The Greater St. Louis Artists (GSLA) has a rich and long history that goes back many years, possibly to the period preceding World War II. I (Ed Kowalski) joined the GSLA predecessor the St. Louis County Art Association in January of 1974. Like today, the organization was highly active, boasting a membership of well over 100 individuals. At that time our monthly meetings were held at the Kirkwood Community Center, with Emilee Felknor serving as the President.
Throughout the decades, the organization sponsored numerous art fairs of significant importance. Among the notable events the organization supported was the Art Show at Greentree in Kirkwood, MO. This event had been a fixture in the area for many years prior to my arrival in Missouri in 1973. However, the St. Louis County Art Association relinquished its management of the Greentree Art Fair in the mid-1980s, returning control to the City of Kirkwood. This event continues today.
A similar organization, the West County Artists' Association, which was established in the late 1960s by Peggy Carnes and a circle of her artist colleagues, played a role in the Art Affair at Westport for several years. In 1976, this association organized a Queeny Park Art Fair, an outdoor event, although this particular Art Fair was a one-time event and not well-remembered but paved the way for future activities.
In July of 1977, under the guidance of Fred Garbotz and LowAnn Neinreiter, the St. Louis County Art Association, following extensive negotiations with the St. Louis County Parks & Recreation Department, launched the inaugural Art Happening at Queeny Park. This event achieved immediate success, drawing an estimated attendance of 20,000 to 30,000 over the weekend according to park rangers. The first year featured 204 exhibitors from various states. Subsequent years witnessed the event's refinement into a nationally recognized showcase for artwork quality and artist amenities. After a few years, due to scheduling conflicts with the St. Louis Symphony Summer Pops Program, Art Happening was rescheduled to Labor Day Weekend.
In 1983, I assumed the role of President of the St. Louis County Art Association. This got the ball rolling on a new Art Fair. Following my tenure as president, I remain engaged in the Art Fair committee and launching a second show in 1985 at Queeny Park: The Missouri Spring Festival of Art. While similar to Art Happening, this new show featured one notable distinction. Juried members of the St. Louis County Art Association were exempt from the show jury process. The rationale was that these members, having achieved juried status within the association, were automatically qualified for entry into the Spring Show. This privilege remained in place until the mid-1990s.
Simultaneously, other changes were in motion. Two art associations, the St. Louis County Art Association, and the West County Artists' Association, shared similar objectives and a considerable overlap in membership. Some members of both groups believed that consolidating resources would enhance effectiveness at that juncture. This initiative was spearheaded by Peggy Carnes and myself (Ed Kowalski).
With approval from both boards, a new art show took place at the Clarkson-Clayton Shopping Center in the mid-1980s. This open show ran for two consecutive years, with jurying requirements waived for members of the two sponsoring organizations. The intent was to facilitate friendly interaction between the two groups. Joint meetings between the boards were encouraged. The result was the establishment of the Greater St. Louis Art Association (GSLAA) in 1988. This newly formed entity aimed to carry forward the commitments and traditions of its parent organizations, leveraging their combined strengths.
Subsequently, the management of the two art fairs at Queeny Park transitioned into the hands of the Greater St. Louis Art Association. The names of these fairs underwent a few changes before settling on the simple "Art Fair at Queeny Park."
More recently, the organization's name was shortened from “GSLAA” to "GSLA."