The Moapa Valley Art Guild was the brainchild of artist Max Bunnell. In 1955, when he was Art Teacher at Moapa Valley High School, he started a community art show. Max wanted the citizens of the Moapa Valley to have the opportunity to view the wide world of the visual arts and to appreciate the scope of artistic endeavor. Max’s vision was realized that year with the inception of the Spring Art Show.
Max’s goal for the show was multi-faceted. He wanted to encourage the visual arts in school children from Kindergarten through High School. He wished to give local artists the opportunity to display their efforts. He hoped to expose the community to fine quality, professional art and to provide them the opportunity to purchase original art for their homes. His most ambitious goal was to build a community art collection; a permanent collection of fine art that would be accessible to everyone. To that end, each year the Guild and the High School would buy a painting.
That first year he gathered artwork from his many artist friends and acquaintances in the region and included the work of his students. He presented this work to the community via a beautifully mounted show. The 1955 Spring Art Show was a big success.
In order to increase community involvement with the now yearly Spring Art Show, in 1959 Max conceived the idea of a community art guild. He offered art lessons to the members of the budding Guild all winter, in return for which they helped him gather the art for the show. Members of the infant Guild traveled as far west as Laguna Beach, California and as far north as Salt Lake City, Utah to transport paintings for the show. Thus was born the Moapa Valley Art Guild.
With the assistance of the Guild, the Spring Art Show became recognized throughout southern Utah and southern Nevada as a quality endeavor and attracted many fine artists. The Guild hired a professional, working artist to come during the show and present a free demonstration to the public. By the early 1990’s, Max, with the Guild’s assistance, extended the show to a two day event at the Old Logandale School. At that time, the school had not yet been renovated.
In 1993, led by Guild President Jerry Mitchler, the Art Guild instituted a high school art scholarship program. The art scholarship was funded by the Guild’s donation of fifty per cent of booth rental earned at the Spring Art Show. Additional funding was provided by a raffle of a Max Bunnell painting. The first year the Guild raised $680.00. Scholarships were awarded to Richard Bush, Jr., and Michael Smith, graduating seniors at Moapa Valley High School.
In 1994, Heber and Zona Tobler offered the Guild space for an art gallery. The building needed repairs and improvements, and the Guild and its members were to provide the materials and do the needed work. The Guild sprang into action. Jerry Mitchler, his son, Jerry, Jr., Guild members, their families and friends all contributed to the successful completion of the renovation project. The Moapa Valley Art Guild’s Gallery grand opening was held March 11, 1995. Of the twenty-three active Guild members, seventeen displayed and sold their work in the co-operative style gallery. The Guild operated the gallery for seven years.
In 1996 Guild member Zona Tobler had an idea for an art festival. Again, the Guild took action. The first Pomegranate Art Festival took place in the parking lot of Heber and Zona’s business, Home Hardware, on Moapa Valley Boulevard. The first Festival was held on November 11th, Veteran’s Day, to take advantage of the crowd gathered for the community’s Veteran’s Day Parade. The following year the Festival was held again on Veteran’s Day, but now the Guild needed a larger space to accommodate the growing number of exhibit booths. A neighbor offered his corner lot across from the Art Gallery. Guild members made and sold pomegranate jelly from pomegranates donated by members of the community. The jelly was a great success and was sold out before the end of the day. Proceeds from the Festival were dedicated to the Guild’s Scholarship Fund.
When Dr. Larry Moses began the monumental task of renovating the Old Logandale School, which would eventually become the home of the Old Logandale School Historical and Cultural Society (OLSHACS) he enlisted the expertise of Max Bunnell in shaping the Art portion of the grant proposal. Max tried to assure that the Guild would have a space there. Subsequently, the Guild was assigned a furnished room with northern exposure. The Guild presently uses the Art Room at OLSHACS for most of its activities.
In 2001 Jo Tame was elected to the office of president. Jo served in that office for four years. During her tenure the Pomegranate Art Festival moved to the Old Logandale School. In the years since, the Festival has outgrown OLSHACS and was moved in 2009 to the nearby Clark County Fairgrounds. The Festival has become a major attraction in the state, drawing visitors from all over Nevada, also from California, Utah, Wyoming and Arizona to buy art, crafts, pomegranates, and the Guild’s now famous pomegranate jelly. Displays of art and crafts to admire and purchase are limited to those that are handmade.
The Guild’s Scholarship Program has been expanded. Up to $3,000 per year in college scholarship money is available to qualifying students who are graduates of Moapa Valley High School. All proceeds of the Pomegranate Festival’s raffles go toward funding these scholarships.
In 2004, the art collection that Max Bunnell began in 1959 was gathered from the High School, Middle School and Library and was hung in the main hall of the Old Logandale School where it may be viewed as a whole by the community and visitors to OLSHACS. The collection consists of more than 50 paintings; watercolors, oils, and acrylics, most by well recognized artists.
Max is still an active member of the Guild and was responsible for mounting the collection at OLSHACS. In 2001 the Guild presented a lifetime, honorary membership to Max Bunnell. At that time, the Guild also recognized Joyce Jones with a plaque for her service to the Guild over the more than forty years she has been a member. The Guild has several members who have been on the roster for more than thirty years.
In 2008 the Guild undertook a year-long celebration of its fifty years of existence. The celebration began with a 50th Anniversary Dinner in which Max Bunnell was royally and kindly “roasted” for his part as founder and prime mover of the Guild for so many years. Other long-time members and Past Presidents were also honored, and an Art Show of Max’s work and some of the Permanent Collection that he began was open to the public.
The 50th Anniversary Celebration culminated on March 21, 2009, with a “Spring Art Show” held at the restored Old Overton Gym, which recreated the spirit of the long ago “Spring Art Shows” that are so much a part of Guild history. On display were Art Guild Members’ works, some of Max Bunnell’s works, and works of other valley artists. Since its resurrection in 2009 the Spring Art Show has been a yearly event each March.
In recent years a program has been started offering free art classes during the summer to local students. The sessions are prepared and given by Art Guild members. This program has identified and encouraged quite a few youngsters, helping them get started with their artistic skills.
Today, weekly sessions called “Gab-n-Dab” offer members a chance to come together in the Art Room at the Old Logandale School to socialize and informally share their skills and techniques. Formal workshops are occasionally sponsored by the Guild, and attendance is open to the public. The Permanent Art Collection is on display year-round at the Old Logandale School. Although currently there is no place where members can display their work to the public on an ongoing basis, members’ work is shown at occasional monthly shows at the Lost City Museum in Overton, NV. Members are also able to show their work for two days at the Spring Art Show, and for two days at the Pomegranate Art Festival each year.
In its by-laws, written fifty years ago, the Guild’s founders stated the purpose for the Guild’s existence: “…to coordinate, promote and assist in the development and advancement of cultural Arts activities in Moapa Valley through the cooperative efforts of citizens and organizations acting in concert.” The Guild’s history and current activities are a testament to its commitment to the original intent of the founders.