President Brett Hall said the nonprofit was formed in 1963 by a group of women as a reaction to the major art figures of the time, such as Andy Warhol and Jackson Pollock. He said about nine years ago, the city of Conroe refurbished the former Madley Brothers’ Meat Market building as a gallery for the organization.
Although the league is one of several leagues throughout the Greater Houston area, Hall said Conroe’s is the only one to have a dedicated gallery space.
The league hangs and sells art from any local artist for a small fee, plus 20% of the sale and a few hours of volunteer work at the gallery. Hall said two years ago, the league had about 200 members. Today, the league has almost 400 members.
“It’s the best gallery deal on the planet,” Hall said. “It’s great exposure for an artist. We do excellent sales.”
In addition to displaying art, the league also coordinates with local teachers who offer classes in the gallery’s upper room. These classes range from ceramics to oil paintings.
The league recently announced its annual National Madley Gallery, which is held March 5-28 at 127 Simonton Street, has received almost 700 pieces from 39 states to compete for $6,000 in cash prizes. Hall said the show has grown even more from last year, when it received about 300 pieces from 20 states. The judges will narrow the submissions to 62 pieces and then select prize winners from that pool, according to Hall.
“We’ve had people ship things in from Hawaii. We have art from New York, from Washington state, from California, Florida,” Hall said. “Literally from everywhere [art] comes in, but it’s just had phenomenal growth this year and we look to continue that.”
Hall said he hopes this growth indicates the competition gaining prominence across the artistic world, bringing more entries, artists and visitors.
In addition to the various shows throughout the year, the gallery has an Artist of the Month competition, where gallery visitors can vote on the best piece in the gallery and the winner receives $400. The gallery also hosts auctions to fund its student awards show, where all Montgomery County seniors are invited to enter to compete for scholarships ranging from $500 to $2,500.
The the league is looking to strengthen its standing as a destination gallery by applying for state and federal grants, Hall said. He said the league has become an example of how the arts can cooperate with city growth.
But even as the gallery grows, Hall said some locals are still surprised to find a thriving art space in downtown Conroe.
“You wouldn’t believe how many people who have lived here for years stumble in here and say, ‘I didn’t know this was here,’” he said.