How WPA artist Thomas Weeks Barrett, Jr. changed the region

Interested in both the social and the societal value of art, Thomas Weeks Barrett, Jr. (above),  founded the Dutchess County Art Association and invited local artists to meet in his own home at 55 Noxon Street in Poughkeepsie.

Interested in both the social and the societal value of art, Thomas Weeks Barrett, Jr. (above), founded the Dutchess County Art Association and invited local artists to meet in his own home at 55 Noxon Street in Poughkeepsie.

When American regionalist painter, muralist and printmaker Thomas Weeks Barrett, Jr. (1902-1947) came home to his native Poughkeepsie after working as a muralist for the Treasury Relief Art Project and the Works Progress Administration (WPA) Federal Art Project in the early 1930s, he expressed his idealistic nature and desire for a better society by creating a community art organization. Interested in both the social and the societal value of art, he founded the Dutchess County Art Association (DCAA), seeking to cultivate an appreciation in the region for the visual arts. He invited local artists to meet in his own home at 55 Noxon Street, and served as the group’s president. Barrett initially organized exhibitions for the DCAA in shops, hotels and at the county fair, but his real interest was in establishing a permanent home for local art.

After his death, his sister Betty continued to live in the house until she died in the 1960s. She willed the house to the Dutchess County Art Association that her brother had founded, and it finally became the community art center that Thomas Barrett had envisioned. Today his original studio on the third floor, complete with photographic darkroom equipment and a two-foot-wide Martech Etching press, can be rented by the half-day, and what is now known as the Barrett Art Center offers art exhibitions, lectures and classes.

One of the oldest arts organizations in the Hudson Valley, the nonprofit Barrett Art Center is in the process of reorganization, says artist Ellen Metzger O’Shea, the current president of the board of directors. Now completely volunteer-run, the organization recently sold the Barrett Clay Works on Main Street in order to concentrate its finances at the main building and be able to continue to offer a meeting place for art enthusiasts and artists.

The next exhibition at 55 Noxon Street will be “Four 4 Four 2015,” opening on Friday, January 23 with a reception from 5 to 7 p.m. The show will remain on view through Friday, February 27. The exhibit features the work of Maria Kolodziej-Zincio of Hudson, José Gomez of Poughkeepsie, K. D. Schmitz of Poughkeepsie and Gregory Pepe of New York City.

The annual fundraiser for the art center, “100 for $100,” will be held on Sunday, February 8 from 4 to 6 p.m. at Locust Grove on Route 9 in Poughkeepsie. The event was first held about eight or nine years ago, says Metzger O’Shea. “We invite 100 artists to donate an original work and sell numbered tickets for $100. The viewing of the works is at 4 p.m., and then at 5 p.m. we pull the numbers.” And many of the participating artists normally sell their work for “much more” than $100, she adds.

The ticketholder whose number is drawn chooses the work he or she wants, and the ticket price includes the catered hors d’oeuvres reception at the event by Gourmet to Go from Millbrook. Wine will be provided by the Millbrook Winery. Tickets for the event are available for purchase at the Art Center or online through Those who’d like to enjoy the reception at the event without purchasing art can buy tickets for $25.

Membership for the Barrett Art Center fluctuates, says Metzger O’Shea, currently numbering approximately 200. Basic membership costs $50, with $30 senior and student discounted rates as well as family pricing. Membership entitles a person to discounts at Catskill Art Supply and other local art supply shops, and members can enter their works in the non-juried member shows held two to three times per year.

Painting and photography classes and open sessions for life drawing are offered, and there’s a Tuesday-night lecture series that will begin in February. Eight drop-in sessions from 6 to 8 p.m. at $10 each will focus on different aspects of American painting, with lectures by P. Emmett McLaughlin, artist and adjunct professor of Art at Dutchess Community College. The first session will be held on Tuesday, February 24 covering Colonial Era artists (Copley, Stuart, Peale and more), followed by a lecture on Tuesday, March 3 on the Hudson River School painters. Successive Tuesdays through April 14 will highlight 19th-century painters, American Impressionists, early 20th-century painters, the New York School, Pop artists, Bay Area artists and beyond. Any sessions not held due to inclement weather will be made up on snow dates of April 21 and 28.

Two national juried exhibits for emerging artists are held at the Barrett Art Center every year: “Photoworks” in the late spring, highlighting photography, and “New Directions” in the autumn, showcasing contemporary artists working in any medium. The dates for this year’s exhibits are not yet set, says Metzger O’Shea, but she notes that the shows attract hundreds of entries from across the country every year – particularly because the exhibits are juried by a curator of note from a major institution. Last year’s juror for “New Directions,” for example, was Lynne Warren, a well-respected curator from the Museum of Contemporary Art (MoCA) in Chicago. Submissions for the shows are done through, also known as CaFÉ, an Internet-based service that allows organizations and administrators to manage artist-application and jury processes related to calls for entry and other such events easily and cost-effectively.

Metzger O’Shea says that the organization is in talks with Vassar College, too, with hopes that it will purchase some of Thomas Barrett’s prints for its print collection at the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center on campus. Barrett did a lot of woodcuts, she says, primarily of Poughkeepsie scenes and regional subjects. “Nothing is decided yet,” she adds, “but we’re hopeful.”

Regular hours at the Barrett Art Center are Wednesday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.


“Four 4 Four 2015” opens Friday, January 23, 5-7 p.m. at Barrett Art Center, 55 Noxon Street, Poughkeepsie; (845) 471-2550,



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