WAXAHACHIE — A secret society that has been tucked away in the history of Waxahachie is now dusting off its mystery and publicly showcasing its talent. Ellis County’s longtime art association, ART on the Square, is making a comeback for the sake of all local artists.

Formed in 1958, the Ellis County Art Association has been a consistent presence in Waxahachie, connecting artists of all visual mediums to educate, promote, and appreciate the creative culture together.

“It began in 1958, and they’ve been a presence in this county for that long. Up until the late 70’s, the group would just meet and paint together in each other’s homes, or an old Texas Power and Light building, or in church meeting rooms – they would just meet in different places,” said Tina Bohlman, owner of ART on the Square.

It wasn’t until 1979 that ART on the Square moved into its former location on First Presbyterian Church on West Main Street that the association began catching the community’s eye. The presence again grew after moving into their new elegant home on Franklin Street last October.

“For the first time in the existence of this association do we have a venue that showcases the talent that we have, but we’re also a group that likes to get together and paint, and have art and conversation,” added Bohlman.

More than 2,100 walk-ins have visited the gallery over the last three months — further proof of the new location raising exposure for the studio and art sales from local artists.

“I think it would surprise people to know how much traffic is on this square. […] There were extremely good sales all three of these months. And the thing is, the artists benefit greatly, not only because of the exposure but monetarily, as well. And the comradery we have among all of our members,” said Bohlman.

Creating a community that supports and challenges each artist walking through their doors, Bohlman currently has 93 members and countless volunteers that keep the studio running.

“This gallery is open six days a week and is staffed entirely by volunteers. We have no paid staff — and that’s two shifts a day, six days a week. That’s a lot of volunteers and here because they want to be and they enjoy it,” Bohlman added.

From displaying "artists of the month" to holding weekly classes, nothing beats the excitement as much as the workshops. With nationally acclaimed artists such as Lori Putnam and John Lasater, members are invited to learn first-hand from these visual innovators.

“We have workshops where we bring in notable artists that are known nationwide and have three-to-four day workshops. [...] In September, John Lasater from Arkansas came. We had an unusual format, called Nocturnes — a popular genre right now, which is to paint night scenes. So we had a three-night workshop with John Lasater. The workshop didn’t start until four and went 'till midnight. We would start here in the classroom, and then we would go out in the city streets and paint after dark. We had lamps on our easels – it was pretty cool,” recalled Bohlman.

And the learning doesn’t stop there. Accommodating all ages, ART on the Square sponsors two adult and two children events a year, reaching artists of all ages to grow their artistic talent.

“In March is our youth art show and every kid, from kindergarten to twelfth grade that resides in Ellis County, is eligible. The cornerstone of that is we give a scholarship to a graduating senior in that show,” said Bohlman. "[...] The teacher of that, who is co-chairing the youth art show, her name is Jana Jennings, and Jana is the recipient of one of our first $500 scholarships when she graduated high school 30 years ago. So we have taken it full circle."

Sowing into the community and paying it forward for future artists is one of Bohlman's desires for ART on the Square.

“One of the young people we gave a scholarship to, took that scholarship and has taken it forward, used it to go to college to get her art degree and has come back, is member of the association and is contributing as a board member, a teacher, and a just an all-around great person. That’s how you pay it forward. And that’s what we’re looking to do […] We’ve got a lot of young people because of this new location. High school kids are coming out of the woodwork, finding us,” stated Bohlman.

And to the artists searching for a new, expressive outlet?

“Come here” Bohlman exclaimed. “There’s a lot of artists in this area that don’t have an outlet or their outlets are over in Dallas where there was never really a gallery that fit them. If they're looking for an outlet, it’s here!”

To connect with ART on the Square, please visit: elliscountyart.net

Or attend their official grand opening with the Chamber of Commerce Jan. 19 from 4-6 p.m.

— Chelsea Groomer, @ChelseaGroomer