(2012 Courier file photo by Ken Ritchie)
(2012 Courier file photo by Ken Ritchie)
About Chautauqua

Shopping at a variety of colorful booths while navigating the crowded streets of downtown Madison has become a tradition on the last full weekend of September.

The Madison Chautauqua Festival of Art is a tradition rooted in the town's history that embraces the arts. And, the Chautauqua also benefits the city in other ways ... thousands of tourists visit the city's shops, restaurants and hotels and bed and breakfasts.

This is the 43rd Chautauqua.

The First Generation

Founded in 1901, the Madison Chautauqua was very different than what we see today. A small 10-day gathering of Sunday school teachers grew over the years into a large center of culture along the Ohio River. The Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle provided correspondence schooling to adults in rural areas, and the festival grew to include not only morally inspiring sermons but also informative lectures, scientific demonstrations, dramatic readings, theatrical presentations, magic acts and musical performances. 

The Chautauqua fell victim to the Great Depression and in 1929 it was discontinued

It wasn't until the early 1970s that the festival would return to downtown Madison. 

The Madison Renaissance 

Madison needed a way to give downtown merchants a boost. Shop owners such as Oscar Bear and Emmett Wood began discussing ways to rejuvenate the town. On his travels, Bear noticed many towns hosted large festivals focused on fine arts and crafts.

It was that observation that sparked a rebirth of the Madison Chautauqua. 

In 1971, the two businessmen, along with a group of local art teachers, including Lou Knoble, Hal Davis and Gary Chapman, revived the event in Madison, which consisted of artists sitting in their booths outside of their sponsor's shop.

Even though the first year was not successful, the artists did exchange their works, and it sparked interest in two locals, Robert Fourhman and his wife Merry. Fourhman approached the men and asked how he could get involved. He joined and adopted a leadership role.

Fourhman appealed to the New York Chautauqua committee which granted him permission, and the festival took on the Chautauqua name.

Festival of Fine Arts

After a few years, Dixie McDonough, a local woman who had been volunteering, assumed the leading role of the festival. To some, it was she who brought the festival to national attention by inviting artists from across the U.S.

McDonough coordinated the festival for 18 years, and in that time she transformed the Chautauqua into what it is today. After her withdrawal from the festival in 1993, Georgie Kelly, a five-year committee member, was selected to coordinate the festivities. 

The same year, Kelly transformed the layout of the Chautauqua into what we see today. By expanding to include Broadway, more room was available for large booths. The booths on Second Street were removed for emergency exit reasons. The layout of the new Chautauqua was based wholly on the opinions of locals and those affected by the festival.

- Trenton Scroggins

Originally published Sept. 26, 2013, as part of The Madison Courier's annual Madison Chautauqua Festival of Art special section.