promote the mutual acquaintance of art lovers and art workers. To stimulate and guide towards practical expression the artistic sense of the people of Detroit. To advance the knowledge and the love of the arts in every possible manner. To maintain a club house for entertainment and social purposes, as well as to provide working and exhibit facilities for the artist members. It also provided for associate and lay members.
Through the years, we have followed this constitution, and I hope we never forget them, as it covers all the things that are good for Detroit and its people.
Still growing, in 1914, they moved to 10 Witherall Street. They stayed there until it was razed and then moved to the Addison Hotel. It was here they held the first Scarab Ball with its wonderful decorations and costumes, and wonderful dance music. This proved to be some affair liked by most people, criticized by others. I have attended most of them, and can truthfully say that we never had to feel ashamed of anything that happened at any of these parties. I have seen worse carrying-on at many home parties and stag parties. They were colorful, noisy, with the best music we could hire. The artists worked for months decorating for them, and you'll never see the likes again as the union musicians, union cooks and waiters and union decorators made it impossible to do in later years.
It makes me laugh to think that the Rackham Foundation refused to help us in our educational work, as we were known as a drinking man's club, and had given the Scarab Ball for years. In the first place very few artists make enough money to be come alcoholics, and I know a few members of other clubs who joined us because we didn't drink anything but beer, and it's pretty hard to become an alcoholic on beer--thank the Lord!
Carl Bender started our first club publication called the Scarab. It was illustrated, hand lettered, hand bound by the artists themselves. It contained art comments, sketches, cartoons, poems and jokes and it was a very original book. There was only one, and it had to be passed around and read by the members and they filed away. In later years we bound them, and it is a wonderful feeling to look them over, and think of all the time and sweat that went into making them.
In the summer of 1917, the club found quarters at 2036 Woodward Avenue, over a saloon. Frank Scott Clark was elected president, and with the assistance of his wonderful wife, gave the club class and helped make the Scarab Balls a wonderful society affairs. We had the big shots and egg heads at our parties.
Mrs. Clark, a fine woman, strong in character worked hard for the club, argued with the artists about the decorations, the proportions of the figures that pre-dominated the decorations, but did a wonderful job for about eight years.
Frank Clark was a good looking, gray haired arty looking, photographer and artist helped to put dignity into all our affairs--a thing most artists can not do.
Horace Boutell was the treasure during this period. His business expertise, and his ability to understand artists and their ideas, was a great help through the years. His advice was needed and appreciated through the years the club was in existence. Artists appreciate money, but don't treat it as something you have to control--so you can realize what Horace was up against. He liked artists and their attitude towards life. In later years, for the Boutell's fifteenth wedding anniversary, twenty-five artists each painted a picture of a beautiful red rose in oil, all the same size. The artists gave the twenty-five paintings to him to show him what they thought of him. I always thought that was the best gift ever given to a man and his wife--these were all gifts made by the artists themselves and were a part of them.
During this period, the club bought a three story brick house at 217 Farnsworth with a coach house in the rear, for twenty thousand dollars. Within three years following Boutell's advice, with the help of Frank Scott and his capable wife, the profits from the Scarab Club Balls, the many hours and hard work of the artists and donations from our lay members, we owned the building. We had a wonderful membership who loved the club, and did a lot for it and by so doing did a lot for Detroit.
Such members as Joe Kraemer, Cozzy Graham, Harry Smith, Russell Legge, Paul Honore, Mike Kumpke, Fred Rypsam, Joe Faust, Chuck Oliver, Harold Fluke, Al Apel, Reginald Bennet gave their time and knowledge in making the club a success. They must have loved it, and there's no group in any club that worked harder or longer with purely idealistic motives--sure most of them were characters, but lovable ones.
In 1925 we elected Henry Stevens, a wealthy real estate man, who loved and thought as an artist. He did some modern painting in this early period, and it was interesting to hear him explain them and his other ideas about artists. One of which was that an art group should never have too much money as that tends to weaken their ambition--he really believed it as all we got in his will was his best wishes--I think he had the right idea. Mr. Stevens visualized a new and larger club with a widened scope of activities that would be of greater value to the culture of Detroit, and it should be in the center of Detroit. He discussed the idea with D.M. Ferry Jr. who offered his help in financing the site on Farnsworth. This piece of land was originally supposed to be the heating plant for the Art Institute, but that idea was canceled for central heating.
