Delaware Public Media

History Matters: The Rehoboth Art League

Jul 26, 2013

History Matters digs into the Delaware Historical Society’s archives each month to explore connections between key people, places, and events in history and present-day news.

July’s History Matters examines the history of the Rehoboth Art League and the historic Peter Marsh House that it occupies.

"The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls." - Pablo Picasso

History Matters: The Rehoboth Art League

Delaware Public Media visits The Rehoboth Art League to learn more about the history of the organization and the Peter Marsh House 'Homestead' on its property. (Producer/Videographer/Editor: Ben Szmidt)

While the Rehoboth Art League officially formed in the late 1930s, its history in many ways traces back to the Peter Marsh house that stands on what is now the league's property. The Marsh house was built in 1743 by Peter Marsh III as a farm house and personal residence. The house remained in the Marsh family for over a century until it was sold to Dodd family in 1871.. The Dodd's controlled the property for over 50 years, regularly subletting it to tenant farmers before selling it to Colonel Wilbur Corkran and his wife Louise Chambers Corkran in the late 1920s. Lousie Corkran founded the Rehoboth Art League on the property in 1938.

The Corkrans did significant work to the house - reenforcing the structure, redoing much of the interior, and adding a new wing - making it one of the largest houses in the area at the time.

"(The Corkrans) really turned it into what for a while was call the mansion," said Rehoboth Art League Executive Director Sheila Bravo.

Beyond the Marsh House and its surrounding property, the league's roots also lie in the legacy that Howard Pyle left in the area. By the late 1800s, Howard Pyle had achieved a great amount of fame for his artwork both at home and abroad.

"(Pyle) was so successful that a contemporary artist of his France was very aware of him, and in several to his brother and friends he commented on the wonderful art that this man in America was making," said long time league member Lee Wayne Mills. "That artist was Vincent Van Gogh."

Pyle began vacationing in the Rehoboth area at the turn of the century, drawing students and admirers alike to the region. Although Pyle died in 1911, students like Ethel P.B. Leach continued his legacy in Rehoboth. As a lover of art, Louise Corkran began to seek out artists in the area like Leach to set up exhibitions. With each connection that Corkran and Leach made, they began to sense there was a large artistic community in the Rehoboth area that would benefit by an organization that could provide social, educational, and exhibition opportunities.

"The people who were vacationing here were coming from Baltimore, Washington, and Philadelphia and they were used to having cultural experiences so it seemed like a natural fit," said Bravo.

In 1938, the Paynter Studio was erected on the Corkran's property next to the Peter Marsh house and the Rehoboth Art League was born.

This piece is made possible, in part, by a grant from the Delaware Division of the Arts, a state agency dedicated to nurturing and supporting the arts in Delaware, in partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts.