Rarely-seen permanent collection explores early 20th century hub of artistry in "Behind the Blue Doors" at the Biggs Museum of American Art.


At the Nov. 5 First Look Party, approximately 100 people turned out to the Biggs Museum of American Art to see gems from the Rehoboth Art League’s permanent collection. The museum and league partnered for “Behind the Blue Doors,” which runs through Feb. 20.

“First and foremost, it’s one of the first real hard looks at the permanent collection of the Rehobth Art League,” said Biggs Curator Ryan Grover.

The exhibit features between 60 and 70 works of regional modernism, which barely put a dent in the RAL’s collection, Grover said. The League was founded in the early 1930s and has been collecting for decades — and has a lot to show for it — although the Biggs exhibit is one of the largest showings of the permanent collection ever.

The League was part of what Grover called the superhighway of artistic production that was the mid-Atlantic in the early half of the 20th century. Art colonies sprung up in areas such as New Hope, Pa., and Provincetown, Mass., and Rehoboth Beach was no different.

“It just seemed to be this tidal wave of artistry,” he said.

A lot of the individuals instrumental in the opening of the RAL, and to the art scene of the time, have works in the new exhibit. Grover said he was looking for pieces from the first 40 years of the League’s existence, pieces by the likes of artists such as Ethel Leach and Frances Oler, whose works are on display. So many of those people, such as Howard Pyle, went on to influence other American artists that Grover said it was important to show their influence locally as well.

“Behind Blue Doors” stemmed from the Biggs’ desire to partner with other institutions to showcase exceptional artwork. The RAL’s hundreds of pieces are rarely seen as it has no large galleries in which to showcase them. Because the Biggs had the space to display a fraction of them, it was a good match.

“‘Behind the Blue Doors’ is a unique collaboration between two arts organizations, each with separate missions and audiences, working toward an achievement of an even greater and universal mission which is to educate and develop awareness of the arts,” said Biggs Museum Director Linda Danko, in a press release. “It is partnerships like this that will enable arts and culture to grow in Delaware, especially in Kent and Sussex County.”