Lancelot Subert, an architect and member of the club, designed the building with a lot of help, and suggestions by the members and with the help of Ferry, we were on our way.
At this time, Willey Sesser, an artist, was president, but he died while the building was going up. Stanley Lewis acted as president during the period of the buildings completion. On a cold and dismal day, January 21, 1925 the gang turned out, set the corner stone, and went back to the old club for a final grand party.
From then on it was a battle to keep the club going, pay on the mortgage, and still have money to run the club. By this time we found out we needed a manager, new furniture and new members. Artists were having a tough time, so we had a tough period. We built furniture ourselves, decorated the walls, swept and helped keep the place clean, but the banks closed, somebody started a war, and they even made soldiers our of artists (some job, but they did it).
It was only with the help of DM Ferry, the Detroit Trust Company, and a few friends that made it possible to live through this period--the board even debated about buying a new broom.
Paul Honore, and his secretary Albert DeSalle, acted as managers for quite a spell, and helped get us started without charging us, and did a good job under adverse conditions. Another break was that we had a wonderful couple Bertha and John who were cooks, cleaners, nurses who had been with us for years, and came over to the new club with an apartment in the basement. All the artists and guests of the club knew them and loved them, their cooking and their general happy philosophy. If you were hard up, they always fed you, they nursed quite a few resident artists through sicknesses and kept them in fine humor during these hard cruel years. There was never a better couple in this world and they loved the club, its members and all their thoughts were for the club. They ran the kitchen, cleaned the studios and the rest of the club and kept the furnace going. Bertha was the kind of cook that made you eat too much and a fat artist is not a good one. John had only one bad habit--he played the numbers with his dream book and lucky-set of numbers and when he "hit" he carried the biggest grin in Detroit. One of the saddest days, in the club, was when he had to retire on account of his age, which he certainly never let anybody know. It will be a long while before he can be replaced and his memory will be with us until we depart.
During this period, we had lots of different club presidents including Clyde Burroughs, Joseph Kraemer, Russell Legge, John Carrol and myself. We carried on our Scarab Balls though the years--all wonderful, colorful affairs, but they cost us a lot and returned very little money for our efforts. I still remember some of the titles: Forbidden City 1920, Twelve Centuries of Romance 1922, Dante's Inferno 1924, Absurdities, Mummer's Ball, Under the Big Top, Scarabean Cruise, Ball Scherezade and many others. Anybody who attended these affairs will never forget them as they were in a class by themselves.
Life Magazine, February 1937, ran pictures of that year's ball. One of our balls was the first talking moving picture ever made outside of a movie lot, and we still have that film, all battered, torn and noisy.
This club was always lucky, and to prove it, we hired a Mr. Junker as manager who could stretch a dollar farther and get more out of it than any man I ever knew. He was our guardian angel, and watched over our finances, food as he could cook, wash dishes or use a broom, calm excited artists when they had their moods, keep artists and their wives happy (that's some job), hang pictures, he could rent galleries, could sell pictures, give a raffle or card party, or a garden party and he knew how to mix drinks. That shows you what one man can do if he loves his job, and the members of the club.
Our raffles usually earned us enough money for our show prizes, but these prizes where declared illegal by some bilious character, and we have been having a hard time to dig up the money since. One thing an artist likes to do is live up to the law as his earnings do not allow for fines.
Our Christmas parties are of the Old English Style with the Boar's head, soft lights, lots of food, fowls, young pig, fruit cake and Tom & Jerries. The new members act as waiters and servers with lots of noise but no speeches. The Old Kings of good old England never had noisier or better affairs.
The Scarab Balls were always great social parities, but also before the country became organized, the unions took hold with lots of rules and no loop holes. The musicians, who are really artists at heart, would only play so long--all extra time double, although at one time the best of them were members of our club.
The cooks and waiters would only serve at certain hours and we could not hang our decorations as the decorator's union objected. Everybody started to sock us and the Scarab Ball as a big party passed--as all good things do! We tried to dig it up and see if we could put some life in it once--but once buried, you might just as soon put a stone on it and forget the whole thing.
At one of our Scarab Balls, we built a float to honor the queen of the ball, a Miss Taylor, a movie queen who came all the way from Hollywood, and the artists borrowed a brewery wagon, decorated it and built a wonderful throne (really a work of art) which was to be pulled by twelve eunuchs (where they got them, I don't know as I was not on that committee). One thing they did wrong was fasten the rope on the wrong part of the axle, and when the queen came down the dance floor, everybody (the eunuchs, the guards and the flower bearers) all turned the corner, but the float just leaned over like the Tower of Pisa and it took some heroic work to save the queen. The poor queen had to walk the rest of the way, and it took us quite a spell to get her nerves and ulcers back in shape.
Another time, we appointed an artist to take tickets because he was under doctor's orders not to drink. About two in the morning, our dance floor became crowded, and we found out our ticket taker had forgot his doctor's orders and went to sleep. It seems there was a dance, at the dance hall down a block, and as our doors were open, everybody moved over to our party. We fixed that up as we had the new guests take off their shirts and part of their clothes and everybody had a wonderful time.
I can still see Little Load Fauntleroy looking for his Golden Locks all over the place as he had to bring them back the next day, and get some of his money back--if I ever see him, I'll ask how it turned out.
At another party, I almost froze to death. One of my guests got a little upset, and his wife decided to take him home, so as a gentleman should, I helped her get him into the car and showed her the way to go home. I tried to get back into the party, but the door was locked and the band was playing and everybody was having such a lovely time, they never heard me. As I had on a Scotch Kilt outfit, it got to be pretty chilly out there, but about a half an hour later, another wife had to take her husband home, and I went in while they came our--I was lucky as I never found out how much freezing I could stand.
One woman, who after much arguing, convinced her husband to take in one of our balls--as he was a very dignified bald-headed gentleman. The wife roamed away from her husband and left him alone--some blonde felt sorry for him and adopted him. About five in the morning, the wife's feet gave out and after locating her husband, found he was enjoying himself and wouldn't go home--so she got a brilliant idea, went to the ground floor of the hotel and broke a window in a gent's furnishing store. She figured he would have to come down and straighten it out, but he was still having a good time and refused--so she spent a few hours in the hoosegow. I never saw him at one of our parties after that, but from what I heard, he took up stamp collecting and forgot the blonde.
The Club's social events are secondary to its important activities, such as group work in its classes: fast sketch classes, nude classes and costume classes, a portrait class on Saturday and photographic group with models furnished by the club. These are not teaching classes, but for men who have worked in the arts and are in a place to sketch and improve their style and develop men techniques. You can get criticism from the other artists, for the asking, or you can argue about art to your heart's content and believe me there is plenty to argue about in these days.
We have artists come in to give lectures, and demonstrations, lectures from the colleges on color or design. It is a place to exchange ideas or ask questions about water colors, oil painting, etching, block printing and there are always members who will try to answer your questions. We have exhibitions all through the year, with the Gold medal Show, Water Color Show, Student shows, Teachers shows, Palette and Chisel Club, Michigan Water Color Society, Commercial Art Show, one man shows, and Photographers shows. One photographic show I well remember was when the English Ballet, the entire company, came over for a little party after the ballet was over--a wonderful party with the nicest people you ever met.
This Club has always helped and given thousands of hours of work for charity drives, civic affairs, bond drives, hospitals, picture drives and put up a great show on Detroit's anniversary with new pictures painted for that show.
An interesting fact about the club was in the back yard was a burial ground for a dog that watched the artists come and go out of the club for years. An elderly couple, across the street, sold their home with the condition that they could use it as their home until they died (it was to become a parking lot). Some time after the lady died when the dog died, the husband did not want to bury his dog in his own yard. He was the happiest guy in the world when we gave him permission to bury his dog in our garden back of the Club. A few members helped him and the elderly man felt his dog would be the happiest dog in the world.